The Alternative History of an Idea

Synopsis of Another Freedom, by Svetlana Boym (The University of Chicago Press, 2010)

The word "freedom" is in danger of becoming a distorted and tired cliché. In Another Freedom, Svetlana Boym explores the rich cross-cultural history of the idea of freedom, from its origins in ancient Greece through the present day, suggesting that our attempts to imagine freedom should occupy the space of not only "what is" but also "what if." Beginning with notions of sacrifice and the emergence of a public sphere for politics and art, Boym expands her account to include the relationships between freedom and liberation, modernity and terror, political dissent and creative estrangement, and love and freedom of the other. For Boym, "another freedom" is an adventure that tests the limits of uncertainty and responsibility, of individual imagination and public culture. While depicting a world of differences, she affirms lasting solidarities with the commitment to passionate thinking that reflection on freedom requires.

Another Freedom
is filled with stories that illuminate our own sense of what it means to be free, and it assembles a remarkable cast of characters: Aeschylus and Euripides, Pushkin and Tocqueville, Kafka and Osip Mandelshtam, Arendt and Heidegger, and a virtual encounter between Dostoevsky and Marx on the streets of Paris. What are the limits of freedom and how can freedom be imagined anew? Drawing upon her experience as a native of St. Petersburg, Russia transplanted to the United States, Boym dares to ask whether American freedom can be transported across national borders. With these questions in mind, Boym attempts to reinvent freedom as something "infinitely improbable"—yet nevertheless still possible.

By offering a fresh look at the strange history of this idea, Another Freedom delivers a nuanced portrait of freedom’s unpredictable occurrences and unexplored plots, one whose repercussions will be felt well into the future.


Multitasking with Clouds

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The University of Chicago Press




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