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Another Freedom

The Alternative History of an Idea

Another Freedom

The Alternative History of an Idea

The word “freedom” is so overly used—and frequently abused—that it is always in danger of becoming nothing but a cliché. In Another Freedom, Svetlana Boym offers us a refreshing new portrait of the age-old concept. Exploring the rich cross-cultural history of the idea of freedom, from its origins in ancient Greece to the present day, she argues 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, and political dissent and creative estrangement. While depicting a world of differences, she affirms lasting solidarities based on the commitment to the passionate thinking that reflections on freedom require. To do so, Boym assembles a remarkable cast of characters: Aeschylus and Euripides, Kafka and Mandelstam, Arendt and Heidegger, and a virtual encounter between Dostoevsky and Marx on the streets of Paris.

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

Read an excerpt.

376 pages | 19 halftones, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Culture Studies

History: History of Ideas

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


“The title of this book speaks clearly of its brave ambition, its invitation to see freedom as an adventure rather than an old acquisition or an empty fantasy. This would be ‘another freedom,’ not the one we half-have or the one we keep losing or the one we are always trying to impose on other people. In a series of illuminating readings of texts from ancient Greece and modern Russia, subtle studies of Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Arendt, and many other writers and thinkers, Svetlana Boym shows us an array of freedom’s most distinguished failures or near-misses, and through those very stumbles she demonstrates what success could mean. ‘Perhaps,’ as she says in relation to the famous ‘Ode to Stalin,’ ‘we owe it to Mandelshtam to imagine Sisyphus happy.’”—Michael Wood, Princeton University

Michael Wood, Princeton University

“In this new and incredibly ambitious account of the anatomy of freedom, Svetlana Boym works through the specifics of historical, aesthetic, and cultural narratives, moving effortlessly from large movements to human relationships and back again. Another Freedom is an engaging and imaginative philosophical experiment, at once intellectually gripping and moving, intensely relevant to the contemporary condition, and a major work of dazzling scholarship.”—Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck College, University of London

Isobel Armstrong, Birkbeck College, University of London

“Svetlana Boym is at her personal and original best when analyzing the subtle shifts and currents in intimate relations between complicated figures, as she does with exquisite delicacy here in Another Freedom. Deploying an enormous range of scholarship that includes in-depth knowledge of the philosophical literature on freedom, Boym puts ideas into life and life into ideas. A wide-ranging work for literary scholars of all stripes, this is an exemplary, important, and original book that succeeds in finding new ways to make the argument for freedom.”—Michael Holquist, Yale University

Michael Holquist, Yale University

"[Boym's] work always gives me hope. She creates an endless space for imagination and I have always found her view of Russia, America, and Europe refreshing."

De Nederlandse Boekengids (Translated from Dutch)

Table of Contents



Introduction: Freedom as Cocreation

Adventure and the Borders of Freedom

Eccentric Modernities and Third-Way Thinking

The Public World and the Architecture of Freedom

Agnostic Space: Freedom versus Liberation

Scenography of Freedom: Political Optics and Phantasmagoria

Passionate Thinking, Judging, and Imagination

Shape of the Book

1 Freedom versus Liberation: Corrupted Sacrifice from Tragedy to Modernity

Hope or Fate?

Technê: Plotting Freedom

Mania: Plotting Liberation and Tyranny

Catharsis: Freedom or Liberation?

Warburg or the Architecture of Deliverance

Kafka or the Ground of Truth

Mandelshtam or the Theater of Terror

2 Political and Artistic Freedom in a Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Plurality or Pluralism? Svoboda / Volia / Freedom

“Another Freedom” and the Art of Censorship

Freedom in Russia versus Democracy in America? Pushkin and Tocqueville

Two Concepts of Liberty beyond the Cold War: Berlin and Akhmatova

3 Liberation with a Birch Rod and the Banality of Terrorism

Modern / Antimodern: Dostoevsky’s Dialogues

Freer Freedom in Prison

The One I Love Is the One I Flog: Violence and Enlightenment

Urban Phantasmagoria: Dostoevsky, Marx, Baudelaire

Underground Man and Venus in Furs: Resentment, Play, and Moral Masochism

The Banality of Terrorism between Left and Right

Religion of the People and Liberation from Freedoms

4 Love and Freedom of the Other


Totalitarianism for Two, or Adventure in World Making?

‘‘The Seducer’s Diary’’: An Embrace as an Appeal to Arms

Kierkegaard’s Interior Design: Shadowgraphy and Architecture

Love / Freedom: Either / Or?

Aestheticized Sacrifice

Arendt and Heidegger: The Banality of Love or Passionate Thinking?

The Life of a Jewess from Love to Worldliness

Heidegger the Fox or the Traps of Homecoming

Loving and Judging

“Judgment Is a Difficult Issue”

5 Dissent, Estrangement, and the Ruins of Utopia

Dissent in the Plural

Monuments to Revolutionary Estrangement: Shklovsky and Tatlin

Rootless Cosmopolitanism and Civic Consciousness

Estrangement for the World: Arendt and Kafka

Writers on Trial: Dissent, Legal Obedience, and National Mythology

Artists on Trial: Politics and Religion in the Post-Soviet Frame

6 Judgment and Imagination in the Age of Terror

The Tale of Two Arrests: Arendt and Ginzburg

The Banality of Evil and the Art of Judgment

The Ethics of Intonation and Human Error in Kolyma Tales

Rationing Clichés, Documenting Terror

Mimicry, Misprint, and Technologies of the Gulag

Diamonds in the Sky and the Gulag Effect

Conclusion: Freedom and Its Discontents

Freedom by Numbers?

Is Freedom Lost in Translation? Cultural Critique of Freedom



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