An excerpt from
The Alternative History of an Idea
by Svetlana Boym
Freedom as Cocreation
Adventure and the Borders of Freedom
At the beginning of the twenty-first century we had difficulty imagining a new beginning. The future appeared frightening rather than liberating, while the past remained a domain of nostalgic utopias. For the first eight years or so our century seemed to have had a false start.
So how to begin again? Let us try to imagine freedom by thinking “what if” and not only “what is.” Let us explore missed historical opportunities and highlight alternative spaces of freedom. This book is an attempt to rescue another history of freedom and propose a new vocabulary that goes beyond today’s political debates. It explores the experience of freedom as cocreation in the world and as an adventure in political action and individual judgment, in public and private imagination and passionate thinking. The questions that concern me point to the paradoxes of freedom: What, if anything, must we be certain of in order to tolerate uncertainty? How much common ground or shared trust is needed to allow for the uncommon experiences of freedom? Can they be transported across national borders? If so, can we distinguish between firm boundaries and porous border zones and travel lightly between them?
Instead of vetting typologies and definitions we will engage in rigorous storytelling and follow cross-cultural dialogues between political philosophers, artists, dissidents, and lovers who address the very ground of the possibility of freedom and deliberate its boundaries. Many of these encounters took place in the wake of major historical cataclysms, wars, and revolutions, when the dreams of the new beginning and initial moments of liberation were followed by attempts to establish a regime of freedom. In all of them, experiments in thinking and imagination were also connected to life experiments, sometimes producing more contradictions than continuities. These experiments allow us to explore the relationship between freedoms in the plural (political freedoms, human rights) and Freedom in the singular (religious, artistic, or existential freedom) and look at the moments in which political and artistic understandings of freedom become intertwined. My freedom stories won’t take the shape of military epics or romances of independence or martyrdom. Neither will they function merely as cautionary morality tales. At best, they can shed some light on the dilemmas of freedom that are sometimes more difficult to confront than the discreet charms of power.
The experience of freedom has not been valued equally throughout history and across cultures. Even today freedom is out of sync with other highly desirable states of being, such as happiness, belonging, glory, or intimacy. While those states suggest unity and fusion, freedom has an element of estrangement that does not by definition exclude engagement with others in the public world but makes it more unpredictable.
Not only has freedom been a contested value, there has been no agreement as to what freedom would look like. Defining freedom is like capturing a snake: the snake sheds its skin, and we are left with the relic of her trickery as a souvenir of our aspiration. There was no god or goddess of freedom in any ancient mythology, only a belated Roman statue of Libertas, which caused many cultural scandals throughout the centuries. Her “liberty cap” covered the shaved head of a former slave, who acquired rights in the democratic city-states of antiquity, thus making an attribute of Liberty into a simultaneous memento of slavery. As late as 1855 Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, soon to become the president of the Confederacy, objected to the idea of erecting a statue of Freedom wearing a liberty cap on top of the United States Capitol, arguing that this ancient badge of emancipated slaves would offend Southern sensibilities.
The most famous American Statue of Liberty does not wear the memento of slavery either; instead, the traditional liberty cap is transformed into the crown of enlightenment, a beacon for the new modern world. The statue was a gift from a disenchanted Frenchman, who believed that Liberty no longer resided in Europe but only in the United States. To create the goddess of enlightenment, he was inspired, so it is said, by the body of his wife and the face of his mother. But his creation—accepted with great reluctance in the new world—soon shed its skin, metamorphosing into a goddess of immigrants, a tourist attraction, and a security threat. In other countries, like Russia, statues of Liberty were highly unpopular and lacked native iconography. Much preferred was Mother Patria, with classical breasts clad in prudent drapery not dissimilar to those of Lady Liberty. Curiously, the Chinese Goddess of Liberty erected by dissenting students during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 referenced both the American and the Russian monuments; it also bore an uncanny resemblance to a Soviet Peasant and Worker statue from the 1930s mass-reproduced all over the world. Quickly brought down by the government forces, this destroyed Goddess of Socialism with a Human Face had unpredictable multicultural features. Of course, all iconographies have their own pitfalls; in the case of freedom, they only point at the unrepresentable.
Having lived half my life on the westernmost point of Russia and the other half on the eastern edge of the United States, I am forever haunted by the specter of two worrying queens—America’s Lady Liberty and Russia’s Mother Patria. This kind of personal and historical double exposure prompts me to recognize the fragile space of shared dreams that sometimes must be rescued from both extremism and mediocrity. While examining cultural differences in various dialogues on freedom, I will not focus solely on the clash of cultures or external pluralism but will explore internal pluralities within cultures and trace elective affinities across national borders. The examination of freedom requires a creative logic of its own.
One should not forget that freedom has also been associated with invisible elements like the free air of the city and that this “free air” is hard to export or commodify. Freedom’s inherent strangeness or noniconicity finds its best reflection in experimental art. The avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich preferred a zero degree of representation, an image of the black square, an “embryo of multiple potentialities,” while his rival Vladimir Tatlin designed the enigmatic monument To the Liberation of Humanity, known also as Monument to the Third Internationale, a tower of two mirroring spirals that resembled both a ruin of the Tower of Babel and a utopian construction site of the future. These artists believed that the new architecture of freedom would not require conventional technical drawings but could be built through experimental artistic technology. For many reasons ranging from the technical to the political, the monument to the liberation of humanity was never to be built. It remains a phantom limb of nonconformist art all over the world, an example of the improbable architecture of “what if.”
The German American immigrant and political thinker Hannah Arendt described the experience of freedom as something fundamentally strange, a new beginning and a “miracle of infinite improbability” that occurs regularly in the public realm. Since freedom is one of the most abused words in present-day politics, I will explore it as something “infinitely improbable” and, nevertheless, possible.
The new beginning marked by the experience Arendt describes is neither a return to nature and myth nor a leap into the “end of history.” For better or worse, freedom is an ongoing human miracle. Arendt finds a new space for the experience of freedom—not inside the human psyche or in the domain of the will but in human action on the public stage. She traces the first positive appreciation of freedom back to ancient Greece, to the conception of public or political freedom. For her, “care for the common world” becomes a measure and limit of such freedom. The experience of freedom is akin to the theatrical performance that uses conventions, public memory, and a common stage but also allows for the possibility of the unprecedented and particular. Such experiences constitute our “forgotten heritage,” which is frequently written out of the conventional historiography and therefore is something that every generation must discover anew. The improbable element in the discussion of the experience of freedom is the word “infinite.” Freedom is only possible under the conditions of human finitude and with concern for boundaries. In fact, since Aristotle, thinking of freedom begins with the disclaimer that freedom does not mean doing what one wishes, abolishing all boundaries and distinctions. Before thinking of “freedom from” and “freedom for” or negative and positive freedom we have to map the ground of possibility of the experience of freedom. Dreaming of borderlessness, we become aware of our fences and passages, bans and banisters, border zones and bridges where double agents are occasionally exchanged. But how do we understand a boundary: as a barrier or a contact zone, as a limit point or a horizon from which the world can be reimagined? Which boundaries are more important? Boundaries between cultures or between the individual and the state? Between private and public or within the self? Can there be a Russian freedom, an American freedom, a hyphenated freedom? Is one man’s tyranny another man’s national community of freedom? Touching upon contemporary debates around liberalism and its critics, around negative and positive conceptions of freedom, freedom of imagination and freedom of action, as well as of national and universalist understanding of rights of individuals and nation-states, this book will explore the border zones between political, religious, and cultural spheres, between economics and moral sentiments, between human rights and human passions.
The experience of freedom is akin to adventure: it explores new borders but never erases or transcends them. Through adventure we can test the limits but also navigate—more or less successfully—between convention and invention, responsibility and play. German sociologist Georg Simmel proposes an experimental spatial and temporal structure of adventure that in my view exemplifies the paradoxes of freedom. Adventure is an event, which both interrupts the flow of our everyday life and crystallizes its inner core. Examples of adventure can vary: from the experience of foreign travel to the exploration of one’s native modern metropolis, from a political action to an erotic experience or any life-transforming encounter. The concept will be further expanded to refer to the adventures of thinking, judging, of love and dissent. In adventure we “forcibly pull the world into ourselves,” but at the same time allow a “complete self-abandonment to the powers and accidents of the world, which can delight us, but in the same breadth can also destroy us.” Thus the relationships between inside and outside, foreign and native, center and periphery, core and everyday practice are constantly reframed. Adventure is like “a stranger’s body” which foregrounds the most intimate. Through the experience of adventure we enter into a dialogue with the world and with the stranger within us.
Adventure literally refers to something that is about to happen, ad venire, but rather than opening up into some catastrophic or messianic future, it instead leads into invisible temporal dimensions of the present. The temporal structure of adventure echoes the spatial one: it can be described as a time out of time, yet it also changes our everyday conception of what it means to be timely. Adventure might work against the linear conception of time, the time of modern progress or human aging; it challenges the implacable irreversibility of time without recourse to nostalgia. In the experience of adventure we can deflect the vectors of past and future and explore potentialities of the present, reenchanting modern experiences. The adventurer pushes “life beyond the threshold of its temporal boundaries,” but this “beyond” is never beyond this-worldliness. Neither transcendence nor transgression, adventure is a kind of profane illumination, to use Walter Benjamin’s term. It pushes human possibilities but doesn’t break them. It involves an encounter with the incalculable that forces us to change life’s calculus and explore the dimensions of “what if.”
Adventure opens up porous spaces of border zones, thresholds, bridges, and doors. It is not about experiences of the sublime but of the liminal that expand our potentialities. Adventure is described by Simmel as “a third something,” neither an external incident nor an internal system. Similarly, the experience of freedom can be understood as “a third something,” which calls for an adventure in thinking. I use “neither, nor” here to approach the sliding structure of adventure, but one can also describe it as “and, and” or “yet, and still” or “against all odds.”
Albert Camus, a writer of working-class origins, French Resistance fighter, and one of the practitioners of existentialism, echoed Simmel’s conception of adventure in his discussion of modern and ancient adventurers and rebels forging the idea of radical moderation. In The Rebel, Camus explores modern rebellion ranging from regicide and terror to resistance and artistic creativity. According to Camus, the ultimate adventure aims beyond the passionate romantic thirst for liberation toward the creative experience of freedom that might come with radical moderation. Moderation, in his unorthodox definition, is “a perpetual conflict, continually created and mastered by the intelligence,” while “intelligence is our faculty not to develop what we think to the very end, so that we can still believe in reality.” “Intelligence” in this sense means something closer to “wisdom,” a torturous but honest road between imagination and lived experience, between contemplation and action, that pushes the limits but does not destroy the space of the common trust or what Arendt called “the care for the world.”
Many political thinkers have thought that defining freedom is as “hopeless” as trying to square a circle by simply inscribing one inside the other, yet forging into those asymptotic spaces of the adventurous and incalculable is a fundamental enterprise for the human condition. It seems better to locate the experience of freedom in such asymptotic spaces than to square the circle once and for all. Recognition of such hopelessness is a sine qua non for my thinking about freedom. It is always a form of thinking out of or from within an impasse—an aporia, that is—turning obstacle into adventure in the broad sense of the word.
The adventure of freedom in this understanding is about reframing but not breaking and removing all frames. The word “frame” itself has had an adventurous past. “Frame” originates in “from,” which suggests that it is made of the same timber as the object that it surrounds or that the two become codependent. Originally, “from” also had a meaning of “forward,” “ahead,” and “advance.” I don’t know how and why it evolved into the unfortunate direction of nostalgic introspection. Freedom frames can be unstable and unforeseen.
Eccentric Modernities and Third-Way Thinking
Defying the occasional mood of hopelessness, I view the contemporary moment in history as particularly timely for rethinking freedom from a broader interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective, recovering its forgotten heritage. We live with destruction, wars, and injustices, just like at the beginning of the twentieth century. Wars take place in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas—and unfortunately, not on the internet. Yet in my view, the contemporary moment is not characterized by a pure “clash of cultures” but rather by a clash of cultures of modernization. It can be described as a conflict of asynchronic modernities, of various projects of globalizations or globalizations that are often at odds with one another. I distinguish between modernization, which usually refers to industrialization and technological progress as a state policy and social practice, and modernity (the word coined by poet Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s), which is a critical reflection on the new forms of perception and experience and which often results in a critique of modernization and an unequivocal embrace of a single narrative of progress without turning antimodern, postmodern, or postcritical. This modernity is contradictory and ambivalent; it can combine fascination for the present with longing for another time, a critical mixture of nostalgia and utopia. Most important, reflection on modernity makes us critical subjects rather than mere objects of modernization and includes the dimension of freedom as well as the recognition of its boundaries.
This is why I want to get away from the endless “ends” of art and history and the prepositions post-, neo-, avant-, and trans- of the charismatic postcriticism that tries desperately to be “in.” There is another option: not to be out, but off—as in off-stage, off-key, off-beat, and occasionally, off-color. Off-modern does not suggest a continuous history from antiquity to modernity to postmodernity, and so on. Instead, it confronts the radical breaks in tradition, the gaps of forgetting, losses of common yardsticks, and disorientations that occur in almost every generation. Off-modern reflection does not try to cure longing with belonging and a refabrication of traditional yardsticks. Rather, it produces off-spring of thought out of those gaps and crossroads, opening up a third way of intellectual history of modernity. It involves exploration of the side alleys and lateral potentialities of the project of critical modernity. In other words, it opens into the “modernity of what if” rather than simply modernization as it is. The politics and aesthetics of the lateral moves that combine estrangement from the world with the estrangement for the world will be examined in chapter 5, opening into another political history of modernism that is barely known.
An off-modern approach works both temporarily and spatially. It allow us to think about alternative genealogies and histories of modernity and at the same time invites us to look at the different shapes and forms of the modern experience all over the world beyond the presumed Western center, as well as the complex reactions that modernity elicits.
For many postmodern thinkers freedom was one of many simulacras, but for the off-modern, freedom is an existential imperative. The “off” in off-modern designates both the belonging (albeit) eccentric to the critical project of modernity as well as its excess, the second emphatic “f.” In some way off-modern reflection returns to the unfinished business of critical modernity. It exemplifies both the edginess and the urgency of the reflection on freedom and offers an antidote to antimodern ideologies of all kinds.
In order to rescue the experience of freedom from historical oblivion, one has to “brush history against the grain,” to use Walter Benjamin’s expression. Sometimes, the more monuments to the freedom-fighters there are the more forgotten is the individual experience. Some of those monuments are a part of ars oblivionalis, the art of enforced amnesia that creates false synonyms to conquer the space of memory. At first glance, freedom seems to be the opposite of memory; it is prospective rather than retrospective and travels along the unpredictable forks in the paths of the future. Unlike burdened memory-mongers with their overweight carryon luggage, lovers of freedom travel light and enjoy the occasional shock of the new. But this is only at first glance; a more thorough examination reveals that the two share common frameworks and a common ground of possibility. What is this common ground, and how may one expand its limits and horizons?
Contemporary economist and philosopher Amartya Sen proposes in Development as Freedom a distinction between economic development and the expansion of freedom, which might overlap but never entirely coincide. This echoes the distinction between modernization and reflective modernity. In Sen’s view, larger concerns for human well-being might slow the flow of capital but ultimately what matters is the expansion of freedom, not a free global expansion of capital or economic development for its own sake. In other words, freedom is not a byproduct of economic development but an alternative form of human development in its own right, which should be the end in itself.
To understand the idea of development as freedom and the expansion of freedom that pushes but does not abolish boundaries and distinctions, I question the divisions of labor that exist between different areas of study. In contemporary debates, freedom has been chopped into pieces, compartmentalized, and packaged in different domains that sometimes do not communicate with one another: economic, political, legal, existential, and artistic. An understanding of freedom as adventure that tests the limits and as a cocreation in the public world trespasses such divisions of labor and forces us to think differently about the progress of freedom and to explore the reservoirs of our cultural memory and imagination to recover a broader understanding of the political. An occasional nostalgia for past dreams of freedom might offer a creative way of addressing the current situation and a way around an impasse in the future.
It is striking that the early twenty-first century has so far not produced anything comparable to the early twentieth-century flourishes of artistic innovation that often anticipated and paralleled innovations in science. Yet the study of freedom is to a large degree a humanistic endeavor that requires an alternative artistic logic of understanding. It challenges all-encompassing systems of thoughts and a superhuman understanding of freedom as manifest destiny, an invisible hand of the market, the laws of history, cunning of nature, or cunning of reason. The experience of freedom is about the encounter with uncertainty that exceeds the “calculated risk” of the latest mathematical formulae and therefore cannot be safely repackaged into the future “derivative product” together with our toxic historical debt—to use the metaphors of contemporary financial crisis.
The idea of cocreation requires rethinking the role of human agency and the architecture of the public stage. Thinking and acting creatively in this case does not mean thinking in the state of sovereignty. The concept of freedom as cocreation defies the idea of sovereignty—both communal and individual—suggesting instead complex interactions between the individual and the world. At the same time, the “co-” of cocreation should not be seen in opposition to individual creativity, responsibility, or independence. The experience of freedom is not managed by some committee on freedom; it probes the limit of minoritarian democracy rather than satisfying “the tyranny of the majority” and tests the trust in the common world and a possibility of a new ethics—an ethics of worldliness.
The Public World and the Architecture of Freedom
Hannah Arendt offers a cautionary tale of the appearance and disappearance of the public world: “To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as the table is located between those who sit around it, the world like every in-between relates and separates men at the same time. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost is power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible.”
The “world” here appears uncanny, like a flickering ghost in a gothic tale. Yet it is also the measure and framework of human interaction, an everyday ground of common ethics and trust, obvious as the old dining table and not always visible due to its obviousness. In present-day terms, the “world” is rarely used without qualifiers: third world, second world, first world, old world, new world. To describe “the world” we have to come up with something like a retronym—a word introduced because an existing term has become inadequate, like “snail mail” in the era of e-mail. Has public worldliness become an endangered subject in contemporary thought? “Worldliness” refers neither to biological life nor to economic globalization; it is the realm of human artifice where the plurality of humanity manifests itself in its distinctiveness and multidimensionality, not merely in its agonistic otherness. Usually associated with the public sphere, which “gathers us together but prevents us from falling over each other,” worldliness can be regarded more broadly as a realm of action and storytelling that speaks of fragility and finitude but also grants an extensive duration to the world beyond individual life-span or even the life-span of several generations. What is at stake here might not be the “immortality of the soul” or the mark of eternal life, but the survival of the manmade world. At its best, architecture and art can offer a “premonition of immortality,” a “non-mortal home to mortal beings.” Contrary to the poetic dictum that philosophy is about homecoming, there could be a different way of inhabiting the world and making a second home, not the home into which we were born but a home that we freely choose for ourselves, a home that contains a palimpsest of world culture. Worldliness is often discussed together with architecture, material and metaphorical. Architecture inhabits philosophy just as much as philosophy inhabits architecture. Plato’s Republic contains a mutual codependence between architectural and philosophical thinking. But Plato’s protocinematic cave, where humans caught in the “world of appearances” watch the shadows of their existence on the screen, offers us a subterranean and unworldly metaphor for human existence. And this is not the only architectural possibility. Architecture is, after all, a form of poesis—a creative making of world culture that does not merely reify hierarchies but commemorates human labor and artifice and exceeds its immediate utilitarian function. It is not by chance that myths of language and architecture overlap: the Greek labyrinth, the biblical Tower of Babel, the native American “world house” whose mistress is the playful serpent dancing with sympathetic humans. Most of these projects were unfinished works in progress, not unlike the avant-garde Monument to the Third International or the Monument to the Liberation of Humanity. The architecture of freedom is a kind of transitional architecture traversed by storytelling that opens up spaces of desire and possibility.
The architecture of freedom frequently presents a combination of ruins and construction sites that reveals the fragility of manmade worlds. Architecture is not architectonics; it does not give to the world a system or a superstructure but rather a texture of concepts and common yardsticks. To understand the forms of local cosmopolitanism and grassroots politics that provide insight into larger political structures in any country, it is most useful to examine the disputes around urban sites, monuments, and architecture, which can take the form of deliberation, oppositional demonstration, or orchestrated violent protest. Recent examples might include debates over the ground zero site in new York City, the discussions about public spaces and “the commons” threatened by corporate privatization in other American cities, mafia wars over real estate in the center of Moscow, or fights around squatters and “free states” like Christiania in Copenhagen or new “model” favelas and reorganized shantytowns in Latin America. Or, to think closer to home, during the financial crisis of 2008–2009 formerly middle-class Americans squatted in their own “foreclosed” suburban homes, expropriating like imposters the simulacra of their American dream. Debates around architecture provide a form of civic education based on care for the built environment, public memory, and forms of social justice.
“Worldliness” is not synonymous with “globalization.” The word “globalization,” first registered in 1959 at the beginning of space exploration, operates with an aerial picture of the Earth from outer space, or in contemporary terms, with a Google map view of the global flows of capital and populations. Worldliness suggests a different form of engagement with the world based not on virtual distance but on the interconnectedness and messiness of the human condition. Rethinking the concept of worldliness pushes us beyond the opposition between nature and culture, culture and civilization, or global and local; it is about thinking this-worldliness over other-worldliness. Fortunately, paradise has already been lost, so we have to start loving our less-than-paradisiacal world and accept the freedom of exile. The experience of freedom requires a renaming and remapping of this world and a challenge both to the metaphysics and to the notion of globalization.
The discovery of this-worldliness in the history of political thought is directly connected to a new appreciation of public freedom. It stemmed from a double perspective of slaves turned citizens in the Athenian city-state and was later developed by religious heretics, dissenters, and immigrants. Sociologist Orlando Patterson connected the positive conception of freedom to the particular circumstances in the Greek city-states. He observed that in most ancient and modern civilizations the native word synonymous with freedom does not necessarily carry a positive meaning. In ancient Egyptian the word for freedom signified “orphanhood.” Similarly in contemporary Chinese and Japanese, the native word for freedom was originally negative, suggesting privation or nonbelonging. This, of course, doesn’t mean that there are other contemporary terms that reflect a more hybrid thinking. What was specific to the ancient Greek city-states was the fact that slavery was not necessarily a permanent condition; nor were captives murdered or sacrificed, as was the practice in many other ancient civilizations. Instead, in Athens slaves could be emancipated into citizens. Hence the negative term (a-douleia, simple noncoercion) developed into eleutheria (freedom). Of course, the first step after enfranchisement is a liberation from want and the satisfaction of basic human needs: shelter, food, minimal protection from violence, and liberation from immediate coercion. Freedom is the next step, but the relationship between freedom and liberation is never quite linear. My hypothesis is that the space of freedom was colonized from the space of the sacred and centered on the redefinition of sacrifice both in politics and in theater. The Athenian polis was supported by democratic practices and theatrical performances of tragedy and comedy. Tragedy educated democracy not only by providing the cathartic experience of a violent spectacle but also by showing the dangers of mythical violence through the twists of theatrical plots. At the center of Athenian tragedy is the issue of “corrupted sacrifice,” which from its beginning as a sacred ritual becomes a deliberated act, opening into a space of negotiation and reflection in worldly theater. Questioning violence and transforming the practice of human sacrifice into a space of deliberation would also be important in the later struggles for freedom of religion and freedom of consciousness that are fundamental for the early modern understanding of the idea. The primal scene of the Greek eleutheria is public, not private; its setting is the public square (agora), not the inner citadel of the human psyche. Eleutheria was a combination of play and duty, an obligation and a potential for creative civic action. Ancient cultures did not have our contemporary understanding of the notion of individual freedom. Considerably later, the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55–c. 135 CE), himself a freed slave who experienced many misfortunes in his life including physical handicap and exile, developed the doctrine of inner freedom as the individual’s only refuge, an “inner polis” and an “acropolis of the soul.” Uncannily, inner freedom mirrored the public architecture of the lost polis of the Greek city-state in the age of the Roman Empire.
If we look for the origins of the word “freedom” in several indo-European languages, using etymologies broadly and poetically, we find some surprising results. The Greek word eleutheria and the Roman libertas have a common linguistic base in *leudhe/leudhi, signifying “public” or common space. The Latin word for play, ludere, linked to illusion and collision, also goes back to this common base, as do libidia, love, and possibly Greek elpis, hope. The English word “freedom” is also connected to joy and friendship. Even the most explicitly antiarchitectural contemporary rhetoric of the “removal of barriers,” off-shoring, and superhuman flow of capital also point back to a certain shared design and topography. “Trade” comes from treadth, a path, and “market” refers to a building where negotiations took place. Law, too, especially in the Greek conception of nomos—the boundary—was connected to a certain topography of cultural memory and was frequently used in the plural.
Many historians have noted that the ancient Greek polis offered a limited space of self-realization that was available only to male citizens, but the polis gave shape to an aspiration, an ideal of freedom that spread beyond its walls. An understanding of spiritual freedom delineated by Epictetus reveals cross-cultural connections between East and West, between Indian, Persian, Hellenic, and Hebrew cultures. What is originally Greek is the concept of political freedom. Yet from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, debates on freedom, both spiritual and political, and on the preservation of the Greek philosophical heritage, became a cross-cultural affair. Among the first early medieval interpreters of Aristotle were Persian Muslim scientist, physician, philosopher, poet, and statesman Abu ibn Sina (Avicenna [980–1037]) and the Spanish Egyptian Jewish philosopher, physician, and rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Mussa bin Maimun or Moses Maimonides [1135–1204]; the enumeration of adjectives and occupations is in itself amazing). In modern times, one might recall the passionate philosophical dialogue between Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant on the nature of progress and freedom of conscience beyond the Christian conception of universalism, and in the twentieth century the deliberation of civil disobedience and dissent from Gandhi to the American civil rights movement and East European, East Asian, Latin American dissidents. There is no exclusive cultural patrimony of freedom; the concepts circulate and interact. The history of freedom is what Anthony Kwame Appiah calls “the case for contamination.” Worldliness is not the same as cosmopolis, but the two notions overlap. There are many vernacular cosmopolitans coming from different localities (with memories of inequality, but not entirely defined by a colonial or postcommunist or any other particular history) but sharing the preoccupation with worldly architecture. Freedom is never about purity—ethnic or otherwise—but about contacts, contaminations, and border crossings. And so is what I would call “fascinating unfreedom,” which takes different shapes but shares an eros of power and paranoic antimodern or post-postmodern ideology.