13 thoughts on “Lionel Gossman

  1. Martin Ruehl

    Lionel was my beloved mentor and friend. He was a brilliant, distinguished scholar, and I have learnt so much from him about the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, nineteenth-century Romantic painting, and the lure of irrationalism at the fin de siècle. His clear, unpretentious prose and his nuanced, empathetic reading of sources remain a model for my own academic work. I still consider his sober, balanced reflections on the relationship between history and literature — to quote the title of his 1990 book – the most compelling commentary on the so-called “linguistic turn”. But I will remember him for his spontaneous generosity and kindness, his preternatural, almost self-effacing modesty, and his deep sense of loyalty. Though he was a professor of French literature and I a PhD student in German history, he quickly took me under his wings and became my unofficial Doktorvater. After I left Princeton in the summer of 2000, he stayed in touch with me, continued to read my work, gave me advice professional and personal, and steadfastly supported my career: with warmth and wisdom and a string of glowing references that helped me land my first job and book contract. What little I have achieved to date I owe in large part to him. More than anyone else, he guided me through the vagaries of academia and made me believe in my projects. He had a wondrous capacity to take an interest and to see what was best in the work of other people. I vividly recall our animated discussions on the C-Floor of Firestone Library in 1997: We would talk for hours about the first chapter of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy and what we thought it revealed about its author’s politics. I believed I detected an anti-democratic animus in Burckhardt’s colourful portraits of the Quattrocento tyrants. He shared my misgivings about Burckhardt’s patrician disdain for “the masses” and encouraged me to reflect more on the ways in which ideology shaped historical judgement. Characteristically, however, he insisted on the ambivalence of the passages in question and Burckhardt’s ambiguous attitude towards modernity. It was only years later, as I re-wrote my thesis for publication, that I came to appreciate this ambiguity. I still work on Burckhardt, and I like to think that my recent work is much closer to the spirit of Lionel’s assessment – and that it is the better for it.

    For more than twenty years, he looked after me and looked out for me, was my trusted confidant and correspondent. He was one of the very few people of whom I could say — of whom I knew — that he would always be there for me. We had a deep, special friendship or, as we liked to call it, in allusion to the Nazarene painters he wrote about so movingly, a Lukasbrüderschaft. There was something lyrical in him, a romantic streak that drew him to the Nazarenes and to the writings of the nineteenth-century French historian Jules Michelet. It was paired with dry wit and a healthy dose of Scottish common sense realism. This combination was on display in his scholarship – and in his dealings as a friend. I will miss my loyal Lukasbruder, and I will never forget what he did for me and what we shared. All mein’ Gedanken, die ich hab, die sind bei Dir.

  2. Dr. Alessandra Tosi

    I never met Lionel in person, but I considered him a friend from the very start. We began corresponding over ten years ago when I, an academic in the throes of establishing an independent Open Access publishing initiative with no funding and from a borrowed desk, contacted Lionel to ask whether we could republish one of his well-known books on eighteenth-century French culture. At the time I was trying to kick-start our press by convincing a number of well-known scholars to allow us to reissue their work in free-to-read digital format, thus shattering the usual price and geographical barriers to knowledge. Lionel, with his trademark generosity and intellectual courage, offered this unknown academic, representing a press which hadn’t yet produced a single book, not one but two of his brand-new scholarly works. The first, Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the ‘Nazi Conscience’ was published in April 2009 as our first original monograph, followed closely by The Red Countess: Select Autobiographical and Fictional Writing of Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1883-1951), to which Lionel added new material for a revised edition in 2018.

    It soon came out that Lionel was himself an early supporter of Open Access, having perceived how the digital age could finally free knowledge for all and bring academia down from its ivory tower. It emerged in our first email exchange that Lionel himself had seriously considered setting up a publishing venue for Open Access academic works when OA was still a ‘fringe’ concept, especially in the humanities.

    2009 thus marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration, with two more books by Lionel coming out in 2013 – The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler, and On History, a collaborative translation of Jules Michelet – and, in 2015, Thomas Annan of Glasgow: Pioneer of the Documentary Photograph. Together with the earlier two books, they have been accessed over 110,000 times worldwide.

    More than anything, however, that first exchange sparked a warm friendship. Lionel’s kind-hearted messages, full of wit, modesty and, above all, an intellectual enthusiasm and a truly unique openness of mind, represented a steady source of encouragement and a much-needed injection of optimism over the years. I’ll miss him more than I can say.

  3. Aidan O'Neill

    I first met Lionel Gossman in September 2007. I was in Princeton to take up a fellowship in the Law and Public Affairs (LAPA) Program and, as a non-academic and just a practicing lawyer in the UK (LAPA has taken a punt on me), was feeling quite unsure of myself and, frankly, out of my depth. I had come over on the Queen Mary 2 to give myself seven 25-hour days of voyaging across the Atlantic, to make the mental transition from practicing law to thinking about law. Lionel came up to me at a reception shortly after I had arrived and, with barely any introduction other than his name, started talking to me in an immediately recognisable Glasgow accent (my home town), saying how nice it was to have a fellow Scot around the place and asking me how long I had been in the country. I said “about two weeks. What about you?,” thinking, from his unchanged Scottish accent that he, like me, was just off the boat. He said, cheerily, “och, I think about 50 years.” It was a great beginning of what was, for me, a wonderful friendship. Lionel was incredibly welcoming and encouraging to me, and to my civil partner Douglas Edington; and he and Eva opened up their home to us both, and made us feel at home in what was, for me, this brave new (academic) world. He helped make my year at LAPA i n2007-2008 one of the highlights in my life. I look back fondly on my year at Princeton and I rejoice at the opportunity it gave me to get to know Lionel, for whose kindness and openness and supportiveness (and sheer joie de vivre and engagement with life) I remain in awe. The world is diminished by his passing. May God comfort Eva and Janice, and all Lionel’s family, among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

  4. Ullrich Langer

    Lionel Gossman began teaching at Princeton at the same time that I arrived as a graduate student, in 1976. William Paulson, Lisa Gasbarrone and I were in several of his seminars — I would not miss one, although my field was Renaissance — and they made graduate school, and what w were trying to learn and live, entirely worthwhile. Lionel arrived by bicycle on campus .He carried a large-format book to class, opened it, and started talking, reading from it, but not really lecturing, since we interrupted often and commented as well. I had never witnessed such an open and witty and thoughtful intellectual performance; it was pure pleasure. The first seminar was on Voltaire, a writer Lionel only partly liked and whose historiography, not his comic narratives, were no doubt most interesting to him then. Everything Lionel said about all of his works was at the same time on the mark and critical, and made you want to read Voltaire for the rest of your life. And everything else. Over the span of 40 years of teaching and scholarship I kept in touch, intermittently, with Lionel, hearing about ever more capacious interests, arcane but not at all so, once Lionel started talking. it is a life parts of which I am glad Lionel allowed me to witness and maybe practice on my own, not as well, not all the time. Gratitude for this chance and knowledge that there will be no more; that is very hard. Lionel once told me not to use “very.”

  5. Maureen Jameson

    I would like to acknowledge my debt to Lionel Gossman as well as to Eva and Janice, and to express my profound sorrow at the news of his passing. I loved him very much, and held him as a model for what I should strive to be, however faint my approximations.

    Collegial eulogies have emphasized both Lionel’s immeasurable kindness and his polymathic brilliance. If I may, I would like to point to the convergence of the two; that is, the mental effort he expended in maximizing the kindness of his gestures. the vast majority of what I say here I have only come to see clearly many long years after the facts.

    I was a marginal admit to the RLL PhD program — a solid B+ first-gen college student from the South, clueless in more respects than I could have dreamt, and quite possibly precarious, in ways I didn’t suspect. For some reason — certainly not my performance in class — Lionel and Eva asked me to housesit for them in the summers; I also drove them to JFK in their car. I think I helped with the logistics of Janice’s Bat Mitzvah, and “babysat” — though there was no baby involved — from time to time.

    Contemporary readers may misunderstand; this trust was a treasured privilege, and it bolstered a desperately waning confidence, and secured a faithful mentor.

    It evolved that I had two possible options post-Princeton: a visiting nearby, and an assistant professorship in the Middle East. One professor opined that if I took the job in the Middle East, I would get a good tan. Lionel asked me which I intended to choose, saying (and please hear this in Scottish) that “this is quite a test of character.”

    Having now been in my current academic job at an R1 institution for 35 years, I know that the “character” decision, from a DGS perspective, would not have been the decision I made and blithely announced to Lionel. but having heard what I decided, Lionel never corrected my perception The gift of his silence allowed me to imagine that I was making the right choice, and that I had his blessing, and that I had passed the test of character.

    I visited Lionel three times since graduate school, and we corresponded sporadically by e-mail. We were to have met again, once the pandemic abated, to drink scotch, and talk about the times.

    My deepest condolences to Eva and Janice, as well as to Lionel’s colleagues and students.

  6. Harold Shapiro

    Lionel gave the intellectual life of Princeton University [and beyond] some additional intellectual sparkle and in many other ways made Princeton a more interesting and intellectually a broader and more open intellectual community. Others can speak more fully and knowledgeably about his many scholarly contributions, but I will always remember him for his intellectual and personal independence, his generosity of spirit, his capacity to reach out to others and engage them in interesting and pressing issues, his modesty, his energy and his capacity to continue to enrich our intellectual and personal lives through many decades. we are all bereft today, but we send our special condolences to Eva and his family.

  7. Amy Gutman

    Ever since Lionel joined the Princeton faculty in 1976, all of us who had the good fortune to know him as a colleague and friend have been as blessed as we are now bereft. I remember being instantly drawn to his magnetic intelligence, friendliness, wit, and warmth. I knew Lionel as an omnivorous seeker of truth, an avid defender of dissenting perspectives, a tireless dedicated teacher, an exemplary University citizen, and a generous lover of people. He shared an unfathomable love and the fullest life imaginable with Eva and their daughter Janice.

    when Lionel spoke about his love of Eva and Janice with me, the last time I had the honor of speaking with him just a few days before he passed away, I took a leaf out of his life’s work and told him the truth: “You know, Lionel, you are so very lovable.” He burst out in his absolutely captivating laugh, yet another of the many gifts that Lionel bestowed so freely on all of us. His life serves as a blessing to us all.

  8. Lisa Gasbarrone

    Princeton was not an easy adjustment for a naive young woman from Maine, the product of an Italian American upbringing in rural New England. I wasn’t quite first-gen, but close. My dad, A World War Two vet, had gone to pharmacy school on the GI Bill. I remain very attached to these roots. But even by Bowdoin degree and a junior year in Paris had not quite prepared me for the atmosphere of the Ivy League. Lionel was director of graduate studies my first year, and his groundedness, his unfailing courtesy and kindess, his genuineness, and his candid but appreciative assessment of my work — these things provided much needed encouragement in a challenging environment. I took his Rousseau seminar in my first semester, received quiet praise for my final essay, which sent me over the moon, and that seminar set me on the path to my dissertation.

    So many moments come to mind, but I will share just one. I popped into his office on day in East Pyne Hall, and I found him sitting cross-legged on the floor sorting index cards. When I asked him what he was doing, he laughed (such a wonderful laugh) and said that he was trying to recall how to teach the difference between “qui” and “que.” If memory serves, he was preparing to teach an undergraduate language class. but he didn’t seem to think that this task was beneath him. I have carried that lesson, and so many others, into my own career at a liberal arts college, where I have tried to live up to his extraordinary example in my teaching, writing, and professional life.

    He is one of a handful of people I have most admired in my life, and always will. Though I think he might not like this kind of fuss about it, I feel so privileged to have known him. I am heartbroken at his loss and will think of him often, as I have for over forty years, and always with the greatest affection and esteem.

  9. Walter Murch

    Lionel Gossman was just three years into his career at Johns Hopkins when I was lucky enough to wander into his class in 17th-century French literature in the fall of 1962. He was 33 years old, and I was a 19-year-old sophomore.

    I had gone to Hopkins the previous year hoping to study oceanography, but was told that this was a graduate program, and that I would have to choose between biology and geology as a kind of “pre-med” discipline if I wanted to get a graduate degree in oceanography. I had taken biology in high school so I chose geology to see what that was all about.

    It was fascinating, up to a point. But there was a kind of “stamp-collecting” discipline in the class that I took — identifying rock samples, mostly — and it lacked, as far as I could see with my limited vision, a unifying story. But this was a few years prior to the revolution in plate tectonics, which as to upend everything in 1966 — the idea that continents were on the move, swirling and crashing, swallowing and being swallowed.

    In my second year, I consequently set out to audit a number of classes in search of good and inspirational teaching, irrespective of the subject matter. I was fortunate that Lionel’s class was one of the audited ones. Here was story many times over: Corneille, Moliere, Rachine crashing into each other, swallowing and being swallowed. And the class was conducted in French — an extra challenge but I had studied French since primary school, so I was just able to keep my head above water.

    Lionel’s personality was engaging, precise, scholarly with humorous asides — this was what I had been looking for without knowing it. I switched to liberal arts with a minor in Romance languages. Three of us from Lionel’s class — myself, Matthew Robbins, and Andrew Feenberg — put together a proposal to study in Italy and France for our junior year, and thanks to Lionel’s support, this was granted (Hopkins had no official study-abroad program at that time).

    We landed in Paris at the crest of the Nouvelle Vague and this swept away two of us — Matthew and myself — into the swirling world of cinema (talk about crashing, swallowing, and being swallowed!). We graduated from Hopkins in 1965 and went on to graduate school in cinema At USC. Andrew resisted, and stayed a philosopher, which thankfully he remains to this day as a a professor at Simon Fraser in Vancouver.

    Lionel was (and is still!) for me the exemplar of a university professor: humane, informed, precise, inspirational, funny (when appropriate), and above all quirkily himself.

    We stayed in touch and fortunately I was able to visit with Lionel and Eva briefly in Princeton in the fall of 2019. We had planned to meet up again in 2020, but COVID-19 intervened, and now that meeting will unfortunately be deferred a few years more.

  10. Andrew Feenberg

    Lionel was one of my most important teachers. I arrived at Johns Hopkins as a freshman in 1961. The first semester I ended up in Lionel’s 20th-century literature class. I only took the class because I could not get up early enough for the grammar course I had been assigned. The Romance languages advisor permitted me to take a literature course and Lionel’s was the only one that fit into my already full schedule. it was populated by third and fourth year students and a few graduate students. The class was in French and the atmosphere was intensely intellectual. I could read French pretty well — I read Le rouge et le noir the summer before Hopkins — but I had practically never heard spoken French. the class began with Monsieur Teste. Lionel’s lectures were carefully prepared in a tiny script on little sheets of note paper. All I could grasp the first week was a few general ideas. I decided to persist in the hope that things would become clear and indeed, each class I could understand a bit more, first the sense of a portion of the lecture, then the paragraphs, and finally individual sentences. Lionel taught me to understand spoken French while introducing me to the drama of modern French literature. I especially recall horror and excitement at his reading of passages from Voyage au bout de la nuit. How many people can say they learned French from Valery and Celine? Many years later I was driven from Cerisy to Paris by French friends. When we finally reached the city we drove past the Conciergerie and one of them turned to me and pointed it out. I said, “Yes, I know, that is where Lucien de Rubempre was imprisoned.” The whole car burst out laughing at my peculiar literary take on French history. So this is the result of a sentimental education at Hopkins! It was one of the great experiences of my life.

  11. Matthew Robbins

    Not long after my arrival at John Hopkins as a freshman in 1961 it became clear that the Department of Romance Languages was where the action was. A cluster of rising intellectual stars were stirring things up and it was my great good fortune to study with Rene Girard, Eugenio Donato and, most of all, Lionel Gossman.

    Lionel’s lectures were in French and so were my extensive, spiral-bound class note, which sit on my bookshelf to this day. At the time, Lionel had a particular interest in Moliere and his analysis of the art of playwriting opened up my eyed as to what occurs when actors declaim onstage. Maybe, in some mysterious way, this pointed me to my future in writing and directing stories in Hollywood.

    I loved Lionel’s unique turn of mind, which somehow combined a skeptical sense of humor with a keen, loving appreciation of French literature. I’ve recently been rereading Balzac, Stendhal and Hugo, returning often to those handy, still incisive Gossman notes.

    On a visit to Princeton in September 2019, I was able to thank Lionel for a particular kindesss he showed me when, in 1962-63, he blessed my plan to study at the Sorbonne for a full academic year. His special dispensation was necessary in as much as Hopkins did not yet have a formal study-abroad program. In Paris, I continued to take classes in French literature and art history, sending my essays back to Lionel and Rene Girard in Baltimore.

    Upon my return, Lionel cooked me a lunch and did some probing as to what it was I had learned while in Europe. I confessed that it was in Paris that I fell in love with movies, quite an unexpected development. Lionel was amused and enthusiastic about this, which captures the warm and playful side of his personality. His encouragement continued as I applied to and was accepted for graduate study at the University of Southern California’s department of cinema.

    I was particularly touched by the fact that on the wall in their Princeton home, Lionel and Eva had a drawing I had made and given to him back in those student days. We stood side by side alongside it for a photo. Looking at that snapshot today, I’m struck by Lionel’s smile and, at age 90, his youthful radiance. He was truly a magical man.

    Like all his students, I never forgot him and today I mourn his passing.

  12. Andrew Clark

    I met Lionel for the first time after a lecture he gave on Basel in the age of Burkhardt when I was a senior at Amherst College in 1995. Marie-Hélène Huet presented Lionel to me after the talk. I was pretty intimated and nervous as the talk was incredibly rich, erudite, and far beyond my intellect. But Lionel was immediately endearing and friendly. With his warm smile, large inquisitive eyes, and Scottish accent, he did his best to put me at ease and asked me a number of questions on my thesis that I was writing at the time. The second time I met him I was in his chairs’ office at Princeton for a conversation as I was trying to decide where to go to graduate school. I had actually thought at the time that I had narrowed my choice to two schools and neither was Princeton. But after a fantastic conversation with Lionel on Diderot in his office and then with Suzanne Nash and François Rigolot, I completely changed my mind. I came to Princeton and I was to work with Lionel. And what a privilege and honor it was to work with him. He guided me through comps, my prospectus, and every stage of my dissertation. His readings were always generous, insightful, and extremely honest. He knew how to give direction to what seemed like disparate thoughts and he always knew what didn’t work. In fact, my interest in the relationship between parts and wholes in Diderot was largely related to the ways in which Lionel could see unexpected and dynamic connections between things that most would ignore. Lionel was a contrarian investor in the world of scholarship. He was drawn to the forgotten, those that other scholars had written off or wouldn’t dare touch. And he always had a way of making us rethink the place of those artists, thinkers, and writers in the histories that received and situated them and the worth of their creations. I think Dan Brewer said to me that it is not that the texts Lionel are working on are necessarily interesting, it is that Lionel can make any text interesting. A reading of a text by him is a reading of his mind.

    Each meeting with Lionel was a journey into another text, image, or idea that he had made interesting. Lionel’s whole face would become so animated as he pulled out new photos or documents he had found, a new website, a book stranded on the stacks waiting for his discovery. Long after I finished at Princeton, Lionel still kept that enthusiasm, in fact it was even more pronounced. Our lunches at the Institute, Prospect, East Pyne, at some new discovery of his in town, and occasionally in New York City always were filled with those treasures that he had recently found. With the excitement of a child, he would unveil his latest discovery and then walk me through the intricate histories in which it was and had been situated. Although Lionel ate only very modest amounts at those meals, his appetite for ideas was voracious, eclectic, and entirely democratic. The web was a wonder to him because it brought him access to some many different people and ways of thinking and enabled him to share his thoughts and works to new audiences without the boundaries of elitism, copyright, permissions, and print runs. Lionel was a true member of the Republic of Letters. He held correspondences with numerous people (in numerous languages), many of whom he had discovered over the internet: curators of museums, archivists, novelists, artists, musicians…. He championed their work and often found materials for them. He quickly earned their respect and admiration and often became their collaborator. Towards the last decade of his life, he often told me that he could no longer work on big projects because he felt it was hard to keep all the ideas together even if he was probably far more capable of doing this than most scholars half his age. He gravitated more and more to images. But as he had already started many extensive projects, he just offered these notes, sources, and archives to others. He was happy to know that a project might be continued and cherished by someone else.

    When I learned of Lionel’s death last Wednesday from an email of a good friend at Oxford, I was in shock and in tears. It didn’t seem possible. I called and left a message with Eva totally overcome with disbelief, emotion, and regret. True, Lionel was 91 and had lived a wonderful long life. He had an amazing wife, Eva, whom he loved and respected greatly and who became dear to me as I spent time with Lionel after finishing Princeton, and a daughter, Janice, of whom he was so proud and fond, and about whom he spoke to me frequently always sharing her works and her creative projects with her students. But although 91, Lionel was more alive than pretty much anyone I know both in mind and spirit. Dying seemed impossible. It is true that he had an aneurysm in the last few years that threatened a potential quick ending at any point, but even this he seemed to have overcome and accept after a brief moment of existential angst. He told me then that it was the first time he had ever had to think about death. And at first this was a dauting thought, but this didn’t linger too long. His passing has left me without a cherished mentor, interlocutor, and friend, a guide to whom I could always turn if I needed direction, and an intellectual energy source. Speaking with Lionel was like sitting up close to a jazz musician. After the session you want to go home and play; read, write, and create, inspired by his fire.

    Beyond the rigorous, expansive but always humble intellect of a great humanist, Lionel was also a profound human. He had infinite care and love. He could always be observed talking to the department administrators in East Pyne, who cherished him and were always happy when he stopped by. He was never rushed in the presence of another or made anyone feel his time was more important. He knew all the guards and staff in the library, all the workers on campus, and his care for them was heartfelt and endearing. He was always alert and aware of any changes, deeply empathetic to people, works, and spaces. His generosity extended to the time he gave his students and colleagues, his extensive illegible marginalia, illegible (and increasingly so the older he got) because he felt that if students cared about what he wrote they would take the time to meet with him to discuss it and to interpret his scrawl. It extended to his weekly recordings he made each Tuesday for the blind, to his weekly visit with Eva to the doctor. It extended to all who were lucky and fortunate enough to cross paths with him.

    Lionel mentored and advised many great students and scholars and the impact of his thoughts, his scholarship, and his teaching (in particular his course on historiography, one of the courses I always regret never having had the chance to take with him) are visible in the comments of all those he has touched and transformed. I feel exceptionally fortunate not only to having been his student, but also his last student. Lionel retired while I was in graduate school but still agreed to continue working with me until I finished. Perhaps it was because of this in part that we were able to form such a strong bond. As I tried to bring together my dissertation and later my first book, I saw Lionel becoming free to research the Nazarenes, discover new art galleries in Chelsea, write about the Red Princess and numerous other matters.

    In March when COVID-19 was on fire for the first time, Lionel wrote to me after being holed up for well over a week in a Groundhog Day that he described as an endless Scottish Presbyterian Sunday. “It’s hard to proceed with any kind of scholarly project. The general inactivity (except for a 45-minute walk when weather permits) actually saps one’s energy and even makes one sleepy. And anyway, why bother? You see your work for what it is. Inessential, insignificant, irrelevant. Who the hell cares about the history of Jewish emancipation in Britain? I am doing my best to carry on, just to occupy my mind, but it’s hard. As a diversion, while my dear friend Suzanne Nash tells me she has immersed herself in Proust, I am reading George Du Maurier’s Trilby, a hot best-seller at the end of the nineteenth century, now almost forgotten. Not sure what to make of it, but it is assuredly unusual, switching back and forth from English to French, and from proper French to French as spoken by the common people. This is the book in which the legendary Svengali appeared.” Although the letter started with the insignificance many of us were feeling in late March, the friendships and works he mentions immediately turned a despondent state around into an act of creation. The letter finished with attachments of art works from Janice’s students, a hilarious Italian video on the Italian watch from the Hopkins gang of three (students from 60 years ago), and links to an exhibit on portrait miniatures that he thought would be useful for my new book. Art, friendship, laughter, and the revival of the forgotten had already seemed to return meaning. His words were and are still so essential.

    Lionel, I miss you and will miss you. Thank you for being such an exceptional human, always kind, generous, loyal, thoughtful, welcoming, and infinitely curious. I feel privileged to have known you as a teacher, advisor, mentor, and friend. The excitement and beauty you exuded through the words you’ve written, the ideas you’ve shared, and the people you have touched will continue to animate and define our own work and lives for many years to come.

  13. William Paulson

    For over forty-four years, from the first meeting of his first Princeton graduate seminar to our final Zoom chats and emails last fall, Lionel Gossman was, for me, first a brilliant teacher and advisor and later a dear, dear friend. I count having had the chance to know him and work with him as one of the greatest good fortunes of my life.

    He was an exemplary teacher largely because of his great ability to grasp and articulate the multiple stakes and perspectives involved in textual and historical interpretation. In his seminars, what we heard (in his incomparably captivating voice and accent) was a carefully modulated series of dialogues: between a work and its interpreters, between different moments and emphases within a text, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.

    He would show us that every text, every statement even, belonged to more than one context, and could be read both with and against the grain. And yet he did this not by way of formalism or relativism; instead, he had the gift of both revealing thought’s multiplicity and of showing us how the different strands of that multiplicity fit together, of demonstrating to us which issues were more vital, which lines of argument more true.

    Lionel could do this so well because not only because of his remarkable general culture but because he was attentive to his listeners and to the historical forces of our own time. And also because his intelligence was of a practical as well as of a theoretical kind, all the stronger at grasping and articulating theoretical issues for being so adept at practical ones. And it was never about him: he always deployed his immense knowledge simply and directly, without a trace of vanity or pretense.

    All of us who studied with him and knew him are the better for it, and even as we mourn we can be glad that Lionel Gossman had such a long and good life.

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