Recent links of note:
“The Desparate Plight behind Darkness at Noon”
Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker
Preceding George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four by nine years, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940) stands at the acme of the Hungarian-British author’s career. The novel is based on the Moscow Trials of a few years before, through which Stalin conducted a thorough cleansing of the party ranks and ejected some of its longest-tenured members. Koestler, a communist himself at the time, realized that the bizarre psychological content of the show trials—lifelong Bolsheviks eagerly confessing to preposterous crimes—was for an author, not a lawyer or philosopher, to explain. But that explanation was lost—sort of—until recently. The Darkness at Noon made available in 1940 was a translation executed in haste by Koestler’s English girlfriend, Daphne Hardy, while the two were fleeing the Nazi storm in France; the German original was lost to the light of day. Recently unearthed from an archive by a diligent student, the manuscript has been freshened up by a new translation. Its content, Adam Kirsch explains, is as relevant now as it was then: “Koestler saw that, in the modern world, it took the ruthlessness of an idea to marshal ordinary human cruelty into an irresistible force. It is this distrust of the tyrannical power of reason, even when it considers itself most righteous and humane, that makes Darkness at Noon a subversive book even today.”
Like any honor, “In Memoriam” segments can be tricky, as the Emmy Awards demonstrated this past Sunday. Certain luminaries, like the late André Previn (who passed away this February), are shoo-ins. Leaving them off gets people fired. The conductor Leonard Slatkin, less affiliated with television and very much alive, was also selected for the supreme honor this year—but not notified, which seems rude. What’s more, his inclusion came at Previn’s expense: seeing that his photo appeared in the segment instead of his contemporary’s, Slatkin graciously returned the award. It is rare, but not unheard of, for the honor to be declined. Sources indicate that the Emmys, feeling guilty over the whole mixup, have shortlisted Slatkin for next year’s prize.
“Thomas Mann’s War Against Hitler”
Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest
Hitler’s failed art career has permitted extensive armchair speculation over the years. But few, Thomas Mann among them, have made something meaningful of it. In his essay “Brother Hitler,” published in 1939 during the author’s exile in the United States, Mann traces the ceremonial kinks and ostentations of the Nazi party to not just the frustrated ambitions of a “disappointed bohemian artist” but the inflated zeitgeist that had possessed Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Germany had obsessed over and romanticized its own traditions, Mann felt, and politicians had capitalized upon the national predilection. The causal chain implicated Mann himself, too—Death in Venice, he admitted, dealt with notions of “simplification and resolution of mind” that “twenty years later were to be the property of the man in the street.” World War II, in a sense, boiled down to an error of taste. Thus it remained for the artist, as Jacob Heilbrunn writes, “to recapture his implements from the dictator.” Mann, no stranger to the hot seat, would later come under criticism for his overtures toward peace with the Soviet Union. His own judgment was not perfect. But to recognize that the trappings of the Third Reich, gaudy and overblown as they were, were grafted from the larger German ethos took courage; to deem the German tradition worth preserving anyway took good taste.
From our pages:
by Gary Saul Morson
On the practice behind the theory of Marxism-Leninism.
The wobbling of the House of Windsor
by Simon Heffer
On the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.