Minor Aggregation – 2

A&L links to two discussions of communism and the influence of its Russian version. The first is to a review of two new books, Seven Years That Changed the World and Comrades! in “The Ash Heap of History” from The Economist. The author sees Brown’s book (Seven Years That Changed the World) as a useful discussion of Gorbachev’s reign but is especially impressed by Comrades!, in which he describes Robert Service’s strength:

With this volume he has produced one of the best-ever studies of his subject, even if he is much stronger on Russia than on other countries. Eschewing the usual convoluted language of Marxist debates, he provides a gripping account of communism’s intellectual origins, pedigree and impact.

Many of the Chicagoboyz family (colleagues and commentors) will have a better context for this review than I have.

An equally interesting but quite different and personal take on communism in western Europe can be derived from Arthur Koestler’s work; Theodore Dalrymple (often as provocative as well read) discusses this in City Journal. In “A Drinker of Infinity,” he analyzes Koestler’s force and charm. In passing, he creates an insight into rapists, derived somewhat from Koestler’s fiction but also from the author’s often-priceless perspective of years as a prison doctor. Of course, often Koestler’s subject and Dalrymple’s discussion is of the emptiness of communism. But, in the end, what interests both is death – whether in the responses to the death sentence of his fellow prisoners in Spain or his own illnesses at the end of his life. Dalyrmple examines Koestler’s autobiography (Arrow in the Big Blue and
The Invisible Writing).

It is precisely because Koestler’s life and work so deeply instantiate the existential dilemmas of our age that he is a fascinating figure, unjustly neglected, and too often dismissed as a sexual psychopath. He was not a naturally good man (far from it), but he was struggling toward the good by the light and authority of his own intellect; unfortunately, as Hume tells us, reason is the slave of the passions, and Koestler was an exceptionally passionate man.

Once I happened to find two first editions, very cheap, of Koestler’s books in a secondhand bookshop that I haunt. “Ah,” said the bookshop owner, “The Age of Longing and Dialogue with Death: a complete summary of human life, when you come to think of it.”

7 thoughts on “Minor Aggregation – 2”

  1. “… so deeply instantiate the existential dilemmas of our age …”

    Never trust a guy who says “instantiate”, especially if he is talking instantiating existential dilemmas.

    I have Koestler’s two volumes of memoirs, and I have been carting them around for years and have not read them yet.

  2. What about computer programmers who have to instantiate objects in a Factory class that implements an Interface as opposed to being a subclass of an abstract parent class?

  3. Well Dalrymple is biting if he isn’t “trustworthy.” The fact that both Roger Kimball and Myron Magnet have given him regular columns may indicate a pretty high tolerance for that tone. (In The New Criterion out this week, he discusses dystopian literature.)

    Ok, I just skip over words I don’t know as if they didn’t exist. Still and all, it is interesting once I look it up. I love throwing things up & everyone adds value – Thanks Foster.

    I hate to admit that I’ve been dragging Darkness at Noon around for years and never read it – perhaps this summer will be a good time.

  4. Darkness at Noon is about the show trials that took place in Russia during the 30s. Prominent Russians, both Communists and not-Communists confessed during heavily covered trials to crimes against the proletariat. Koestler describes some rather old and outdated interrogation techniques (new in the 1930’s, they left no marks) used to obtain the Confessions – all of which are used in modern US police stations and which put in jail all those day-care child molesters in the 1990s.

    His book was required reading in Russian history and PoliSci courses in order to show what naughty people the commies were but in the end Darkness at Noon just inspired our own police to new heights. (or depths).

  5. Koestler’s memoirs are superb. Anyone who wants to understand the twentieth century really needs to read them, Lex. That and Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed” will set you up. Or depress you beyond anything.

    “Darkness at Noon” is interesting in that it shows the breaking of a senior Communist official, rather than the routine torture of millions of other people. The likes of Rubashov were usually the defendants in show trials and that is why there had to be no marks on them. On the other hand, the likes of Rubashov carried a good deal of guilt already and had a fanatical devotion to the party, knowing as they did that outside it they had nothing. Those who did not succumb to this pressure, like senior military officers, were tortured quite hideously (there are descriptions and they are not pleasant) but were not presented on show trials.

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