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The Century’s Midnight

Dissenting European and American Writers in the Era of the Second World War


Clive Bush

The Century’s Midnight is an exploration of the literary and political relationships between a number of ideologically sophisticated American and European writers during a mid-twentieth century dominated by the Second World War. Clive Bush offers an account of an intelligent and diverse community of people of good will, transcending national, ideological and cultural barriers. Although structured around five central figures – the novelist Victor Serge, the editors Dwight Macdonald and Dorothy Norman, the cultural critic Lewis Mumford and the poet Muriel Rukeyser – the book examines a wealth of European and American writers including Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, John Dos Passos, André Gide, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, George Orwell, Boris Pilniak, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ignacio Silone and Richard Wright.
The book’s central theme relates politics and literature to time and narrative. The author argues that knowledge of the writers of this period is of inestimable value in attempting to understand our contemporary world.


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Part 2: Posts of the Good: Dwight Macdonald’s politics 104


2 Posts of the Good: Dwight Macdonald’s politics So when Appleby-Smythe finds my attack on the profit motive ‘amazing’, and says that our job is not to abandon it but to retain it and harness it to the public good – he does not even mean for a few decades, he means permanently – I am confirmed in my view that marxists generally, and most ex-marxists as well, understand very little about ethics. — Victor Gollancz1 Still as a slave before his Lord The ocean hath no blast — Samuel Taylor Coleridge2 I Wartime: Bridges and Not-Bridges It was Dwight Macdonald, the American journalist, moralist, libertarian and public intellectual who, as Victor Serge noted in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary, at the moment of his family’s supreme danger in war-time Marseille had grasped ‘his hand in the dark’.3 Serge himself was to publish in Macdonald’s journal poli- tics. The journal and its devotion to covering international affairs, is the first of two major (yet still virtually unrecognized) achievements of American literature and culture during the 1940s and will be examined in this and the next part of the book. That clasp of the hand will be a guiding image in the discussion. In this respect, the focus will differ from some American commentators. For both Macdonald and Dorothy Norman of TWICE A YEAR, the clasp of the hand was extended far beyond America itself. What will be celebrated here are moments of American sympathy with the non-American, the foreigner, the stranger: an American imaginative...

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