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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 4: Lewis Mumford: Remaining Present in ‘the Ringing Grooves of Time’ 292


4 Lewis Mumford: Remaining Present in ‘the Ringing Grooves of Time’ All work serves for life in that it produces art and gives men the liberated vitality of artists. — Lewis Mumford1 In America its skyscrapers, those mechanical creations of the business mentality, bring together apartments, banks, movie theatres, hospitals, schools, and churches in carefully ordered confusion, all behind the same totally anonymous and undistinguishable facade. Its architects have added practically nothing to the legacy of the past except, for its victims, this scientifically imperfectible hive of crimes, vices, and iniquities. — Victor Serge2 A person who is only an American is only half a man: indeed only half an American. — Lewis Mumford3 I Sacred and Profane: A Preface ‘New York is a beautiful city’, wrote Dorothy Norman’s friend and architectural counsellor Lewis Mumford in 1924, ‘if we are building for pilots and angels’. This remark, as Gyula Kodolányi, the Hungarian poet and scholar, has said, is only surpassed by that of Mumford’s mentor Patrick Geddes on being shown a plan of a New York skyscraper with a dome on top: ‘It looks as if the devil had farted into St Paul’s and raised the dome three hundred feet into the air.’4 Mumford’s Lewis Mumford: Remaining Present 293 long literary career addressed historic culture by way of investigating the earthly and heavenly representatives of the heights and overview: pilots and angels: tech- nocrats and gods; physicists and heavenly hosts. For Mumford, the skyscraper would always represent the over-reach of a Faustian...

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