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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 5: The Art of Memory: Muriel Rukeyser and the Turning World 379


5 The Art of Memory: Muriel Rukeyser and the Turning World1 If we’re going to set ourselves up as policing the whole world after the war, we’ve got to start understanding what responsibility will mean. Otherwise our policing will be worse than fascist domination because it won’t be so honest although quite as ruthless. — ‘Ethel’2 One need not be a materialist to confront idealism with the crushing reality of the material world. We shall come back to this point […] — Jean-Paul Sartre3 Poetry creates in us a kind of memory. — Muriel Rukeyser4 Praise that the homeless may in their bodies be A house that time makes, where the future moves In his dark lake. — Muriel Rukeyser5 I The Search for Muriel Rukeyser ‘Forgot to say I liked the Muriel Rukeyser piece too’, wrote Henry Miller to Dorothy Norman in 1941.6 Miller was referring to Rukeyser’s recent essay ‘The Fear of Poetry’, which had just been published in TWICE A YEAR and was pointing specifically to her defence of the German poet Hans Carossa. Carossa 380 Part 5 had read to Hitler’s troops and was hence felt by the refugee community to have sold his soul. He had in fact refused the position of presidency of Hitler’s National Socialist Akademie der Dichtung in Germany, explained Rukeyser, but his acceptance had been printed in advance and this is what people knew. He was therefore seen as an unwitting apologist for Goebbels’s propaganda of nor- malcy. Rukeyser’s defence of the unfortunate German poet was...

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