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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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Epilogue: Rare Calendars of Feeling 470


Epilogue: Rare Calendars of Feeling1 Lear: Take heed, sirrah; the whip. Fool: Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’ d out when the lady’s Brach may stand by th’ fire and stink. […] — william shakespeare […] the Men who for their desperate ends Had plucked up mercy by the roots were glad Of this new enemy. Tyrants, strong before In devilish pleas, were ten times stronger now, And thus beset with foes on every side, The goaded Land waxed mad; the crimes of few Spread into madness of the many, blasts From hell came sanctified, like airs from heaven; — William Wordsworth2 Language itself became a currency debased and corrupt; token sentences rubbed clear of message, like worn coins. — James Cameron3 I am a prisoner who owns nothing but the stories he makes up about his freedom […] — Elias Khoury4 It must have been towards the end of 1980 or the beginning of 1981, just under a decade before the official ending of the Cold War, when I attended lectures on modernist architecture by the art historian Vincent Scully in the Law School of Yale University, on one of my many privileged visits to the libraries of that university. A crisp rhetorical style, lucid explanations, an always engaging argu- ment, combined with detailed expert knowledge derived from a life of writing Epilogue: Rare Calendars of Feeling 471 many superb books, ensured that the lectures were always packed out with the élite, hard-working, well-heeled young of America who had given the speaker...

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