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The Century’s Midnight

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

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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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Introduction: Lighting the Circle 1 ‘You put a match to your lamp and what flares up does not bring illumination. It is far away, very far away from you, that the circle lights up.’ René Char, ‘Fureur et mystère’ from Feuillets d’Hypnos in René Char: Œuvres complètes, intr. Jean Roudaut (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), p. 203. My translation. 2 John Keats to George and Georgiana Keats, 14 February–3 May in The Letters of John Keats, ed. Maurice Buxton Forman (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 336. 3 Radio Times, 2–8 July 2005. 4 Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). 5 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or The Whale (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 798. 6 Jean-Paul Sartre, Notebooks for an Ethics, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 35. 7 Email from Ela Kotkowska to author, 8 July 2005. 8 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, preface by T.S. Eliot (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 222. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 While I have not for the most part employed specialized vocabulary, Heidegger’s great work Being and Time is a starting point for a way of thinking more about the prob- lem. Along with Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which was strongly influenced by Heidegger, notwith- standing his political weakness and failure, these are two works of the mid-twentieth...

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