Monday, 26 March 2007

So Let's Talk about Communism

No, not really about communism, about those who write about communism, those who support communism. No, better yet, about those who write about those who wrote about communism, because therein lies the rub. I just read an essay by Clive James about Rilke vs. Brecht as Germany's greatest poets. While the essay contains many a trick of the tongue and fleet turnabout of words, on a first read this essay is problematic for caring too much about its own style and less about what it's actually saying. After all, what exactly does "The idea behind it is at least half right, although it would have no force unless it was partly wrong" mean? What idea isn't half right and partly wrong is a world without absolutism, surely without absolute truth, and most definitely without a poet who has ever managed to express anything quite nearing it?

This both isn't and is the point, because James takes a very Judt-ian route to then condemn Brecht for his writings for his support of Stalinism, praising Arendt's essay on Brecht, and wondering why Picasso himself has never been so censured. When I think of all the supporters of Stalin and of communism in the past 20th Century and how many artists and philosophers and writers we would have to throw in the bin.... Once again James misses the point that perhaps Brecht should be condemned for being a smarmy character himself and for writing simplistic poetry about the evils of capitalism, and less for his actual support of communism. Should he should be judged based on his "egomanic" shamanism? Perhaps, but only because it retrospect this part of his personality appears in his poetry itself. Until one takes a historian's view of his role as a supporter of communism (particularly one writing across the rise of Nazi power when the only other seeming hope truly were the communists in Germany...and I would take a communist in Germany, if not in the Soviet Union (being two quite distinct creatures), over a Nazi any day. But we have oft spoken of the power of hindsight, although even here I wonder if it isn't even hindsight but the blindness of one's own historical era, and the failure of one to even attempt to reach a hand into the past and uncover the cloudy framework behind a past intellectual's actions, that is at work here. In any case, like Merleau-Ponty, like Sartre (and I doubt we will stop quoting "Hell is other people" anytime soon despite his Stalinist support well into the fifties), judgment is not prohibited, but served with a trace of understanding would perhaps make the more sustainable critique.

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