Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture

Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture

Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture

Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture


This book consists of essays and reviews that address social, political, and cultural issues which arose in connection with literature broadly conceived in the wake of the First World War, and extending throughout the twentieth century.

The first portion of the volume concerns France, with both essays on individual writers such as Paul Valéry, Jacques Maritain, Albert Camus, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Yves Bonnefoy and a piece on French intellectuals between the wars. The second part concerns Germany and Romania, with essays on Ernst Juenger, Gottfried Benn, Erich Kahler, E. M. Cioran, and others.

The volume concludes with essays on problems of literary criticism, in dialogue with such critics as Gary Saul Morson, Ian Watt, T. S. Eliot, and R. P. Blackmur. These essays also discuss the history of the novel and the question of "realism."


The present volume contains essays and articles written over a period of many years, during which I was largely occupied in writing the five volumes of my books on the life and times of Dostoevsky. But I did not begin my academic career as a professional Slavist, though I acquired a knowledge of Russian, and I taught comparative literature for many years, dealing with works in French, German, Spanish, and Italian, as well as English. the articles republished here, all of which have previously been printed (though some have been significantly revised), were offshoots of this wider literary concern. I attempted, as it were, to keep up with the passing literary scene as well, especially as it touched on what were the major issues of our time, beginning with the Russian Revolution, the rise of Fascism, and the problems arising in the aftermath of the Second World War. Hence my overall title for this volume: Responses to Modernity.

The earliest pieces in the present volume were written about writers like Paul Valéry, Ernst Juenger, and Gottfried Benn, who had come to fame after the First World War but survived to respond to the Second as well. the Valéry article is the introduction to a volume of his occasional pieces published as part of the Princeton edition of his works in English translation. My article outlines his career as poet and literary and intellectual commentator and his response, just before his death, to the occupation of France. the articles on Juenger and Benn deal with two German writers who came to fame in the interwar period. They were not Nazis themselves but not outright opponents of Hitler either, sharing a good deal of his nationalism and opposition to Communism. Juenger, who had friends in the Stauffenberg conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, published a fascinating diary that he kept while part of the German High Command occupying Paris. He also wrote a utopian novel expressing aristocratic opposition to the plebeian Nazis in a veiled form. Benn was an important German poet, as well as being a doctor. He was sympathetic to certain aspects of Nazism but did not accept the party line. the book I review is his autobiography. Both men considered themselves . . .

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