I enjoyed reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories very much, particularly his use of autobiographical elements, so that the various narratives were never far from the political atmosphere of Germany in the early 1930s. Parts of the book overlapped with Isherwood's memoir, Christopher and His Kind. Stephen Spender's late novel, The Temple (1987), also evokes a similar Weimar landscape, in which poetry and politics are indissoluble.
Taking into account the dangerous atmosphere of the 1930s in Europe, with fascist and communist leaders establishing autocratic regimes, I try to picture what Edmund Wilson was attempting to do with his ambitious history of revolutionary politics, To The Finland Station (1940). As he admits in his 1971 introduction to the book, he was writing that history with a clear ideological purpose: to counter the rising forces of fascism in Europe. What that later introduction also reveals is how Wilson and so many other intellectuals (Sartre, for instance) were guilty of idealizing the Soviet Union. What's truly depressing today is to see how many intellectuals still cling to the notion of revolution as an emancipatory project. Cuba and Venezuela, of course, are my prime examples of this tendency of American and European intellectuals to idealize revolution, as long as it's distant enough from them to be safe.
Wilson's account of revolutionary France is exhilirating, pointing out the contradictory nature of any revolutionary project. Wilson's description of French historian Jules Michelet might also apply to himself:
"Michelet's absorption in his history, his identification of himself with his subject, carried him to singular lengths. His emotions and the events of his own life are always breaking through into his narrative; and, conversely, the events of history seem to be happening to him." (26)
Two new albums have been on my turntable lately. The first is José González, Veneer (Hidden Agenda, 2005). The second is Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam, 2006).
Michael Hofmann's edition of selected poems by Durs Grünbein is reviewed in a recent Times Literary Supplement:
"In his preface, a searing and candid document in its own right, Hofmann contrasts his own 'small scale' English predilections with Grünbein's 'frontality and...abundance.' Whether or not one agrees with this self-characterization, and its national attribution, it's precisely on the level of small-scale conductivities, of intricate lingusitic connection, that most poetry translation fails to work; and it's here that Hofmann again and again makes his versions live." (TLS, March 31 2006)