By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
At once densely arrayed and invitingly spacious, authoritatively general and exactingly precise, the sentences of Edmund Wilson patiently unfurl themselves in quiet, loving tribute to the values of lucidity and conci- sion. This one on In Search of Lost Time, for instance, is rightly famous: "Proust is perhaps the last great historian of the loves, the society, the intel- ligence, the diplomacy, the literature and the art of the Heartbreak House of capitalist culture; and the little man with the sad appealing voice, the metaphysician's mind, the Saracean's beak, the ill-fitting dress- shirt and the great eyes that seem to see all about him like the many-faceted eyes of a fly, dominates the scene and plays host in the mansion where he is not long to be master." Thanks to the Library of America (which Wilson began shortly before his death) we now have 30 years worth of Wilsonian sentences gathered together in two indispen-sable volumes.
Freud once gave an admirable one-line definition of modernity. It was, he said, about "not putting all your eggs in one basket." Peter Gay, cultural historian extraordinaire, has allowed himself 600 pages in which to take a crack at this pageant of iconoclasm and obliquity, and the net gain is considerable. Among other virtues, its epigraph (from Baudelaire) is unlikely to be bettered by any book this fall: "The man of letters is the enemy of the world."
Some people say it dictates U.S. foreign policy. Others dismiss this as the latest brand of anti-semitism. When two academics wrote an article on the subject that appeared last year in The London Review of Books, the response was ferocious, to say the least. This book-length follow-up was published last week, and the pundits are already tearing each other to rhetorical shreds.
Reassuringly described on the back cover as "the bleakest" of Victor Serge's seven epic novels, Unforgiving Years takes as its theme the collapse of European civilization in the middle of the 20th century. A Bolshevik whose criticism of Stalin lead to exile first in France, then in Mexico, Serge was around to witness events firsthand and had something of an anti-talent for comfort and security. As he puts it in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary: "I have undergone 10 years of various forms of captivity, agitated in seven countries, and written 20 books. I own nothing. On several occasions a press with a vast circulation has hurled filth at me because I spoke the truth. Behind us lies a victorious revolution gone astray, several abortive attempts at revolution, and massacres in so great a number as to inspire a certain dizzi-ness. And to think it is not over yet. Let me be done with this digression. Those were the only roads open to us. I have more confidence in humankind and in the future than ever before."
Although the story is almost certainly apocryphal, it is hard to resist quoting Freud's alleged impromptu addendum to a form he was made to sign by Hitler's thugs before leaving Vienna stating that he had been treated decently: "I can honestly recommend the Gestapo to anyone." One can expect to find many more such gems in Edmundson's account of Freud's final days in London, where, by all accounts, he would have seemed to ful- fill his own injunction about the need to "make friends with the idea of dying."
Czselaw Milosz called her "the grande dame of Polish poetry"; according to Ryszard Kapuscinski, she is "one of the foremost Polish poets of the twentieth century." At 85, Julia Hartwig is seeing the first book of her poems translated into English. About time.
It has been said that there are two superpowers in the world today: the United States and mass public opinion. Holton's book tells the story of how the framers of the U.S. Constitution did all that they could to reverse the slide into democracy after the Revolutionary War but were thwarted by the efforts of ordinary Americans, whom we have to thank for our freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, the right to vote, and just about all of the other good things in the Constitution.