what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Art of the Memoir

Politicians have given narcissism a bad name - the story-line of too many of their autobiographies being "Look what I achieved - despite all the bastards out to get me". And yet there are superb exceptions such as Dennis Healey’s “Time of my Life” beautifully-written and wry study of politics when it mattered – with a dash of culture thrown in from time to time. En passant he mentions that Leonard Woolf’s 5-volume “Memoirs” were an inspiration - when I eventually got round to reading them I had to agree they were one of the best in the English language. By contrast Tony Benn’s 50 year series of “Diaries” are little more than a series of notes…..

Other examples of authors who led fascinating lives and whose account of them generally avoids the emptiness of modern political scribbles are -
 Arthur Koestler's 4 volumes - "an unrivalled study" as the blurb on the back of the third volume ("The Invisible Writing") puts it "of twentieth century man and his dilemmas"
- JK Galbraith’s “A Life in Our Times; Memoirs” offer an unsurpassable repast of memories and intellectual musings
The various volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography convey a powerful sense of an exciting new Europe taking shape in the post-war rubble.
Writer Luise Rinser’s “Saturn auf der Sonne” (2nd part of her autobiography) does the same for Germany
graphic artistTisa von Schulenberg’s harrowing little book “Ich Kann Nicht Anders” covers her life before the war….
I also thoroughly enjoyed historian Fritz Stern’s “Five Germanies I have known
And, recently, novelist Gunther Grass’s so poetic “Peeling the Onion
Poet Dannie Abse’s “Goodbye Twentieth Century” is a gentle memoir
Diane Athill’s various Memoirs are as good as they get
Des Wilson, the great campaigner, I knew briefly in the late 70s and he was good enough to send me his rumbustious “Memoirs of a Minor Public Figure
Clive James’ output is almost unclassifiable – memoirs, essays, notes – give a real insight into a great mind, reader and writer…
- .Gregor von Rezzori is one of the most neglected of writers from lands which have been variously part of Austro-Hungary, CzechoSlovakia, Hungary, Romania and now Ukraine. Over thirty years he wrote marvellous prose about his early years in the town of Czernowitz when it lay in the northern redoubts of Romania. It is difficult to classify them – novels or memoirs? Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (1979) and Snows of Yesteryear (1989) generally appear as the former but to my mind can be read as “creative memoirs”.
Amitai Etzioni and Richard Rose are two prolific academics whose foray into Memoir ( entitled respectively“My Brother’s Keeper” and (very jazzily?) Learning about Politics in Time and Space(!!) give a great sense of their intellectual development. And, like Fritz Stern, they straddle different countries…….

What exactly, I wonder, do we get from these attempts of creative people to make sense of their lives? What insights into human behavior? What lessons for us? There must be a Phd thesis in there somewhere??? (here are a couple of recent efforts to survey the field)

The painting is one of three I bought in May at an exhibition in the Military Circle gallery from a master of book graphics - Alex Ivanov

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