Tuesday, 13 September 2011

En route, as in a dream

When was August? I had all sorts of plans and ambitions for writing here but got distracted by two other commitments - talking on Carl Shuker's Three Novellas for a Novel to my friends in the NZ Studies Society of Japan, and on Mulgan, Man Alone, and Marxism to the Stout Centre - and then, all of a sudden, the month was gone. I've hopes that those two talks will appear somewhere before too long and, by the end of this month, some of my half-formed blog post ideas might get written.

In the meantime, as something of a place-holder, I want to give you this nice anecdote from Rossana Rossanda's absorbing and elegant memoir The Comrade From Milan. Rossanda's contribution to life and letters on the Italian left is too vast to summarise easily: she's a gifted journalist, polemicist and theorist of culture, and was, for many years, a leading PCI militant and campaigner. Expelled from the party over her opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, her memoir offers all sorts of a details from another world. It's extremely caustic in parts, and suitably lyrical when required.

There are moments of evasion, to be sure, for which the name Togliatti (and, behind him, the question of Stalinism) will do for now to point towards.

For the moment - and to encourage you to read the book - here's a memory of Adorno. The advice, if you're shy like me and have philosophers you're keen to learn from, is to sort out the shrubbery:

On that occasion, we invaded Stresa and I met Adorno, whose Minima Moralia has fascinated me – it was Marxism as something that was obvious, Marxism as something inevitable, Marxism without a Communist Party, 1930s Europe – except for Italy and Germany. And I found him charming, with his big nut-brown eyes like a child’s, lively as an elf, curious about everything and willing to talk, not to mention drawn like a magnet to young girls with aristocratic names, whom he repeatedly begged to take a walk with him by the lake. In Stresa, an extremely good-looking young man came up to me and said unpleasantly, ‘Your piece on Charles de Gaulle’ – I had just written about him in Rinascita – ‘is all wrong. What is Adorno talking to you about?’ It was Lucio Magri, with whom I would travel a long way. He was right about de Gaulle. ‘Come and have lunch with him tomorrow,’ I suggested. No chance. He was very shy, like a lot of stubborn people, and however suprising it might seem, he still is. We ended up agreeing that I would steer Adorno to a table near the oleander hedge and Lucio would hide in the bushes and listen. Adorno followed me docilely but on that occasion I was unable to distract him from talking about Bartok, on whom he was writing at the time. It was impossible. Magri rustled nervously a couple of times amongst the shrubs and then left. At that time I knew nothing about Walter Benjamin and I’m still kicking myself for failing to ask the genial, courteous Adorno about him – I still carry the correspondence between the happy Teddy Wiesengrund and the unhappy Walter Benjamin around with me.

Rossana Rossanda, The Comrade from Milan, trans. Romy Clark Giuliani (London: Verso, 2010), p. 180.

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