I live in the southeastern part of North Carolina, in a county that went for Trump. I’m one of those people who shouldn’t have been surprised but was. I had to leave town the morning after the election and did not want to go. The night before, lying in bed, my wife had been crying. We had the TV on, and she burst into tears when it became clear what was happening. When I left the house the next morning, my eleven-year-old daughter—for whom Hillary Clinton’s candidacy had been one of the more exciting and life-enlarging things she’d experienced—was crying her eyes out. I’ve noticed that the crying thing has already become a meme (“Pictures of people crying about Trump!”), and then a discredited meme (“Quit crying, liberals!”), by which talk we somehow moved in twenty-four hours past the reality that a good percentage of the country was openly weeping at the result of the election. Because, you know, that couldn’t mean anything. Read More
To celebrate Halloween, we’re publishing a selection of excerpts from David J. Skal’s Something in the Blood, a biography of Bram Stoker, out this month with Liveright. Today: letters between Stoker and Walt Whitman, published in full for the first time in Something in the Blood. Stoker, moved by Leaves of Grass, was an ardent fan of Whitman—he and his Trinity College peers called themselves “Walt Whitmanites.” He kept his first letter to the poet, a meandering and adoring document, in his desk for four years before gathering the courage to send it.
DUBLIN, IRELAND, FEB 18, 1872
If you are the man I take you to be you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it into the fire without reading any farther. But I believe you will like it. I don’t think there is a man living, even you who are above the prejudices of the class of small-minded men, who wouldn’t like to get a letter from a younger man, a stranger, across the world—a man living in an atmosphere prejudiced to the truths you sing and your manner of singing them. The idea that arises in my mind is whether there is a man living who would have the pluck to burn a letter in which he felt the smallest atom of interest without reading it. Read More
Newly revealed letters from Heidegger confirm his Nazism—not that there was any doubt.
Martin Heidegger never apologized for his support of the Nazis. He joined the party in 1933 and remained a member until the bitter end, in 1945. First, he spoke out enthusiastically in favor of a conservative revolution with Hitler at its helm. From about 1935, he found his own ambitions disappointed, and grew more silent. Yet, when he called his dalliance with National Socialism his greatest mistake after the war, he was upset not at his crime, but at the fact that he got caught.
Not that Heidegger has had to apologize, either. For the past seventy years, his many apologists and acolytes have gone to astounding lengths in trying to prove that his philosophical oeuvre exists independent of what was, they avowed, a mere weakness of character, an instance of momentary opportunism. In 2014, a group of French philosophers even tried to halt the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, his philosophical diaries. But if antisemitic references in his philosophy are oblique and, as some would have it, coincidental to his critique of modernity, the Notebooks leave little room for such charitable reading. Even after the war he would bemoan the Jewish “drive for revenge,” with their aim consisting in “obliterating the Germans in spirit and history.”
And yet, the Black Notebooks haven’t lain to rest one of the more irksome debates around continental philosophy. Perhaps that’s what the release of Heidegger’s correspondence with his lifelong confidante, his brother Fritz, will achieve. His heirs, having held back these letters for many years, have finally caved to the pressure that began to mount following the release of the Black Notebooks. The excerpts released in advance by Die Zeit and Le Monde last weekend show Heidegger for what, apparently, he was: the real deal, a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi who bought into Hitler’s ideology wholesale. And he wasn’t a particularly sophisticated one. In his letters, the forefather of deconstruction voices his impassioned belief in Volk and Führer, perpetual German victimhood, “world Jewry,” the threat of Bolshevism, and American decadence.
Perhaps it’s inconvenient, but it’s hardly shocking: Heidegger was not just a member of the Nazi party, but also a Nazi. Nor was he just a “metaphysical antisemite”—he also just really disliked Jews. Let’s hope this settles the matter. Read More
In a November 1920 letter to her husband, John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield describes a dream in which she met Oscar Wilde. Read more of her correspondence in The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield.
In a café, Gertler met me. “Katherine you must come to my table. I’ve got Oscar Wilde there. He’s the most marvelous man I ever met. He’s splendid!” Gertler was flushed. When he spoke of Wilde he began to cry—tears hung on his lashes but he smiled. Read More
Anne Sexton, who died forty-two years ago today, did her best to respond to the legions of fans who wrote to her. The letter below, from August 1965, finds her dispensing unvarnished advice to an aspiring poet from Amherst. Read more of her correspondence in Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters.
Your letter was very interesting, hard to define, making it hard on me somehow to set limits for you, advise or help in any real way. First of all let me tell you that I find your poems fascinating, terribly uneven … precious perhaps, flashes of brilliance … but the terrible lack of control, a bad use of rhyme and faults that I feel sure you will learn not to make in time. I am not a prophet but I think you will make it if you learn to revise, if you take your time, if you work your guts out on one poem for four months instead of just letting the miracle (as you must feel it) flow from the pen and then just leave it with the excuse that you are undisciplined.
Hell! I’m undisciplined too, in everything but my work … Everyone in the world seems to be writing poems … but only a few climb into the sky. What you sent shows you COULD climb there if you pounded it into your head that you must work and rework these uncut diamonds of yours. Read More
Happy 128th, T. S. Eliot. Here’s a letter he wrote to the poet Stephen Spender in June 1932. Eliot had argued, in his religious essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” that young people needed to be taught “chastity, humility, austerity, and discipline.” Spender wrote him to dispute that notion; the below is Eliot’s rebuttal. This excerpt comes from The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6, edited by John Haffenden.
I can’t agree that religion provides such an effective escape as you seem to think. The great majority of people find their escape in easier ways; there are a great many unimaginative, selfish and lazy people who profess to be religious, but a vastly greater number who are not … All of the middle classes want to be gentlemen, and being a gentleman is incompatible with holding any strong religious convictions; with the latter, one must at least be prepared sooner or later to commit some ungentlemanly act. And for one person who escapes through religion into a “sentimental dreamland,” there are thousands who escape by reading novels, by looking at films, or best of all, by driving very fast on land or in air, which makes even dreams unnecessary. Read More