Herling-Grudzinski

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

The idea of a journal intime consisting entirely of one’s reflections on literature, ethics and politics, with an occasional travelogue or essay on other topics, by a well-read man of letters dividing his time between Paris and Naples, seemed so appealing when I first picked this up.

Especially so, since, unlike most men of letters who have lately divided their time between Naples and Paris, Herling was clearly not-Left and therefore was not going to bore me with ridiculous Marxist theorizing, misrepresentation and breast-beating.  I had remembered from my youth reading excerpts of the journal — about Nietzsche and Ugo Ugolino and the Revolt of Masaniello; and was looking for more of the same.  In the end I found the book a disappointment — I am not so interested in Russian literature; analysis of political trends in the Communist Block of the 1970’s do not interest me terribly; but above all, it is Herling’s focus on moral character, especially moral character in politics, which I find tiresome.  His views aren’t especially wrong; and his analysis is sometimes intriguing — though it is usually a little naive (if Romain Rolland and Sartre intentionally lied about the Soviet system, which they knew was murderous and corrupt but publically denied, it was not in order to avoid tarnishing their respective political formations, as HG supposed, but to assure themselves of continued Soviet financial support.  As accounting detectives say, if you wish to unravel a mystery, follow the money.  Not a man of business, HG was too remote form the real world to appreciate this simple truth).

But to my point:  HG’s interest in morals and politics — highly theoretical, speculative, cerebral — is of a piece with his interest in art.  The art he likes is the art I hate — it is the art of brainiacs — the type of intellectual with overgrown verbal areas and highly atrophied pleasure centers (except perhaps the glans) — appreciated for its theoretical content or potential, not for its aesthetic value.  The sort of art about which the brainiac’s favorite comment might be that it “makes you think”.  Umberto Eco sort of art.  The kind about which you can spew hot theoretical lava day and night, precisely because there is nothing else one can say about.

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