Showing posts from July, 2012

Pembroke College Library, Cambridge


Leszek Kolakowski and the anatomy of totalitarianism

It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way.
—Marx to Engels, 1857 

What socialism implies above all is keeping account ofeverything.
—V. I. Lenin, 1917 

Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.
—Pascal, Pensées 

Born in Radom, in eastern Poland, in 1927, the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski is closing in on his eightieth year. He has come a long way. He was a boy of twelve when the Nazis stormed into Poland. “I remember the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto,” he writes in “Genocide and Ideology” (1978),“which I saw from outside; I lived among Poles who were active in helping Jews and who risked their lives every day trying to save those few who could be saved from the inferno.” In 1945, the war over, he joined the Communist Party: the Communists were anti-fascist, weren’t they? (Were they?) He studied and then taught philosophy in War…

"Soul at the White Heat": The Romance of Emily Dickinson's Poetry

by Joyce Carol Oates
Emily Dickinson is the most paradoxical of poets: the very poet of paradox. By way of voluminous biographical material, not to mention the extraordinary intimacy of her poetry, it would seem that we know everything about her: yet the common experience of reading her work, particularly if the poems are read sequentially, is that we come away seeming to know nothing. We would recognize her inimitable voice anywhere—in the "prose" of her letters no less than in her poetry—yet it is a voice of the most deliberate, the most teasing anonymity. "I'm Nobody!" is a proclamation to be interpreted in the most literal of ways. Like no other poet before her and like very few after her—Rilke comes most readily to mind, and, perhaps, Yeats and Lawrence— Dickinson exposes her heart's most subtle secrets; she confesses the very sentiments that, in society, would have embarrassed her dog (to paraphrase a remark of Dickinson's to Thomas Wentworth Higgi…

Lord Byron: Maid of Athens, ere we part

Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, oh, give back my heart!
Or, since that has left my breast,
Keep it now, and take the rest!
Hear my vow before I go,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

By those tresses unconfined,
Wooed by each Aegean wind;
By those lids whose jetty fringe
Kiss thy soft cheeks' blooming tinge;
By those wild eyes like the roe,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

By that lip I long to taste;
By that zone-encircled waist;
By all the token-flowers that tell
What words can never speak so well;
By love's alternate joy and woe,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Maid of Athens! I am gone:
Think of me, sweet! when alone.
Though I fly to Istambol,
Athens holds my heart and soul:
Can I cease to love thee?
No! Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Virginia Woolf: How Should One Read a Book?

In the first place, I want to emphasise the note of interrogation at the end of my title. Even if I could answer the question for myself, the answer would apply only to me and not to you. The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom …