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Perspectives on Contemporary Literature

Perspectives on Contemporary Literature: Literature and the Historical Process

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 116
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    Perspectives on Contemporary Literature
    Book Description:

    In all parts of the world and in every age, many of the greatest works of literature have been shaped or inspired by the swirl of historical events. The wars, holocausts, and mushroom clouds of our own era haunt the pages of many twentieth-century writers; events of the past, even the remote past, also inspire many authors, though their work is contemporary in every way. And if we agree with the poet Czeslaw Milosz that "historicity may reveal itself in a detail of architecture, in the shaping of a landscape," we come to recognize that our understanding of a given poem or novel can often be deepened by a reading from this point of view.

    The essayists inLiterature and the Historical Processexplore the ways in which history and literature are intertwined in the works of a number of twentieth-century writers. These probing critical readings from the historical point of view not only enlighten us about the works under consideration but, especially when taken together, enrich our understanding of the literary impulse itself.

    In "Nature, History, and Art in Elizabeth Bishop's 'Brazil, January 1, 1502,'" for example, Barbara Page shows how Bishop "used and rearranged" knowledge derived from her study of Brazil's history. Page's somewhat feminist reading may surprise those who find Bishop's poetic persona hard to identify.

    Among the other authors considered are Jorge Luis Borges, Michel de Ghelderode, Elizabeth Bowen, Rose Macauley, Anthony Burgess, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Cesare Pavese, and Czeslaw Milosz.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6300-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. To Purge Auschwitz: The Poets’ View
    (pp. 3-11)
    Kathy Rugoff

    The Nazi death universe, composed of twenty-two concentration camps tucked away in the rural countryside of Europe, marks a terrible chapter in the history of the twentieth century. While we live under the threat of thermonuclear annihilation and block it out, we still confront the historical trauma of the murder of six million Jews and several million non-Jewish civilians. The ghettos, the railroad transports, the medical experiments, and the ovens are images stored in the collective consciousness of our age.

    Thus, Hitler’s “Final Solution” to the so-called Jewish problem has been treated again and again by historians, theologians, poets, novelists,...

  2. Ghelderode’s Use of History in Christophe Colomb
    (pp. 12-21)
    Douglas Radcliff-Umstead

    Michel de Ghelderode’s dramaChristophe Colomb(1927) shares the concern of several twentieth-century European philosophers, anthropologists, and authors of fiction to comprehend the historical process and its lasting consequences. Benedetto Croce in his textHistory: Its Theory and Practice (Teoria e Storia della Storiografia, 1917) identified history with philosophy in motion across time. For Croce the past is always with us in the present and future, and consequently history becomes our present reality. Croce’s fundamental distinction is betweenchronicleandhistorywhere documents, records, letters like those of Columbus form the corpse of history that a historian resuscitates through a...

  3. Alienation and Form in Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy
    (pp. 22-29)
    Huck Gutman

    John Dos Passos was a well-known writer in 1927, when the committee which organized the defense of Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Niccolo Sacco asked him to come to Boston and help cover, for the national press, the appeals of their conviction for murder. The effort to save these two men, symbols to the right of growing anarchy in America, symbols to the left of the persecution of the powerless by the powerful bent upon defending their interests, affected Dos Passos profoundly, and he spent the next decade writing a massive trilogy of novels which investigated the crisis into which he felt...

  4. Reimagining the Arts of War: Language and History in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day and Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness
    (pp. 30-38)
    Phyllis Lassner

    In an article about what’s new in British fiction inThe New York Times Book Reviewa couple of years ago, Salman Rushdie responded to the claim that the English do not write about politics by saying:

    If you think of World War II—America, Germany and Italy all produced extraordinary novels about it; England didn’t. Perhaps that also has something to do with the fact that the end of the war and the end of the Empire happened at almost the same time. There’s a certain amount of living in a green world of the past in England.… There...

  5. Nature, History, and Art in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil, January 1, 1502”
    (pp. 39-46)
    Barbara Page

    Elizabeth Bishop has been described as a poet of geography, and this is accurate as far as it goes, but there is also a fair amount of history in her poems, usually introduced with studied casualness, as something she happens to have read or recalled. By history, in the first and simplest instance, I mean matters about which historians write and generalize: for instance, the Assyrian wars (in her poem “Wading at Wellfleet,”) or the Christian Empire (in her “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance”).¹ But she also thinks about history itself, as a way of knowing. In “At...

  6. From a Far Country: History, Myth, and Fiction in Anthony Burgess’s The Malayan Trilogy
    (pp. 47-54)
    Anne Ricketson Zahlan

    At the very hour that he abdicates home and position to a Malay successor, the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’sThe Malayan Trilogy(1956-59) tells a story of an imperial past remote from the realities of mid-twentieth century. The story concerns a man reminiscent of the legendary Raffles of Singapore, establisher of British influence in the Malay Peninsula and the seas around it, liberator of slaves, and accomplished student of Malay language and lore. It is “the story of the man from the far country who tried to help, the man who developed miraculous powers, killing the pirates and the bandits...

  7. The Historical Context of Yeats’s Byzantium
    (pp. 55-63)
    David Roessel

    Yeats’s Byzantium poems have usually been discussed from a spiritual or aesthetic perspective.¹ If history enters the picture, the references are to the reign of Justinian or some other Byzantine emperor. What has been overlooked is that from 1919 to 1922 Constantinople, or Byzantium, was a topic of some importance in newspapers and magazines. Twentieth-century events help explain why Yeats chose as a symbol of a holy city a place which had been a symbol of decay and decadence at the end of the nineteeth century. Since Modern Greek history is not well known, some background information is needed.²


  8. The Officer-Figure Aestheticized: Some Biographical Speculations on Hofmannsthal’s “Reitergeschichte”
    (pp. 64-72)
    Thomas A. Kamla

    Richard Alewyn stated years ago that the story of Rittmeister Rofrano in Hofmannsthal’s “Reitergeschichte” still remained to be written and the observation holds true even today.¹ To date, analyses of the narrative have concentrated, and understandably so, on the dominant figure of Wachtmeister Lerch, while discussions of the Rittmeister have served the purpose of contrasting the superior with, and thereby bringing into sharper focus, the character of the subordinate by speculating on whether Lerch’s execution was socially or psychologically motivated, a matter of military necessity, or none of these inasmuch as they are called into doubt by the narrator himself.²...

  9. Il ruolo della politica nel canzoniere di Pavese Lavorare Stanca
    (pp. 73-81)
    Fabio Girelli-Carasi

    Nell’ affrontare il tema del ruolo della politica nella raccolta di PaveseLavorare Stanca(Torino: Einaudi, 1968,)¹ penso siano necessarie alcune premesse per inquadrare i criteri a cui si affida la presente analisi.

    É necessario ricordare innanzitutto che Pavese non fu mai né un militante né quello che Gramsci e Vittorini (e tantomeno Togliatti) definirebberointellettuale organico. Dalle note biografiche inIl Vizio Assurdodi Davide Lajolo (Milano: Mondadori, 1972), eLessico Famigliaredi Natalia Ginzburg (Torino: Einaudi, 1963), possiamo escludere che Pavese provasse interesse attivo per la politica, per il dibattito ideologico, e per la lotta clandestina, pur aderendo...

  10. Clinging to Words: Czeslaw Milosz and the Catastrophist Era
    (pp. 82-89)
    Judith A. Dompkowski

    Czeslaw Milosz’s war poems, written between 1930 and 1945, offer both a personal and an historical chronicle. The poet fuses attitudes about his own life with aspects of Polish history and presents what amounts to the diary of a pessimist. His tensions have several layers. In the early poems of this period, Milosz’s anxieties are very vague personal ones. However, they gradually become highly expansive and defined to include anticipation of World War II, the murder of Jews, the destruction of Warsaw, the ideological imprisonment of Poland and his own exile. Although Milosz is a survivor of all this, he...

  11. “El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan”: Un cuento de la guerra
    (pp. 90-96)
    Daniel Balderston

    Lo que afirmaré aqui tienne la virtud de ser tan obvio que parece que nadie lo ha dicho antes. Sin embargo, es de importancia capital, ya que tiene que ver con el debate sobre si Borges es un escritor metafísico, y sobre la manera de relacionarse las vertientes fantásticas y realistas en su obra. Este debate se prolonga desdeLa expresión de la irrealidad en Jorge Luis Borgesde Ana María Barrenechea (1957) hastaJorge Luis Borges 1923-1980de Ramona Lagos (1986). Hasta ahora la posición más sensata a mi parecer ha sido la de Sylvia Molloy, quien afirma en...

  12. Ghosts of the Past: The Return of Maximilian and Carlotta in Two Contemporary Mexican Short Stories
    (pp. 97-106)
    Cynthia K. Duncan

    The romantic figures of Maximilian Von Hapsburg and his mad wife, Carlotta, have only a minor role in the unfolding of Mexico’s turbulent history. Their ill-fated Empire, which lasted only three brief years (1864-1867), was never recognized by the majority of the Mexican people as the legitimate government of that country. Civil war had plagued Mexico for more than fifty years, since her first efforts to gain independence from Spain. The treasury was depleted, the nation in ruins, and European powers were deeply involved in Mexico’s internal affairs. The French had invested heavily in Mexico and were eager to gain...

  13. El rescate de la historia/intrahistoria salvadoreña en Un día en la vida de Manlio Argueta
    (pp. 107-116)
    Raúl Rodríguez-Hernández

    La relación entre el fenómeno histórico y la producción literaria se presenta de una forma más evidente en el ámbito cultural latinoamericano que en el resto de las otras culturas modernas. Esto se debe, según parece, a la estrecha relación que ha existido entre estos dos campos del quehacer humano desde el incipiente período de los primeros documentos producidos desde el Nuevo Mundo: diarios de viajes, crónicas, cartas de relación, etc. Sin embargo, conviene agregar que esta correlación no ha estado exenta de conflictos y ambigüedades que han quedado registrados tanto en la crítica literaria como en las estructuras e...