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Thread: Darkness at Noon

  1. #1
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Darkness at Noon

    "Darkness at Noon" is ranked #8 on Modern Library's list of 100 greatest English novels. This is strange, because it was originally written in German. However, Arthur Koestler wrote the novel in Paris, and his English girlfriend translated it into her native tongue almost simultaneously. This was 1940. The Nazi's invaded. Koestler -- a Jew and committed Communist -- was Hungarian, but had been educated in Austria and had fled Nazism years before. The English version was published and became a best seller; the German original was lost.

    In fact, he had once been imprisoned in Francisco Franco's torture cells, and had managed to escape only because he was working for and English newspaper at the time, and Franco was pressured to release him.

    A current New Yorker article gives the details, and commemorates the fact that 85 years later, an original German manuscript has turned up in Swiss archives. (The details are thin about how the manuscript got there.) Here's a link: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2...rkness-at-noon

    I read "Darkness at Noon" a few years back -- according the New Yorker piece it is a fictionalized version of some of Stalin's trials of former Soviet and Communist party leaders in 1938 (it was obvious when I read it that it was a fictionalized version of purges, but I learned some details from the article.) By the way, the doomed protagonist in the novel is a committed Communist who has fallen afoul of the leader. The French translation of "Darkness" sold half a million copies in France in 1945.

    We forget how seriously people once took Communism. Intellectuals around Europe embraced it (the "scientific" approach to regulating society). Also, I learned from the novel that Stalin wanted to temporarily abandon the thrust toward World Communism and consolidate his authority in the USSR. Some of the other Communist leaders (most of whom didn't last long) wanted to continue to push for the Marxist ideal.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 10-03-2019 at 09:21 AM.

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    Registered User EmptySeraph's Avatar
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    I feel that I shouldn't know, that I should commit my reasoning to means of silence alone, and therefore pass under inactivity such reactive expedients of thinking--therefore I do not know, but I do imagine that an artist should stay clear of politics, and that it's highly dubious how Koestler's journalistic stab at Talmudic witticism seeped polemics gets the plaudits of being deemed one of the apexes of XXth century art.
    Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

  3. #3
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Good to see you posting at LitNet, Empty. I generally read your posts, and sometimes even try (often unsuccessfully) to understand them.

    I have trouble understanding them because you use words in an idiosyncratic manner, and language is only intelligible because the meaning of words is conventional. For example, you write:

    I should commit my reasoning to means of silence alone, and therefore pass under inactivity such reactive expedients of thinking...
    Do you mean that you think you should shut up? What are "means" of silence? What does "pass under inactivity" mean? Is "under" some metaphor? What are "expedients" of thinking?

    At least your prose prompts me to think, perhaps even in a "reactive(ly) expedient" manner.

    Now to the point (if there is one). Have you read "Darkness at Noon", Empty? It is not really "about" politics, but about an individual's reaction to being falsely persecuted, tormented, interrogated and executed. Isn't that a similar subject to that of all those paintings of Jesus on the cross? Why is it not an appropriate subject for art?

    Here's what I wrote about "Darkness" here at Litnet when I read it:

    "Darkness at Noon" is an expose of Stalinism. The protagonist (Rubashov) is a devoted communist who fought in the Russian Revolution, but has fallen afoul of the current regime. He is imprisoned, questioned, forced to sign confessions, and executed.

    The novel feels a little dated, to me. Everyone now knows the evils of Stalinism. Nonetheless, Rubashov is an interesting character -- an idealist who is conflicted about loyalty to the "Party", or loyalty to the goal of world revolution. Apparently, Stalin (known as "#1" in the novel) wanted to hunker down and abandon world revolution, and had anyone whose opinion differed shot.

    Rubashov is an interesting chap, and when his questioners want him to sign a document admitting that he tried to assassinate Stalin (a crime of which he was not guilty) he is willing to sign, but objects to the stupidity of the plot to which he is confessing. He doesn't want to look like a fool.

    The novel is a short, easy, and dramatic read.
    As I said then, I agree that "Darkness" is a bit too caught up in topics that inspire less passion now than they did in the 1940s. It "feels a little dated". Nonetheless, I don't agree that novels should never be concerned with politics. Why shouldn't they be? Novels are as novels do, and plenty of good novels are political, including: "War and Peace", "The Trial", "Master and Marguerita", and "East of Eden" (to name just a few). If we look at drama: "Oedipus Rex", "Antigone", Julius Caesar", "Hamlet", "MacBeth" and a great many other plays have political plots.

    So while "Darkness at Noon" may no longer be the smash hit (among intellectuals) that it was in the 1940s, it's still a very good novel and well worth reading (although I'll agree that Modern Library's rating seems a bit high, but who cares about such ratings anyway?). .

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    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    I had read the New Yorker article, and immediately thought of the NitLet with its long, long tradition of threads devoted to Orwell's 1984. I also thought of some of our American novelists, such as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison whose characters are seduced or nearly so by opportunistic Communists. We can thank the god of our choice that Stalin is gone, but it's sad to say that despotic tyrants still plague many parts of our globe. We still have some idealists who are susceptible to the lures of glib political operatives. And the threat of one's becoming a "political prisoner" is all too real.

    Good thread, Ecurb.

  5. #5
    Registered User EmptySeraph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Good to see you posting at LitNet, Empty. I generally read your posts, and sometimes even try (often unsuccessfully) to understand them.

    I have trouble understanding them because you use words in an idiosyncratic manner, and language is only intelligible because the meaning of words is conventional. For example, you write:



    Do you mean that you think you should shut up? What are "means" of silence? What does "pass under inactivity" mean? Is "under" some metaphor? What are "expedients" of thinking?

    At least your prose prompts me to think, perhaps even in a "reactive(ly) expedient" manner.

    Now to the point (if there is one). Have you read "Darkness at Noon", Empty? It is not really "about" politics, but about an individual's reaction to being falsely persecuted, tormented, interrogated and executed. Isn't that a similar subject to that of all those paintings of Jesus on the cross? Why is it not an appropriate subject for art?

    Here's what I wrote about "Darkness" here at Litnet when I read it:



    As I said then, I agree that "Darkness" is a bit too caught up in topics that inspire less passion now than they did in the 1940s. It "feels a little dated". Nonetheless, I don't agree that novels should never be concerned with politics. Why shouldn't they be? Novels are as novels do, and plenty of good novels are political, including: "War and Peace", "The Trial", "Master and Marguerita", and "East of Eden" (to name just a few). If we look at drama: "Oedipus Rex", "Antigone", Julius Caesar", "Hamlet", "MacBeth" and a great many other plays have political plots.

    So while "Darkness at Noon" may no longer be the smash hit (among intellectuals) that it was in the 1940s, it's still a very good novel and well worth reading (although I'll agree that Modern Library's rating seems a bit high, but who cares about such ratings anyway?). .
    The transient impression, for all its owing accuracy to the ephemeron's immanent contingency, is that you, Monsieur, are abusing your size, so much to the cause, subsumed to the very one upheld here, of your being void. Since you are the one secreting interrogative predications, it should be conspicuous enough that you alone are the one competent to saturate them with exigible answers in turn, as you yourself pretend, even if the evidence that should recommend your person to such incursions is rather indigent, and truth be told, I fail, try as I may, to discern the thing to which your predilection might be indebted--hence I take the freedom to enquire, from where do you secure your poses?
    Allowing myself an ignorant instance to the latter inquisition, for developing's sake, I have to say only that I cannot in any way fathom viable answers to your questions, since they are yours, and I can't exercise any hermeneutic authority upon them. Even so the matter being, I arrive to imagine that my being able, with due probity, to answer them in a satisfactory manner would annulate axiologically nearly the ferments that stimulate you to the forward formalization of such questions. I thus only can answer them for myself, undermining myself, for the rise of such questions would make a tabula rasa of any preexistent assertion. If needs be, I could be coerced to answer them, but then I'd answer them in my language, not making use of the one that put them, but of the one that answers, and since this cannot be assimilated to the adverse one, face to it, flabbergasted, it shall too be of no avail. Forgive, I cannot help whatsoever. You may, however, want to question the question itself, for yourself.
    Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

  6. #6
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Oh no! I'm void! Horrors!

    Funny stuff, Empty. I will respond only by quoting Jane Austen, from Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland is talking to Henry Tilney. Catherine speaks first:

    “I do not understand you.”

    “Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

    “Me? Yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

    “Bravo! An excellent satire on modern language.”

  7. #7
    Registered User EmptySeraph's Avatar
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    I am all too afraid that this demeanor of yours, the underneaths of which I shall stay well clear of, the incumbent decision above all partaking of a compunction vice, testifies but for ancillary consuetudes of consecrating any enigma to the operations of consternating facility. This time I allow myself the habitable interstice of inexpugnable univocity proper to that bordering on the coarsest amphibolic praxis in order to pronounce myself in regard to your offhandedly wielded emetical irony and assured inalterable inflection you invest in your simplicity draped volutes, the campestral development of their helicoid flattering without delay a bovine internal figure that entertains itself indulging in a lacklustre marivodage with the assinine reasoning, as I am readily unhearting in your procedure the obnubilating desire for subjugating ultima verba. You'd make a figure as a sophist, bearing in mind that you only have eyes and ears for what you are declaiming with the unintelligent zeal of a neophyte (should I consider your inelegantly insisting upon what a certain word or syntagma means? I rest my case on that one, lest we're wallowing in indecency), and alas, a sorry one. To no particular surprise would I be subjected in the prospect of certain philistine spurts truncating inextricably complex aporias under the pretense of Apollonian simplicity: you indeed must imagine, as you without reaching heights of despair imagine languages functioning unilaterally, that the essence of things does reside in the uttermost superficial regions of their strata, and anything beyond that, even perchance unintentionally setting foot in the ideological selvage, is just garish confabulation and cheap obscurantism. A shame indeed that you debase everything to the point of denouncing everything as shallow as being able, in a fleeting inspection, to unravel to the last their enigmas. I acknowledge that it does seem awfully to buckle imbecility, and yet, even ascertaining this evidence, I forgive you anything--with gratitude to your unfashionable lack in taste.
    Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

  8. #8
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Lol! This language duel is highly entertaining!
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  9. #9
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I agree with everything Empty said, and will only try to entertain any fans who may still be reading (Danik? Is that you?) with another Jane Austen quote, this time from "Sense and Sensibility":

    Elinor agreed with everything he said, because she didn't think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 10-06-2019 at 02:54 PM.

  10. #10
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Well, it only behoves me to bear witness to this answer.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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