Historian as a Political Citizen

Posted by sepoy on November 01, 2007 · 2 mins read

Peter Nadas gives us some clues:

But then, can someone in, say, Boston, “pouring sweet maple syrup over sizzling bacon” understand “from such ambiguous sentences how deformed the thoughts and actions of someone can become who for years has used their mother tongue for hiding thoughts rather than for expressing them?” he asked. “How meaning slips around in the shadow of words, hissing through the gaps in their definitions?”

After '56 : “Hungary tried a socialist-capitalism that was like squaring a circle,” he recounted the other day. “Common knowledge then was that if you didn't speak out you could go on with your little dealings. Gradually a second, then third economy developed — a culture of corruption. When the wall fell, we had a peaceful change from socialism, but the negative side was that communist functionaries gained power again by privatizing what they ran before. They simply used the old networks of corruption, which are now blossoming.”

Mr. Nadas began writing short stories when he was still a teenager, worked as a photojournalist before concluding he could no longer abide shooting happy proletarians to serve as government propaganda, and he wrote plays (Sontag once compared them to works by Pina Bausch and Thomas Bernhard) that, among other acts of political protest and independent expression, kept him in hot water with the authorities.

The struggle toward maturity as a novelist in works like “A Book of Memories” and in the three-volume “Parallel Stories,” a work of 18 years, published two years ago but not yet in English, was to turn what he has called the “monkey tricks of my sentences” into “honest” writing. That's a metaphor, clearly, for what he feels are also the obligations of a political citizen.

I do want to distance myself from that slight towards the Boston bacon-eater.


lapata | November 01, 2007

It is hard to be a responsible political citizen when surrounded by all these mounds of bacon and jugs of sweet, golden maple syrup.

akbar | November 01, 2007

"But then, can someone in, say, Boston, “pouring sweet maple syrup over sizzling bacon” understand ...." "Man lives for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic aims of humanity." — Tolstoy