Every once in a while, when I get ambitious, I try to tackle the writings of Edmund Wilson, the great man of letters who was my grandmother’s cousin.
Lately I’ve been trying to slog through To the Finland Station, subtitled “A study in the writing and acting of history.”
The first chapters are about a lot of historians I had never heard of, such as Michelet, Taine, Saint-Simon and Vico, and I can’t make much of them.
But there’s a good explanation of the Paris Commune of 1871, during which 20 to 40 thousand communards were executed by the government in a single week.
More people were killed, imprisoned or exiled during that one week than during three years of The Terror under Robespierre.
Here’s a passage about Karl Marx that illustrates the difficulties I have understanding what Cousin Bunny is talking about:
“Certainly there went into the creation of Das Kapital as much of art as of science. The book is a welding-together of several quite different points of view, of several quite different techniques of thought.
“It contains a treatise on economics, a history of industrial development and an inspired tract for the times; and the morality, which is part of the time suspended in the interests of scientific objectivity, is no more self-consistent than the economics is consistently scientific or the history undistracted by the exaltation of apocalyptic vision.
“And outside the whole immense structure, dark and strong like the old Trier basilica, built by the Romans with brick walls and granite columns, swim the mists and the septentrional lights of German metaphysics and mysticism, always ready to leak in through the crevices.”
I looked up ‘septentrional,’ and it means northern or boreal — having to do with the septentrion, the seven stars of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, a constellation in the northern sky.
It can refer to the northern reaches of a region, or to the culture of northern peoples like the Vikings.
So that clears that up.