Adam Thirlwell

The Greatest Ex-Nazi Writer

Never heard of Gottfried Benn? It's because of his politics

Gottfreid Benn was a Nazi very briefly in the early 1930s. Why did it erase him from literary history?

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A cosmic perspective lends form to Italo Calvino's idea of utopia.

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How Baudelaire Revolutionized Modern Literature

Humiliation as a Way of Life

Baudelaire thought that everything natural was corrupt. This perverse, humiliating belief changed the face of literature.

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The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir By Claude Lanzmann Translated by Frank Wynne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 528 pp., $35)  I. The film called Shoah runs for more than nine and a half hours. Its subject is the extermination of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis. It features Jewish survivors of the death camps, Poles who lived near the camps, and Germans who organized and ran them—and also its director, Claude Lanzmann, in the background, with his various interpreters. The languages in which these people speak include Yiddish, Hebrew, English, German, Polish, and French: a sound file of Europe.

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Illuminations By Arthur Rimbaud Translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton, 167 pp., $24.95) I. Arthur Rimbaud wrote the texts known as Illuminations between around 1873 and 1875. In those years he lived in London, and in Paris, and at home with his mother and sisters in northern France, and in Stuttgart. In London, George Eliot was writing Daniel Deronda; in Paris, Henry James was writing Roderick Hudson. The majestic Nineteenth Century was everywhere.

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My Novel, My Novel

Mourning Diary By Roland Barthes Translated by Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 261 pp., $25) The Preparation of the Novel By Roland Barthes Translated by Kate Briggs (Columbia University Press, 463 pp., $29.50)   I. In retrospect, Roland Barthes once observed, his career as an intellectual began with the modest aim of revolution: It seemed to me (around 1954) that a science of signs might stimulate social criticism, and that Sartre, Brecht, and Saussure could concur in this project.

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The Animator

Charles Dickens Michael Slater Yale University Press, 696 pp., $35 I. For a long time, everyone has known that Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century, the city where the modern was invented: the society of the spectacular. But everyone was wrong. The capital of the nineteenth century was London. Think about it. Walter Benjamin’s symbol of the Parisian modern was the arcade. The arcade! In London-according to the social campaigner Henry Mayhew, there were 300,000 dustbins, 300,000 cesspools, and three million chimneys.

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