Sunday, March 30, 2003

Lots of ruminative treasures in Louis Menand's piece on Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station in the latest New Yorker -- even if, like me, you've never read the book.

We read histories for information, but what is it that we want the information for? The answer is a little paradoxical: we want the information in order to acquire the ability to understand the information.

...[W]hen Wilson began writing ÒTo the Finland StationÓ he believed in history, too. He thought that history had a design, and that the Depression was an event fully comprehensible within the context of that design: it was the long-predicted collapse of the capitalist order. ÒTo the Finland StationÓ is valuable as a window on the nineteenth century, but it is also a poignant artifact of the nineteen-thirties, a time when many people thought that history was something you could get on the right side or the wrong side of. It was an idea indistinguishable from faith, and Marx was one of its prophets.

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