By Robert Alter
Publication by means of modify, Robert
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Extra info for Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern Historical Crisis
Mandelstam so valuable a memoirist is above all the unsentimental clarity with which she views experiences that might invite pathos, self-pity, or a swollen rhetoric of outrage. It is this that enables her in Hope Against Hope to reveal in such convincing concreteness the tenor of life under a maniacally arbitrary regime of terror; in this one respect, Stalinism was worse than Hitlerism, for even loyal party membership and pure Christian ancestry provided no guarantee against the anonymous denunciation and its terri ble consequences (the secret police had its quotas to fill, just like the factories, and the human material was finally a mat ter of indifference).
Com << Chapter >> Home | TOC assume, because of its programmatic insistence on the Chris tian component of art. It is revealing that Mandelstam’s fullest, most original state ment on the nature of poetry, “Talking About Dante” (1933; translated by Clarence Brown and Robert Hughes, Delos 6, 1971). manages to discuss the author of The Divine Comedy for some 16,000 words without once considering him as a Christian poet. Dante’s poem is described as a vast “stereo metric body,” a many-hued wonder of “crystallographic” form, the supreme realized example of the infinite transformability of poetic material, but it is never spoken of as a state ment of Christian faith, a poetic unity made possible through the systematic coherence of classical Christian theology.
The stubble-bearded bard performing to convicts for sustenance in the candlelit loft is the same Mandelstam who from his youth cherished the idea that people would always be good to him because of his gift for poetry. He was not, however, by any means a naive man, and this seemingly child ish belief was, as we shall see, rooted in a deeply meditated set of ideas on the nature of poetry and its ontological, spir itual, and political implications. Osip Mandelstam was born in Warsaw in 1891, the son of a prosperous Jewish leather merchant.
Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern Historical Crisis by Robert Alter