[ilds] Seeking the Truth

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri Sep 24 11:25:57 PDT 2010

Tony Judt recently died (1948-2010).  British born and educated, Judt was a major historian of modern Europe, in particular the intellectual and political tradition in post-war France.  He was also Jewish; as a youth he worked in a kibbutz.  He was an early supporter of the State of Israel and later a strong critic of the same.  He wrote frequently for The New York Review of Books.  In the previous issue of NYRB (30 Sept. 2010; link below), Timothy Garton Ash, of Oxford and Stanford, has written a remembrance of Judt.  One section reads, "There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of polemical intellectuals.  There are those for whom the taking of a controversial position is primarily a matter of personal peacock display, factional or clique, hidden agendas, score-settling, or serial, knee-jerk revisionism.  Then there are those who, while not without personal motivations and biases, are fundamentally concerned with seeking the truth.  Tony Judt was of the latter kind.  Sharp and cutting his pen could be, but his work was always about seeking the truth as best we can" (p. 6).

Lawrence Durrell might be called a "polemical intellectual."  In his early years, he certainly thought of himself as one, so his 1959 Preface to The Black Book testifies:  "a two-fisted attack on literature by an angry young man of the thirties" (p. 9; London 1938, 1982).  In view of statements such as "Humility!  The last trap that awaits the ego in search of absolute truth" (Justine, p. 242) or "Truth is what most contradicts itself in time" (Balthazar, p. 23), I wonder what L. Durrell would have had to say about anyone who devoted his or her life to "seeking the truth?"  Wasted?  Mistaken?  Wrongheaded?  Foolhardy?  And conversely, what would Judt have thought of LD?  Mistaken?  Wrongheaded?  I don't know if TJ read LD, but it seems likely that he did, given the breadth of his learning.


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