David Cesarani on Arthur Koestler, London Jewish Cultural Centre

Some disappointments tonight – through no fault of David Cesarani – and a scare.

The scare happened on the way as I walked alongside the heath between Hampstead Heath BR and Golders Green – there’s a very dark stretch where the road sinks between steep banks and the single pavement’s is raised with iron railings on one side and scrubby heath on the other. As I walked along the pavement thinking that it was rather dark and very very quiet, grunting, moaning and breathing began abruptly to my right. I looked round quickly and saw a pervert exhibitionist wanking himself off on the opposite bank. Words failed me once again, and I trotted away towards the lights at the bottom of the hill, half expecting him to run across the road, vault the railings and force me to do something or other.

The disappointments were that David Cesarani had only bought 4 copies of The Homeless Mind to sell none of which I could get my hands on, and that hedecided to focus on Arthur Koestler’s Jewishness and Hungarianness rather than some of the other things I’m insterested in. The main point DC makes is that Arthur, while constantly reminded that he was Jewish, chose to suppress this facet of his identity because he judged that it would damage his credibility as a critic of Communism, which many viewed as a Jewish system. I have been reading The Homeless mind in a patchy way to flesh out the existing knowledge I have of AK from his autobiogs, so I don’t know if DC also extended this theory to AK’s Cassandra-like ‘screaming’ about the holocaust. What has been bothering me about AK for a little while now – and DC deals fairly strictly with him –  is the discrepancy between his often scrupulous, even self-abasing modesty in his autobiographies, and a) his propaganda work for Willi Muenzenberg (which he explains away as a symptom of the desperate polarised ’30s), and the dishonesties and misinterpretations uncovered by DC. Maybe it’s meaningless, but it seems that the stuff poor old Arthur is most preoccupied and guilty about is not the stuff those who later commented felt was the right stuff. How could he be so lucid about his own character, and hold the idea of truthfulness so dear, but at the same time have these blind spots. The last disappointment was that mine was the last hand up and he didn’t have time for that question, but I don’t think it would have been a particularly good question. He was a propagandist, in the end, and can’t be trusted on any level – maybe that started in the Muenzenberg years, maybe it was always there.

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