Koestler, Arthur (Vol. 15)
Koestler, Arthur 1905–
A Hungarian-born British novelist, essayist, journalist, and historian, Koestler reflects in his works a concern with politics, ethics, philosophy, history, and psychology. His Art of Creation explores the creative/destructive dichotomy of human nature, a continuing theme throughout his work. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
V. S. Pritchett
Koestler's gift is bold and fresh, but it is theatrical. He is the declaiming and compelling actor. No one has known better than he when to drop what he is doing and rush to document the latest convulsion. In this fashion, he has run through the political infections of our generation…. How much in his writing is personal experience and how much is an intense imaginative identification with the people he describes is not important; or rather, only the identification is important. It is passionate because it is moral; it is complex because it is at once theatrical and aware of itself….
Koestler is more than a simple reporter. He is intellectually volatile; it is second nature for him to generalize about events; he is politically trained, and likes to be politically bespattered. It is the business of the journalist to interview everything and Koestler is able to interview philosophy, science, economics, history, and to come back with a notebook full of general ideas which are put to dramatic use. (p. 54)
He can easily dazzle us because we have no café conversation and no café writers. We have no skill in playing poker with ideas. We are not trained to pretend that things which are entirely different may (for the pleasure of effect) be assumed to be opposites. We have no eternal students. We have no intelligentsia. These singularities have led Koestler himself to as complete and conventional misreading of English...
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Ever since his birth [Arthur Koestler] has lived as it were in the maelstrom of contemporary history, turning in a continual vortex even as he wrote, and with an unerring instinct homing toward the place of trouble which will affect us all very soon. His environment is the whirlpool, and his creativity explodes out of violence.
His virtue, however, is not just restlessness and love of the vortex of contemporary history. It lies in his capacity for entering into what I can only call the conscience of contemporary events. That this is a shifting conscience, which tells him at one time to be on one side or at one place and another at a quite different one, is disconcerting and bitter to his political allies, but it is what really makes for his significance as a man and a writer. Mr. Koestler is a restless instrument who attaches himself to a conflict and gives us a kind of reading of the moral issues involved. He reminds us that the reading may be different at different times. Communism was a better cause in 1933 than it is in 1952.
He also has his own personal problem, which is to discover some center within himself which is not shifting, to which he can attach his values and his faith. His danger is to make a heroic virtue out of the changeability which has made him a public success. The weakness of [Arrow in the Blue, the first volume of Koestler's autobiography] is that he still seems to regard ruthless,...
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Since it is in the grip of a fixed idea, Darkness at Noon has little of the intellectual fluidity, the richness of absorbed life, the complex interplay between emotion and ideology, that distinguishes the political novel at its best. Though the subject of Koestler's book can be seen as the increasingly problematic nature of all modern politics, it seldom yields itself to the problematic as a mode of feeling or observation. Can one say that a certain kind of commitment to the problematic may itself become a form of ideological fanaticism? If so, that is how to describe Darkness at Noon. For Koestler is the sort of writer who manipulates his characters with a ruthless insistence that they conform to his will, that they illustrate prefabricated themes rather than fulfill their inner possibilities. Only intermittently does he do the novelist's job and, as one might expect, it is then that he is at his best, relaxing his ideological hold—that grim insistence upon the dazzling formula which is all too often a sign of intellectual panic—and letting his imagination work freely. (p. 227)
In the first regard, [Darkness at Noon] is often superb. Confined to one locale, one line of action, one dominating character [Rubashov], it accumulates great dramatic intensity, and … [at times] it reaches a concentrated expression of all the horror of modern politics. (pp. 227-28)
But the novel is crucially flawed,...
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