Arthur Koestler

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Koestler, Arthur (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Koestler, Arthur 1905–

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, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

[The] Koestler of Darkness at Noon is a genuinely great imaginative writer who has changed the direction of the flow of thought on political matters, and it is as such that he will live and continue to be read;… he is not a scientist, though he has had some good ideas in the tradition of what Germans call nature-philosophy, and he is not nearly critical or tough-minded enough to be a creative philosopher. Nevertheless, Koestler has been accepted as a scientific philosopher by a number of serious and able scientists…. I believe that the real trouble with Arthur Koestler is that he writes and acts as if he thought that the high inspirational origin of a theory and the sheer intensity of the conviction with which it is held to be true are somehow evidence of its authenticity…. [Quite the opposite,] in science we are taught, or come painfully to learn, that to fall in love with a hypothesis is one of the roads to ruin…. Sometimes one can watch the inspirational elements in Koestler taking over from, and damaging, his thought…. (p. 22)

Koestler is … a superbly accomplished journalist. He is an enormously intelligent man with a truly amazing power to apprehend knowledge and grasp the gist of quite difficult theories. Above all, he is a master at telling a story. One story that seems to attract him is that of the brilliant genius, the true original, who is cold-shouldered and misunderstood by the Establishment. This is an important element of the high-romantic view of scholarship; another is that the "creativity and pathology of the human mind are, after all, two sides of the same medal." Or, alternatively, that genius and insanity are somehow cognate.

I very much doubt if either opinion would stand up to critical scrutiny. Nearly all great geniuses are recognized in their own lifetimes, but of course we tend to remember only the exceptions. Moreover, high genius is distinguished by a high, clear sanity that casts its light all around it. In the absence of any conceivable "control experiment," we cannot say for certain, though we may very well surmise, that Nietzsche and Schumann, for instance, would have risen to even greater heights if their minds had been unclouded by manic or depressive tendencies.

Koestler is a great campaigner, too. Very often I have got the impression from his writings that, where they should by rights be cool and deeply analytical, they are, in reality, Koestler's part in a dialogue with an unseen disputant—someone who takes a bit of convincing and needs all of Koestler's considerable persuasive powers. (pp. 22, 24)

Peter Medawar, "Doing the Honors," in Saturday Review (© 1976 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), March 6, 1976, pp. 22, 24.

The comparatively sudden appearance of large communities of Jews in Eastern Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is generally attributed to the migration eastward, because of discrimination and persecution, of Jews from France, England, and Germany. In The Thirteenth Tribe, Arthur Koestler argues that this theory has been accepted primarily because of a lack of any alternative explanation….

The Thirteenth Tribe, a study of the Khazars, attempts to prove that the majority of modern Jewry … is in fact descended from this Turkic tribe that settled in the Caucasus in the sixth century, built up an empire in the seventh and eighth centuries that preserved Eastern Europe from the advances of Islam and defended Byzantium from the ravages of the nomadic peoples of the steppe, and converted to Judaism in the eighth century. (p. 1248)

Despite the intriguing...

(The entire section is 1,624 words.)