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A group of interviews with Czechoslovak writers and intellectuals conducted by Liehm between 1966-68 stressing generational differences and political issues pitting the intelligentsia against the power structure. The latter question is confined largely to hopes for greater independence and honesty rather than visions of positive contributions to political transformation, except for the last interview in which philosopher Karel Kosic postulates a revolutionary union between workers and intellectuals. Many of the interviewees have a Party background, many underwent excruciating experiences during World War II and the '50's purges. But even the most political offer no explanation of the purges; they make Arthur London's Confession (1970) look like a masterwork of analysis by comparison. How much of this is caution, how much a withdrawal from political thought induced by the regime, and how much is the naivete sustained by Party intellectuals who never developed a capacity for independent socialist judgment is impossible to say. The relationship between politics and poetry is generally viewed in philistine terms by the Slovak writers here although some tentatively reach past the alternatives of socialist realism and elitist art-for-art's sake toward a new critical realism. The younger intellectuals, like Vaclav Havel, describe their ""attraction to concrete reality"" as if it were apolitical rather than a particular kind of ideological aesthetic. It is striking to note the absence of references to 20th-century theoretical giants, especially the Central European Marxists and semi-Marxists who dealt with art, ideology, and politics. Instead, respondents of all ages largely confine themselves to the ""national culture."" This focus makes for interesting historical allusions and literary judgments, and some speakers, like Kafka expert Eduard Goldstucker, try to extrapolate from it some ""universality,"" but its political counterpart remains a sort of raw patriotism, qualified chiefly by sub-national ethnic allegiances. Even Sartre echoes this parochial frame of reference in his preface. Although filmmakers are discussed but not interviewed and explicit anti-Soviet comments are discreetly avoided or omitted, this is both a puzzling as well as a provoking source.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1972
Publisher: Grove