Josephine Herbst

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Josephine Herbst (March 5, 1892 – January 28, 1969) was a writer and journalist, active from 1923 to near the time of her death. She was a radical with communist leanings, who "incorporate[d] the philosophy of socialism into her fiction" and "aligned herself with the political Left".


"The Ruins of Memory" (April 4, 1956)[edit]

In The Nation

  • The great authors to come up since the Second World War have mostly been dead a long time. Kafka, Melville, Hawthorne, Henry James should be with us always but their resurgence in the forties presaged more than recognition of their stature. It signified also a genteel retreat from a period too complicated to confront easily. The writings of the detached past became a kind of smokescreen to conceal the present dilemma, and the ruins. But a ruin can be as good a point of departure as any. There is usually new life in the ruins as anyone who ever saw a population react from a bombing can testify. But the picker-uppers are not trying to salvage tender mementos only. They usually are looking for bricks and firewood.
  • Literary epochs come and go but this wave seems to have frozen in the cold war.
  • There is no such thing as a writer untouched by his time. Even the most inner experience is a response to some outside.
  • Every period takes stock of the one preceding it and the past that was good enough for the fathers never seems good enough for the children no matter how idyllic it may seem to the great-grandchildren.
  • Writing should be dangerous: as dangerous as Socrates. There should be no refuge for the writer either in the Ivory Tower or the Social Church.
  • It takes a true writer to show us what has been missing in our lives. No one can give the writer an assignment that his own impulse has not bespoken but more than his security should inform him. "The pen," said Kafka to Janouch, "is not an instrument but an organ of the writer's."
  • Guilt is real, it is serious, but when it becomes also a fashion, there is corruption.
  • We are not only what we are today but what we were yesterday and if you burn your immediate past there is nothing left but ashes which are all very well for those heads that like nothing better than to be sprinkled with ashes. But are these ash-covered heads really the spokesmen of our conscience?

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