Saturday, August 26, 2006

A spectre is haunting Europe...

"A spectre is haunting Europe...."

Now that's a pretty effective, vividly Gothic, opening line for a book. It's how Marx begins The Communist Manifesto:
A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
The phrase came to mind when I read Michael Fitzpatrick's brief review of Francis Wheen's Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography, which celebrates the tract's language:
Wheen provides a useful introduction to Capital, setting this great work in both its historical context and in the context of the life of its author. He writes perceptively on ‘Capital as literature’, noting its elements of the Gothic novel, Victorian melodrama, black farce, Greek tragedy and satirical utopia. He observes that Capital is ‘saturated with irony’, and that its metaphorical style, its ‘abstruse explanations and whimsical tomfoolery’, reflect Marx’s attempt ‘to do justice to the mysterious, topsy-turvy logic of capitalism’. Capital itself offers appearances that are paradoxical, mystifying, contrary to everyday observation.
Capital, which came a couple of decades after The Communist Manifesto, has significant insights (very briefly summarized by Fitzpatrick), but its opening lines are comparatively dry.

--Marshal Zeringue