Wednesday, May 19, 2010

evocative memoir

If I ever write my own memoir, I hope I can begin to approach the style of Tony Judt, a distinguished historian of Europe, now wasting away with ALS. In a series of short essays in the New York Review of Books, he has told stories of his childhood in England and his astonishment when visiting, and eventually living in America. Read them, for their humor, their insights, and their evocative impact. I don't know whether or when there will be a published volume, but I would buy it in an instant.

Few of his writings are outside the NYRB subscription firewall, but one that is describes life in postwar Britain, a period of great austerity.
"After the war everything was in short supply. Churchill had mortgaged Great Britain and bankrupted the Treasury in order to defeat Hitler. Clothes were rationed until 1949, cheap and simple “utility furniture” until 1952, food until 1954. The rules were briefly suspended for the coronation of Elizabeth, in June 1953: everyone was allowed one extra pound of sugar and four ounces of margarine. But this exercise in supererogatory generosity served only to underscore the dreary regime of daily life."

As a Fulbright scholar in London in the 1960s, I remember puzzling over my colleagues' obsession with chocolate bars -- until I learned that chocolate had been rationed until 1951, making it the denied indulgence which they could at last enjoy without restraint.

Judt goes on to make a point quite relevant to America's I agree.economic circumstances.

"We have substituted endless commerce for public purpose, and expect no higher aspirations from our leaders. Sixty years after Churchill could offer only “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” our very own war president—notwithstanding the hyperventilated moralism of his rhetoric—could think of nothing more to ask of us in the wake of September 11, 2001, than to continue shopping. This impoverished view of community—the “togetherness” of consumption—is all we deserve from those who now govern us. If we want better rulers, we must learn to ask more from them and less for ourselves. A little austerity might be in order."

I agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment