Not to make excuses but the fragmented nature of my posts is a pretty good reflection of my thinking style at the moment: no longer obliged to be coherent, my mind seems to revel in half-thoughts and incomplete expositions. So it was when I finally finished Tony Judt’s mammoth book on European history since the world wars.
The book is as the author admits, a fox instead of a tortoise, and indeed I think it is its chief strength. First, it does justice to what the author knows. For example, when discussing Scandinavian social democracy, he goes to differentiate the models of governance we are so accustomed to thinking of as a bloc. In fact, he does this sort of thing all the time, betraying an extensive familiarity with all of Europe, rather than the England-France-Germany tripartite most people engage with.
So as a general introduction to history, this is a pretty good tome to pick up. But most of all, I like it because it deals with themes of memory, remembrance, guilt and history. It manages to fit the things I know about Europe now (the various countries today and things like the Eurozone crisis) into context. In fact, in his bit about the Maastricht treaty, his observations about the monetary union are remarkably similar to what is being said now. Judt may not be a pathbreaking economic thinker, but he often shows us that what we find novel is a rehashed version of something else in history. Or as Ecclesiastes puts it: “there is nothing new under the sun”.
I had the misfortune of being stuck in camp yesterday defending the nation by standing around for 8 hours while Crystal left to return to New York. And as we both noticed, it’s a strange inversion, is it not? I was the one crazy about the US last year and she about Cambridge and now she’s in Columbia and I’m probably going to Oxford. I guess it all works out in the end.
P.S. After putting it back on the shelf, I suddenly felt a sense of loneliness, the sort of emptiness Carol Ann Duffy was talking about, now that something that has been with me for so long (15 days) and featured so prominently in my life in that period of time will now be gone. What does that say about my prospects for a real relationship with a real person?