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The Final Edition
January/February 2014

 From the cabinet of curiosities: The author's copies of a 1925 issue of "Der Querschnitt", cover illustration by George Grosz (left), and teh 100th issue of "Encounter", published in January 1962, cover by Henry Moore

"Karl Kraus II" (1925) by Oskar Kokoschka: The dark red volumes of "Die Fackel", which Kraus edited and largely wrote, are as fresh today as when they were first published in Vienna from 1899 to 1936

Writers may be born, but editors are their midwives. If I did not absorb the art of editing with my mother's milk, I certainly ingested it with the smell of my father's study: the adult odour of tobacco, dust and the sweat of his brow. This inner sanctum was the smallest bedroom in the house, but it had the best view of our garden: a vision of Eden to me, coming as I did from a London only just emerging from the Great Smog.

In those days small children were obliged to have a "rest" after lunch — an opportunity, I suppose, for the adults to take a break from our attentions. We children, of course, experienced being sent to bed in the middle of the day as a kind of incarceration; and, being bored, we were naughty. On one occasion, I was engaged in my favourite habit of drumming my bare feet against the window beside the bed, when the pane of glass broke. My ankles were gashed, the blood gushed out, and I needed stitches. They made me rest elsewhere after that, but my younger brother, who replaced me in the study, went one better. He liked playing with matches. One day, a box was carelessly-but for a little boy, conveniently-left out on my father's desk. He lit the matches, one by one, throwing them into the wastepaper basket. Not surprisingly (except to him) it caught fire. Panicking, he stuffed it under the bed. That also caught fire; he called for help, but the room was in flames. The boy was rescued, the house evacuated, the fire brigade called. But by the time their hoses had doused what had become quite a conflagration, the book-lined sanctuary had become a burnt-out shell. Thereafter, children were banished from the study, on pain of a paternal wrath. (A Victorian caricature of "Mr Gladstone indignant" hung on the wall-an image as terrible to me as Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son.) While in awe of my father-then Editor of the New Statesman-I also loved, admired and sought to emulate him, and even surpass his achievements. And so it was that my destiny was determined: I too would have to become an editor, if only in order to return to the lost paradise of the editor's study.

Much of my career has indeed, as it happens, consisted of editorial work for newspapers and magazines: in the 1990s, literary editor and comment editor of The Times; then associate editor of the Daily Telegraph; and, for the last five years, Editor of Standpoint, which I founded in 2008. Throughout, I have been lucky enough to write not only for my own papers, but for others too numerous to mention and on both sides of the Atlantic. (Only the best-paid editors can afford not to be freelance writers too.) Ephemeral as the achievements of a journalist may be, compared to those of a novelist or an academic, they are nothing to be ashamed of. However much the press may be vilified by those who have reason to fear it, the most striking difference between free countries and the rest is still the power of a free press. I am proud to have founded a periodical of my own: something that not even my father has done. I have been able to combine my trade with my passions sufficiently to enjoy a rich and satisfying intellectual life. Whether such deserts were in fact deserved, or not, I can count myself fortunate. 

With all these bookish benedictions, however, the archetypal room of one's own has eluded me. All writers and editors, I suspect, aspire to create a den for themselves in which their work can take place in undisturbed solitude. Writers may flourish in a cork-lined catacomb like Proust's study in Paris, or a velveted vault like Lord Burlington's at Chiswick, or a drudge's garret like Dr Johnson's at his house in Gough Street. A periodical may likewise thrive in offices of infinite variety, but an old townhouse is hard to beat. This essay has partly been written at the Standpoint office in Manchester Square, a fine Georgian corner of Marylebone that symbolises the values the magazine exists to   uphold. Even its name has echoes of free trade. But the basement office is open-plan: the Editor sits in a book-lined corner, rather than a study. 

There I keep most of my old periodicals — a chaotic and eclectic cabinet of curiosities that scarcely qualifies for the connotations of a "collection", acquired over several decades as relics, partly of past enthusiasms, partly of mere antiquarianism, partly of the incessant imperative to write. They are the detritus of the mind, dismissively designated as "ephemera" by booksellers, the titles on their yellowing spines embodying the work in progress of this time, of that place. Here are just a few of them: Commerce (Paris 1925, edited by Paul Valéry, with Ortega y Gasset, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Boris Pasternak and Ossip Mandelstam); Der Querschnitt (1928, with an evocative George Grosz sketch on the cover); The Listener (January 1942, with a long illustrated cover story on "How Islam Looks at Britain"); Encounter (including the 100th issue of January 1962 with a cover by Henry Moore); The Arts (1947, with a surrealist cover by Edward Bawden); The Windmill (1946, with an article on François Mauriac by Graham Greene, intended for La France Libre — the journal of the Free French in London, edited by Raymond Aron, of which I once possessed a nearly complete run, but gave to the historian of wartime France, Professor Julian Jackson, who has made better use of them); Adam (1950, edited by Miron Grindea, with the text of The Inspector by Wolf Mankowitz); and The New Review (including the April 1975 number with the complete text of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land). 

At home I have most of the older, rarer and more fragile journals in bound volumes. Pride of place is taken by the Philosophisches Journal, edited by Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer during the first flowering of German Idealism in the aftermath of the French Revolution. There one may find contributions by, among others, "Maimon in Berlin"— Salomon Maimon, that is, who as a Jew could not hold a professorial chair but was permitted by Niethammer to belong to his Gesellschaft Teutscher Gelehrten (Society of German Scholars), which included Schiller, Schelling, Humboldt, Hegel and Fichte. The presence of Maimon in this elect company was less an indication of broadmindedness among German academics of the day than a tribute to Kant, the grand old man of German philosophy who, despite his own anti-Semitic prejudices, was delighted by Maimon's critique of his Critique of Pure Reason and remarked that only this Jew had really understood him. The Journal is a remarkable testament of the impact of the French Enlightenment on German thought, for better and for worse. One volume has an unsigned review of Fichte's Contributions to the Correction of the Public's Judgement Concerning the French Revolution of 1793 — an impassioned apologia, later repudiated by the author, for the revolution at the very moment when the Terror was consuming its own children. The review runs to 40 pages, but does not find space to mention the footnote for which the book is remembered today. In this, perhaps the most notorious footnote in history, Fichte turned on the Jews, coining the fateful, fatal phrase "a state within a state" created by this stateless diaspora, and concluding with what was presumably a ghoulish joke: "I see no way of granting [the Jews] civil rights, unless it be by chopping off all their heads one night and replacing them with new ones in which there would be not a single Jewish idea. And I see no way to protect ourselves from the Jews, unless by conquering their promised land for them and sending them all there." How did the anonymous reviewer miss the hideous significance of these words from the pen of the leading German philosopher after Kant, which gave birth to a lethal lexicon of secular anti-Semitism that is still in circulation today?

These volumes (which I bought at Oxfam) were once a Christmas present, inscribed in German to "Miss Donalda McFie, as a small token of quite special estimation and in memory of the winter of 1894-95" by a certain Dr M. Bendines of Zurich. Unlike her fictional contemporary Cecily Cardew in The Importance of Being Earnest, who tells her governess Miss Prism that "I look quite plain after my German lesson", Miss McFie was evidently sufficiently in command of the language to enjoy reading philosophy in the original German. All that would come to an end in 1914, when German ceased to be, as Lady Bracknell called it, "a thoroughly respectable language". The intellectual constellation of the Philosophisches Journal vanished into the fog and smoke of war, from which it had not fully emerged by the time of my first encounters with German culture in the 1970s.

In the noxious atmosphere of the Great War, the heirs of Salomon Maimon —  the many German Jewish philosophers who did their patriotic duty, such as Edith Stein who nursed wounded soldiers and thereby developed her theory of empathy — ceased to be welcome among the heirs of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Martin Heidegger, for instance, took care not to go near the trenches by persuading army doctors that he had a heart condition, thereby escaping the untimely deaths of such contemporaries as the philosopher Emil Lask, the Hölderlin editor Norbert von Hellingrath, the painter Franz Marc and the poet Georg Trakl. After the war he cultivated a colossal reputation with a style of philosophising that took it as axiomatic that the purpose of life was death. This martial metaphysician affected his own paramilitary mode of dress, as if he were a veteran, even though his only experience of war was gleaned second-hand from the writings of Ernst Jünger, the highly decorated dandy who preferred insects to people. Heidegger was eager to exclude his Jewish rivals from the academy but did not scruple to seduce his Jewish student, Hannah Arendt. Having been appointed Rector of Freiburg in 1933, Heidegger did his damnedest to conscript the German universities into the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft. It was this Nazi "folk community", defined by race and ruled by fate, which constituted the real "state within a state". 

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December 31st, 2013
3:12 PM
Die letzte Ausgabe?...keineswegs!

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