[OPE-L] old books and new books

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon May 29 2006 - 13:23:51 EDT

To tell you the truth, I realise I wrote somewhat derisively about Marxists
using "old books to write new books", but if I had the opportunity and time
I'd quite like to do same, in the sense that a lot of the older literature
is forgotten - somebody had a breakthrough idea, but for some reason it was
swept aside by the preoccupations of the moment, or, they put it out in some
obscure publication that was little noticed etc.

Recently I talked to a socialist professor who commented about young
leftists "that they knew nothing about May 1968 and all that stuff", never
mind a more distant past, he had to explain all sorts of stuff that a
previous generation took for granted. (I was 9 years old in 1968 and watched
the protests on TV, read a considerable amount about it later, as a
student - because, by that time, many '68 radicals had lectureships and
wrote a lot of books). We sort of sat there thinking, yeah, we're getting
old, and we don't even realise in total what that means.

To take a specific personal example, as a compulsive browser, recently I
acquired by chance a second-hand a copy of Michael Hudson's book "Trade,
Development and Foreign Debt" (1992), which makes a lot of excellent
points - this guy (I do not know him personally) is really very good and on
top of the material. Yet his book is no longer in print as far as I know,
and few people would know about it, not many libraries have it here. So
then, what happened to the ideas?

Russell Jacoby once wrote a book about "social amnesia", suggesting to me
the way the context of the past is effaced to suit the present, and the
importance of historical continuity, of historical thinking and social
context, the fact that the historical context has things to teach us. It
might even be, that the old books are better than the new ones, in
particular cases, to the extent that they stated a point as well as it can
be stated. There was a time that I abandoned my dogeared copies of Marx's
"Capital", thinking I was finished with all that, but I've had occasion to
get copies again, and leafing through them, I've found myself thinking
"hell, I didn't even realise he said that" which is to say that, in youthful
enthusiasm, you might skip over things, and not read as well as you


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