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Reading List April 13, 2019

Writing the Twentieth Century

Poets, philosophers, and playwrights.

This week marks the deaths and births of some of the most important poets, playwrights, and philosophers of the twentieth century: Primo Levi (d. April 11, 1987), Samuel Beckett (b. April 13, 1906), Seamus Heaney (b. April 13, 1939), and Jean-Paul Sartre (April 15, 1980).

Their works chronicle events such as the Holocaust and Bloody Sunday; tackle dread about life’s absurdity; and sit at the apex in which modernism became post-. Our archive is full of essays about these important figures, but we are also lucky to feature some pieces written by them for Boston ReviewWe hope you enjoy!

—Rosie Gillies


Primo Levi’s Last Moments
by Diego Gambetta

“Levi’s last moments cannot be construed as an act of delayed resignation before the inhumanity of Nazism. He never yielded. At most he snapped. On that tragic Saturday only his body was smashed.

• • •

Samuel Beckett, the Early Years
by Roger Boylan

“Joyce had made the modernist idiom, the literary idiom, the Irish idiom. And what Beckett ended up with was a second-rate version of his master’s voiceinstead of his own.”

• • •

The Philosophy of Our Time

by Ronald Aronson

“Nearly forty years after his death in 1980, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is best remembered as the father of existentialism. But he has much to teach us about Marxism too.”

• • •

Double-Edged Poetry
by Seamus Heaney

Writing for Boston Review in 1989, Heaney reveals the influence that the poetry of T. S. Eliot had on him: “It was impossible not to be affected by it, yet it is still impossible to say exactly what the effect was.”

• • •

by Primo Levi

Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Galassi, this Primo Levi poem was published in the pages of Boston Review almost thirty years after his death.

• • •

Desperately Seeking Sam
by Roger Boylan

“Although he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, Beckett always downplayed his contribution, and maintained that neither politics nor love of France had anything to do with his decision to join the Resistance.”

• • •

Thank God for Seamus
by various

Six poets recall their debt to Seamus Heaney: “It’s hard to write well about world events, especially ones that shake us to our cores, and maintain both feeling and form in the telling. But Heaney does it.”

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