Friday, May 11, 2007

The contradictions of genius

An excellent overview of Koestler's life and work, in all its contradictory glory:
Koestler’s reputation as a writer had declined well before Cesarani’s revelations. He had become an author of the kind one encounters during late adolescence or early adulthood, whom one catches like the literary equivalent of glandular fever, but to whom, once read, one develops a lifelong immunity. Once one of the world’s most famous authors, he became as dated as the youthful fashions of three decades ago.

There were several reasons for this. By 1980, if not before, the burning political issues of his early adulthood—Communism, the rise of fascism, and the establishment of a Zionist state—were of less concern to new generations of readers. Many regarded Koestler’s subsequent obsessions—Indian mysticism, Lamarckian biology, non-reductionist science, and parapsychology—as bizarre or even dotty, the symptoms of a mind that had lost its way. In his will, he endowed a chair in parapsychology at Edinburgh University. He regarded telepathy and precognition as established facts, largely because of the now-discredited experiments of J. B. Rhine at Duke University. He began to collect examples of startling coincidences, as if they could tell us something about noncausal relations between events. Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before him, he seemed to the public to have traveled from serious authorship to spiritualist crankdom.

The penultimate nail in the coffin of his reputation, before Cesarani’s revelations, was his double suicide with his wife, who was 20 years younger, in 1983. While he had both severe Parkinson’s disease (causing a decline in his mental powers) and leukemia (from which he was soon to die, in any case), his wife, who swallowed a fatal dose of barbiturates with him, was in perfect health. Many believed—without adequate evidence—that Koestler had bullied his wife into ending her life with him.
More on Arthur Koestler here.

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