Burning Books by Matthew Fishburn (auth.)

By Matthew Fishburn (auth.)

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Marxist and ‘decadent’ literature had been banned as early as 28 February 1933, as part of the Emergency Decree put in place after the burning of the Reichstag. 2 Yet these were minor acts of vandalism compared to the scale of what was to come. In early April, Leonidas E. 3 A letter was sent to their members announcing the open burning of Jewish and decadent literature, and encouraging them to show their support by first cleansing their own private libraries, then encouraging their friends and acquaintances to do the same, and lastly calling on them to act against the public libraries.

47 Its physical destruction only mirrored, weakly, what the verse should have been able to generate – warmth, and by extension, passion. An endless succession of authors have burned their own discards with less pious relief. It’s another first for the shade of Plato, who is, probably apocryphally, reported to have burned his youthful writings when he renounced poetry for philosophy. Other examples abound. ’51 This familiar destruction by authors also creates the impression that burning is still the appropriate result for false starts and early drafts, for dead-ends, which can contribute to the sense that what has been saved is the purified ideal.

This is adumbrated in the rhetoric of ‘modernity’, which routinely announces that everything that is to come is founded on the rejection of the old (followed, much later, with an acknowledgment of patterns, influence, old lineages and new saints). Thus, the incomparably modern philosopher Nietzsche: ‘Must the ancient fire not some day flare up much more terribly, after much longer preparation? More: must one not desire it with all one’s might? even will it? 33 Yet he was incensed with some acts of destruction, especially those committed by the orthodox or resentful against his own favourites: ‘Lord Byron wrote a number of very personal things about himself, but [the poet] Thomas Moore was “too good” for them: he burned his friend’s papers.

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