Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Obscure uprisings"

I'm starting to read Jonathan Sperber's Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013).  This passage appears in the Introduction:
Marx's life, his systems of thought, his political strivings and aspirations, belonged primarily to the nineteenth century, a period of human history that occupies a strange place in relation to the present: neither evidently distant and alien, like the Middle Ages, nor still within living memory as, for instance, the world of the age of total war, or communist regimes of the Eastern bloc in the years 1945-89.  Every once in a  while the nineteenth century suddenly emerges into the present, with an eerie clarity and familiarity.  A prime example are [sic] the revolutions of 1848, whose rapid spread from country to country within a few months was a central political event of the nineteenth century, but since then have been known only to historical specialists.  All at once, these obscure uprisings seemed current and familiar during the fall of 1989, as revolutions moved through communist Eastern Europe, or in the winter of 2011 as they raced through the Arab world.  Much the same can be said about the relationship of Marx's life and thought to the present: there are moments of familiarity, but more often than not, I am struck by the differences....
Would it be nitpicking to point out that if the 1848 revolutions were indeed "obscure uprisings" known only to specialists they really wouldn't have been able to seem "current and familiar" in 1989 and 2011?  What Sperber intends to say here is clear enough, but he's not saying it particularly well.  A copy editor probably could have fixed this in about fifteen or twenty minutes; however, the number of publishers using good copy editors seems small.
In fairness to Sperber, I have about 550 pages to go, and a preliminary glance through the book suggested that the overall quality of the writing is high.  It remains to be seen whether my preliminary judgment will be borne out. 

No comments: