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interview by Donald A. Yerxa and Karl W. Giberson


Vegetables Don't Have a History

A conversation with historian John Lukacs.

Perhaps best known for his book Historical Consciousness: Or, The Remembered Past, John Lukacs has ranged far and wide as a historian. His two most recent books, both published by Yale University Press, are A Thread of Years (1998), a series of imaginative vignettes of everyday life in the twentieth century, and Five Days in London, May 1940 (1999), focused on Churchill and his cabinet. Lukacs's 1990 book, Confessions of an Original Sinner ("not a history of my life," he explains at the outset, but rather "a history of some of my thoughts and beliefs"), includes an extraordinary meditation on "the evocative power of certain dates." For instance: "I remember that when I read that Greta Garbo had begun her acting career in Stockholm in 1916, an entire slew of associations and images flew into my mind. Stockholm in 1916: how must it have been in that neutral hyperborean city then, with its dark three-storied houses, white islands, pearly sky, a foggy bath of pale electric lights, high-wheeled box-like Adler automoblies crunching forward in the snowy streets, Germanophile patricians in their high-crowned felt hats and fur-collared coats; how did those Swedish people live then, what did they think?"

In March of this year, Lukacs spoke at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, where Donald Yerxa and Karl Giberson had a chance to talk with him.

Yerxa:In your writings you describe yourself variously as a reactionary, a bourgeois, an exile, and an anti-anti-communist. Would you begin by exploring these descriptions of yourself?

Oh, I don't know. Such categories don't really matter. These are adjectives; they are all generalizations. There may be something to them, but putting a person in a category is fundamentally inaccurate.

Giberson: How old were you when you left Hungary?

Twenty-three.

Giberson: Can you tell us something about your childhood and your first memories?

What is one's first memory is an interesting thing. Oddly, I do not have a memory that goes ...

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