Desmond Hawkins, a fairly young man at the time of this ‘London Letter’ published in VolumeVII,
1940 of Partisan Review was a commentator on the left and aimed, in this almost casual piece, to make sense of the Fascist incursions into Europe in a register that would appeal to those on the periphery of the growing menace. He went on to become a featured naturalist with the BBC, and something of a media ‘National Treasure,” in time.
But his letter begins with the strangeness of of the war at hand as being a version of WWI.
“It is a new war. It may go on for years. But still the air of hallucination persists; the pattern is too familiar, too trite, to pass as new. We study the sequence events, the official statements, the music hall jokes and the moralising intellectuals, the appeals to Justice and to God– and oh yes. yes, without a doubt we Have Been HERE before! As for those of us who are not beyond ripe military age, have we ever been anywhere else? Is not the complete war-cycle the one major public event that has dominated out lives?”
The advances made by Germany–both technologically and psychologically –bred muted anxiety
among the anti-fascist journals and papers of anti-fascism, the blitzes along with parades of the
Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe on the ground and off, were the grounds for ‘Letters’ by
commentators in Europe published in the intellectual journals of London, New York, and Paris.
This simulacrum with variations is the trouble with the present generation, Hawkins argues that
those who might as well be living 25 years earlier,
‘As for those of us who are not beyond ripe military age, have we ever been anywhere else? Is not
the complete war-cycle the one major public event that has dominated out lives?’
The Covid pandemic has cast brain fog over London over 2020-2021, but in 1940,
‘And so the talking and the speculations goes on. The truth is that we are all waiting for the war to
take a decisive turn. AN eventful day and an imaginative boldness might imaginatively deflate it
, since it is so reluctant to get underway. The air of hallucination persists, and subconsciously peace is still the greater reality.’