Here I have assembled some biographies of preeminent Marxists, radicals, and intellectuals that have been written in the last hundred or so years. You can download them here:
- Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (1999)
- Ernst Cassirer, Kant: His Life and Thought (1928)
- Terry Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography (2000)
- Carl Wittke, The Utopian Communist: A Biography of Wilhelm Weitling (1950)
- Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (1918)
- Werner Blumenberg, Potrait of Marx (1962)
- Rüdiger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (2000)
- Fritz Ringer, Max Weber: An Intellectual Biography (2004)
- Lars T. Lih, Lenin (2012)
- Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (1954)
Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929 (1958)
Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940 (1964)
- Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (1973)
- Cathy Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: A Biography (1980)
- Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (2014)
- Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin (2007)
- Myron Sharaf, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich (1983)
- Stefan Mühler-Doohm, Adorno, a Biography (2003)
- Detlev Claussen, Theodor Adorno: One Last Genius (2003)
- Anselm Jappe, Guy Debord: An Intellectual Biography (1993)
- David Macey, Michel Foucault (2004)
- David Mikics, Who Was Jacques Derrida? An Intellectual Biography (2009)
- Benoît Peeters, Derrida: A Biography (2010)
Many have noted that the biography is an undertheorized literary genre: Mikhail Bakhtin, Lewis Mumford, and Leo Löwenthal, to name a few. Below is an abridged version of an essay by Löwenthal, a literary theorist associated with the Frankfurt School. Obviously, his view of the biography — focusing on the popular biography, a form perfected by authors like Emil Ludwig and Stefan Zweig — is fairly bleak. This was only fitting, however, given the quality that life itself had acquired under capitalism grown overripe. As Adorno wrote appreciatively to Löwenthal,
Ultimately, the very concept of life as a self-developing and meaningful unity has as little reality today as the concept of the individual, and it is the ideological function of the biographies to conjure up the fiction on arbitrarily selected models that there is still such a thing as life…Life itself in its completely abstract appearance has become mere ideology.
If anyone could scan and upload the Monthly Review biography of Lenin by Tamás Krausz, it’d be greatly appreciated. Quite good. Enjoy.
Theory of biography
Essays in honor of
The biography (we are here excluding scholarly works of history) reminds us of the interior in large department stores. There in the rambling basements, heaps of merchandise have been gathered from all sections of the establishment. These goods have become outdated and now whether they were originally offered for sale on the overcrowded notion counters or in the lofty silence of the luxury-furniture halls, are being indiscriminately remaindered for relatively little money. In these basements we find everything; the only common principle is the necessity for fast sales. The biography is the bargain basement of all fashionable cultural goods; they are all a bit shop-worn, they no longer quite fulfill their original purpose, and it is no longer particularly important whether there is relatively much or little of one or the other item.
With almost statistical accuracy, the same material has been collected and displayed in about the same package. To be sure, from the outside it looks quite different. The biographies are presented as if in the intellectual realm they represent that which the exclusive and specialty stores represent in the realm of consumer goods. This comparison designates the social atmosphere in which the popular biography belongs: one of apparent wealth. It lays claim to the philosopher’s stone, as it were, for all contingencies of history of life situations, but it turns out that the motley mixture of generalizations and recipes is actually an expression of utter bewilderment.
An analysis of the popular biography is first of all an analysis of its reading public, and as such it comprises a critique of late European liberalism. Arbitrariness and contradiction have destroyed any claim to theory; ultimately this literature is a caricature of theory. During the ascendancy of the middle classes, when the educational novel characterizes narrative literature, the individual vacillated between his own potentials and the demands of his environment. The author drew material, which represented the substance of each individual destiny, from imagination; in only rare exceptions were data used for surface decoration and coloration. But, while imaginative, the educational novel was at the same time exact, because, as a product of poetic imagination, social and psychological reality were mirrored as they were observed within the social stratum of the author and his public. Wilhelm Meister, Illusions Perdues, David Copperfield, Éducation Sentimentale, Der Gruene Heinrich, Anna Karenina — these novels not only evoked the readers’ experience of déjà vu, but confirmed the salvation of the individual by demonstrating the burdens and good fortunes of an invented individual existence in such a way as to permit the reader to experience them for himself. In these works, specific individuals, consistent within themselves and living within a concrete world, are represented as a complex of subjects closely connected with the fate of living and reading contemporaries. This is “reality” conceived as historians have conceived it since the Enlightenment, and in this sense there exists a direct relation between scientific and literary realism and the theory of society: one formulates the concern about the individual, the other tries to sketch the conditions for his happiness.
The biography is both a continuation and an inversion of the novel. Documentation in the middle-class novel had the function of background — raw material as it were. Quite otherwise in the popular biography: there documentation, the pompous display of fixed dates, events, names, letters, etc., serves in lieu of social conditions. The individual who is fettered by these paraphernalia is reduced to a typographical element which winds itself through the narrative as a convenient device for arranging material. Whatever the biographies proclaim about their heroes, they are heroes no longer. They have no fate, they are merely variables of the historic process.
History and time have become reified in biography — as in a kind of petrified anthropology.
Consider, e.g., “The stronger will of history is indifferent to the innermost will of individuals, often involving persons and powers, despite themselves, in her murderous game,” or else: “the sublime breaths of history sometimes determine the rhythm of a period at times even contrary to the will of the genius that animates it,” or history, “the sternest of the goddesses, unmoved and with an incorruptible glance” looks over “the depths of the times and …with an iron hand, without a smile or compassion” brings “events into being,” or history, “possibly the most terrible and most depriving sea journey, …the eternal chronicle of human sufferings,” “almost always justifies the victor and not the vanquished,” when she “in the ultimate sense is based on force; or, history acts “neither morally nor immorally”; “0ne comes to term with her,” so decrees the biographer personifying world-reason which, however, does not deter him from occasionally calling history also “the supreme judge of human actions.” At times history even permits herself to choose “from the million-masses of humanity a single person in order to demonstrate plastically with him a dispute of Weltanschauungen.” Continue reading