Samir’s Selection 11/18/2015 (p.m.)

  • tags: individuality humanity empathy compassion Hitler distancing image media novel literature language cliché KarlOveKnausgaard

    • Perhaps the foremost characteristic of our age, what sets it apart from all others before it, is that the sheer volume of images of the world—not just the world of the past, but also, and perhaps especially, that of the present, the world of which we are a part—is so massive. Any event, anywhere on the planet—an earthquake, a plane crash, an act of terrorism—will be available for us to view only moments later, in on-the-scene images we see and consider as we go about our day-to-day lives, stuck in our tailbacks of traffic, as we make our coffee, visit the bathroom, wash our clothes, prepare our meals, set our tables.
    • Usually, we keep these different levels of reality apart, or at least I do. Even the worst disasters are something I merely register, with varying degrees of horror, as if the world outside were a film, a play, a performance, of concern to me only in the most superficial manner. At the same time, and more profoundly, such images provide a release insofar as they allow me the freedom of never having to be entirely present in my actual surroundings, in the routine state of boredom they constantly threaten to dull me with, since one’s attention is continuously being directed toward something else, to what is happening right now: the occurrence, the event, the news item.
    • months of news reports depicting the flow of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, boats sinking, people drowning, which to me was like a steady murmur in the background, not that different from the constant reports of car bombs in Iraq or school shootings in the United States
    • I suddenly saw the image of a little boy, no more than perhaps three years old, lying prone on a beach, his face in the sand. He was dead, and all of a sudden I understood what death meant. All of a sudden, I understood that the people coming across the sea were not people in the plural, but in the singular. This I understood because I myself have children. I saw their deaths in his death. The image thereby penetrated my defenses, broke through the murmur and appeared to me as what it was: an image of reality. The boy was real, and his death was a real death.
    • the mechanism in our societies that turns people into a mass, how ordinary that is and how closely bound up with the media, which by its very nature creates remoteness, its narrative structures rendering every event equal, every occurrence identical, thereby dissolving the particular, the singular, the unique, in that way lying to us, or, put differently, fictionalizing our reality. It is a mechanism barely discernible to us insofar as images are always, on one level, images of reality, and it becomes apparent only on those rare occasions where remoteness dissolves, as in the case of the dead little boy on the beach.
    • But such a perspective, whereby we view human beings as part of a mass rather than as unique individuals, may also be a strategy by which soldiers are trained so as to be able to kill, and it is a prerequisite of all massacres, as it was, for instance, in the Germany of the Second World War, when the Jews were deprived of their identity, first at the national, then the individual level, their names replaced by numbers, each individual scraped into the nameless, faceless mass to be slaughtered like sheep or cattle, gassed or burned as creatures without identity. And of course the same goes for the inhabitants of Dresden or Hiroshima, wiped out by bombs from above, but tiny dots to their executioners, figures in a calculation thereby concluded.
    • There is a vanishing point in our humanity, a point at which the other goes from being definite to indefinite. But this point is also the locus for the opposite movement, in which the other goes from indefinite to definite—and if there is an ethics of the novel, then it is here, in the zone that lies between the one and the all, that it comes into force and takes its basis. The instant a novel is opened and a reader begins to read, the remoteness between writer and reader dissolves. The other that thereby emerges does so in the reader’s imagination, assimilating at once into his or her mind. This establishing of proximity to another self is characteristic of the novel.
    • The novel is an oddly intimate genre: at root, it is always a matter between two individuals, writer and reader, whose first encounter occurs when the writer writes—for in writing, the very act of it, there is always an appeal to a you, redeemed only by the insertion of a reader.
    • The difference between engaging with a real neighbor and one in a novel is that the former occurs in the social sphere, within the boundaries of its rules and practical constraints, whereas the latter occurs outside of it, in the reader’s own most private, intimate sphere, where the rules that govern our social interaction do not apply and its practical constraints do not exist. Only there, in that encounter, are we able to see the concept of the social and see exactly what it is. And only there, in that encounter, are we able to see what a human being is outside of that concept, in itself and on its own terms. This space—that is, the novel’s—is idiosyncratic, particular, and singular: in other words, it represents the exact opposite of the media, which strives toward the universal and general.
    • When the German philosopher Hannah Arendt, in “The Life of the Mind,” wrote, “Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality,” she was writing about Adolf Eichmann, but the sentence is valid far beyond that one case, and far beyond the time to which he belonged. For the need to protect oneself against reality is constant, and the remoteness established by standardized language and a standardized form is something all communities strive toward, even if they may not be aware of it.
    • We have an image, too, of the man from whose regime he fled, Adolf Hitler, and it is an image we view from a very remote distance, insofar as we feel compelled to protect ourselves from what he represented. If we allowed that remoteness to dissolve, what we would see would no longer be the very image of evil, but a boy growing up in Austria with a violent, authoritarian father and a mother whom he loved. We would see a sixteen-year-old so shy he hadn’t the courage to speak to a girl with whom he was in love, able only to profess his feelings by sending an anonymous card. We would see a man who, in order to survive, distanced himself from all in his proximity. We would see a man who loved cakes and was so fond of sugar he put it in even the most expensive of white wines. We would see a man with a gift of imitating others, who was especially good at putting on the accent of Göring’s Swedish wife. We would see a man who, in an astonishingly skillful manner, was able to pick up on popular currents of opinion and give voice to them in near-perfect pitch. We would also see a petty, mean-spirited man, a man who felt himself hard done by, an insufferably self-important man who always believed himself to know better. And we would see a man who, more than anything else, hated Jews, a hatred that would seem to defy explanation—all of a sudden, it was there in his life, hideous and repugnant. If we were to do this, we would see a human being.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


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