Joseph Conrad on war
"(T)he war in the Far East has been made known to us, so far, in a grey reflection of its terrible and monotonous phases of pain, death, sickness; a reflection seen in the perspective of thousands of miles, in the dim atmosphere of official reticence, through the veil of inadequate words. Inadequate, I say, because what had to be reproduced is beyond the common experience of war, and our imagination, luckily for our peace of mind, has remained a slumbering faculty, notwithstanding the din of humanitarian talk and the real progress of humanitarian ideas. Direct vision of the fact, or the stimulus of a great art, can alone make it turn and open its eyes heavy with blessed sleep; and even there, as against the testimony of the senses and the stirring up of emotion, that saving callousness which reconciles us to the conditions of our existence, will assert itself under the guise of assent to fatal necessity, or in the enthusiasm of a purely æsthetic admiration of the rendering. In this age of knowledge our sympathetic imagination, to which alone we can look for the ultimate triumph of concord and justice, remains strangely impervious to information, however correctly and even picturesquely conveyed."The highlighted portion, especially, made me think of a tendency toward especially graphic violence in some crime writing in recent years, and of the justification of some boosters that "that sort of thing really happens."
— Joseph Conrad, “Autocracy and War” (1905)
What does Conrad have to say to Stieg Larsson lovers (and haters)? To we readers of crime fiction, almost all of which concerns an event (death) that can never be adequately comprehended? About the limits of the aesthetic imagination?
Conrad talks about "the stimulus of a great art." What's the difference between great art and voyeuristic exploitation? And do we want fiction to awaken our "slumbering" imagination?
(Read "Autocracy and War" online. )
© Peter Rozovsky 2012