Joseph Roth and the unnamed dead
"This is the hidden side of the city, its anonymous misery. These are her obscure children, whose lives are put together from shiftlessness, pub, and obscurity, and whose end is violent and bloody, a murderous finale."OK, that's a bit melodramtic, the sort of thing a TV reporter or newspaper columnist might come up with during charity appeal week. But Roth probes further:
"It shouldn’t be in the corridor of the police station at all, but somewhere where it is very visible, in some public space, at the heart of the city whose true reflection it offers. The windows with the portraits of the living, the happy, the festive, give a false sense of life—which is not one round of weddings, of beautiful women with exposed shoulders, of confirmations. Sudden deaths, murders, heart attacks, drownings are celebrated in this world.Or how about:
"It is these instructive photographs that should be shown in the Pathé Newsreels, and not the continual parades, the patriotic Corpus Christi processions, the health spas with their drinking fountains, their parasols, their bitter curative waters, their terraces from Wagner myths. Life isn’t as serenely beautiful as the Pathé News would have you believe."
"These dead people are ugly and reproachful. They line up like prickings of conscience."Do you know any newspaper columnist literate, honest, and insightful enough to write a sentence like that? Any editor courageous enough to print it? Any newspaper that would publish such a sentence without an earnestly self-debasing and self-congratulatory "Note to readers" about how we are aware the words might disturb some readers, but they are of such imporance that we are publishing them in the interest of serving the public?
And is humor permissible when discussing the dead? Probably not in your local newspaper, and if it is, the reporter will tell you that he or she is being grimly humorous, in case you don't get it. No, for that sort of thing, you have to turn to real life, to crime fiction, or to Joseph Roth:
"Futile to wait for cranes, like the legendary cranes that once revealed the identity of the murderer of Ibycus. No cranes swarm over the waste ground off Spandauer Strasse—they would long ago have been roasted and eaten."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012