Writers, thinkers, each of you; I address an elite. How fortunate I am to be in such company.
But I flatter you. To get your attention, I hope. And hope too that what follows is compelling, after its kind.
The writing included in this email comes toward the end of a long diary entry for this evening. The earlier part of the entry is thoughts on moral and emotional courage which have no public place.
Verbatim from the diary:
In passing, is does seem fair to say that, as I puzzle over my inability to write all these years, it may be this (emotional courage) that was never there. After all, I could never be the writer I didn’t want to be. I was not, and am not, a plot churner. The plot, to be sure, is the flimsiest thing. A gossamer gown worn, as in the novel, by something which is, at its best, both mighty and terrible.
The finest of all art forms, the novel is able to show humans to humans what they are in all their glory and depravity. The utter highs to the most terrible depths.
We have never fictionalized Hitler because we have never had the courage to face the most terrible things of which we are capable and own the side of each of us that is capable of the utter terror he bestowed upon others.
Jonathan Littell made an attempt, falteringly, it is true. Only the Greeks have managed it. And only because they ascribed those terrible, terrible things to gods, not humans.
“The banality of evil;” I am not match, nor will ever be for her intellect. Despite that, I disagree.
Oh, no, it is not banal. Ordinary it may be, but terrible it is, nonetheless.
We can not, and should not, ever make apology for it in any shape or form.
Dante was right. His circles of hell do not descend deep enough to contain within them the awful actors who belong there. For any human, all humans, each human, is capable of far worse than any Devil. The Devil Incarnate is not; does not have the depth of capability each of us has within us.
No species has wrought on others, our own kind, or other kinds, the terrible things of which we are capable.
Perhaps the problem lies in the word “evil.”
Evil is not a strong enough word, yoked as it is inexorably to the moral. And to God. The Devil, after all, was a mere fallen angel and the greatest evil of which he was capable was to stray us from God’s love, God’s word. The injunctions of the Ten Commandments are not strong enough. Though “Thou shall not kill” is pretty specific.
After all, from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey came the robed and holy injunction to the assembled troops to go out and kill good German babies. (WWI or WWII, not sure which) Not to include, of course, four Crusades (at least).
All that being said, “cruel” is better, and “cruelty” a far better word.
This is our pathology (see comment below).
Without thought or conscience, men, women, and children, though men, frequently enough, and women and children seldom, can wreak such acts of cruelty, that, by any measure, are breathtakingly awful for a conscious mind to behold.
And so it is, so it has been, and so it remains.
“Who is capable of such acts,” we ask?
Is Hitler in all of us, each of us?
Is the answer: Probably, possibly, certainly, perhaps?
The awe with which we view the man says one of these.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And, so it seems to me, that finally, when we can write unflinchingly, in fictional form, of the Hitlers of this world, we will have taken a step towards our maturity.
For surely, as a species, we are not yet mature.
And, in case the question posed where Hitler is concerned above is too tough to answer, how about this:
Had Hitler lived, what punishment would have befitted him?
(Comment: I have written on this elsewhere. I wrote: I do view us, Homo sapiens, as being, in some way, diseased. I was challenged on this: Could I describe the pathology? I was asked. That sent me reading into palaeontology, anthropology, evolution, the concept of invasive species. Nine months later, after much study, I am no closer to answering the question, though I remain convinced as to its validity. Notably, I have not made a blog entry since.