Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A Kindly Discussion.

So I wrote something about The Kindly Ones which harked back to something Spillway wrote about it, and now The New Ennui has written something about it too.

I must say that in the aftermath of reading the book I read a little more history, not only about the massacres that are depicted in the novel (and thinking of the visit I made to Auschwitz-Birkenau ten years ago, where I was utterly disgusted by the group of Americans taking photos. and yet myself wandered around dumfounded and confused, unable to grasp any meaning in the rubble), but also about the Nazis who were shot for helping Jews to escape, or the officers who attempted to use their aryan good looks as a way to get close enough to Hitler to kill him in a suicide bomb attack. Perhaps the underlying and terrifying insinuation that the novel communicates so well is that you, me, almost everyone, would attempt to find a way to deal with the situation without putting themselves at risk. This also reflects badly on the pervasive narrative of 'pure evil' and 'pure innocence' that perhaps is not the way one should be memorialising the period as it passes out of living memory. I suppose, also, that this enquiry might lead one back to Sartre and freedom.

1 comment:

Will said...

I realise I never replied to your original TKO post. I certainly intended to, but wanted a little time to digest what you said, and as I was thinking about it I realised I still had a lot of unresolved thoughts about the book.

TKO's (or Aue's) taxonomy of complicity is interesting in relation to what you say here, the way Aue is constantly identifying different shades of involvement between different members of the party - for instance between the sadistic and the ideological killers at Babi Yar, where the sadists just enjoy the killing and don't mind who they're doing it to, and the ideologues feel sure that they're performing an act of "racial hygiene", and that it's the correct thing to do, but are sickened by the mechanics of it. Or the passage where Aue contrasts his own attitude and behaviour with that of Eichmann. The book identifies all sort of relationship between individuals and the swtate and its ideology without just making a crass division between cold-eyed psychopaths and square-jawed Junkers wrestling with their consciences. That sophistication is lost when reviwers focus on Aue's florid insanity, and it also tempts the reader to place themselves on the specturm of Nazi pathology, as you say.

Also. There's an interesting moment in M Amis' Koba The Dread when he talks about the shift in perspective that happens when you realise that deranged systems like mid-30s USSR and the regime in Iran are "supposed to work". What looks to us from a distance or with hindsight like mindless destruction or cruelty is, from the inside, a reasonable path to superpower status or paradise on earth (even if considerable cognitive dissonance is needed to believe that). I think that's why the radio trucks had such an effect on me, which you query; I would say in my defence that I'm using them (and the rail cars, and the airstrip) as a metonym for the whole scene (Aue's arrival in Stalingrad), and because Stalingrad is the hinge of the book, just as it was the hinge of the war - appreciating the reality of Stalingrad (as Aue does in those apocalyptic moments) is the point when the unreality of the whole Nazi enterprise comes crashing down. And, fittingly, Stalingrad sequence ends with Aue's insanity really taking flight.