Friday, November 24, 2006

Jonathan Littell

"Les Bienvéillantes" - Reading Notes ( I)

I censored this photo, keeping the historical core but avoiding the death-pornography...

I promised regular reporting on the progress of my reading of "Les Bienvéillantes". After completing the first quarter (roughly 200 pages) what were the most striking points that troubled my peacefulness as a reader?

I think - sadly - that descriptions of the cruelty and savagery of mass-killings by the SS have no longer the same potential to shock us as when we are first confronted with it. So, what shocked me as a reader is not the images per se but, if you want, the philosophical implications of these literature-generated images.

That the narrator finds himself in the middle of a landscape alien to humanity as a consequence of his thirst for radicalism and absolute - that's what is really problematic for my reading self. Besides, I had never realized before (it didn't occur to me as personal assimilation of the fact) that places like Kiev or Crimea, where I was happy, where I was in love and made love like a chinchila, were also places of SD butchery and Conradian horror.

The discussions on Hitler's orders to include women and children in the until then adult males-only mass executions are an incredible feat of literary brilliance.

After the first 200 pages I can only say that I'm going to beg my children to read this book as soon as they attain a reasonable age. This is not the universe of Hollywood vulgata, however well-intentioned some Holocaust-related films and TV series might be; this is not "Sophie's Choice" league either; but an altogether different path to understand a crucial moral and historical turning point.

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