July 30, 2011


Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows, translated from the Russian but Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler & Anna Aslanyan, and with an introduction by Robert Chandler (New York: New York Review Books, 2009) ("'Yes, yes, yes, at this time of total triumph of inhumanity it has become clear that everything created by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future; it will leave no trace.' 'This is my faith, and with it I returned to my cell. And Aleksey Samoilovich said, as he often did, 'Why try to defend freedom? Long ago it was indeed seen as the law of progress, the meaning of progress. Now, however, it's entirely clear that there is no such thing as historical evolution. History is simply a molecular process. Man is always equal to himself, and there is nothing that can be done with him. There is no evolution. There is one very simple law, the law of the conservation of violence. It's a simple as the law of the conservation of energy. Violence is eternal, no matter what is done to destroy it. It does not disappear or diminish; it can only change shape. It can be embodied in slavery, or in the Mongol invasion. It wanders from continent to continent. Sometimes it takes the form of class struggle, sometimes of race struggle. From the sphere of the material it slips into religiosity, as in the Middle Ages. Sometimes it is directed against colored people, sometimes against writers and artist, but, all in all, the total quantity of violence on earth remains constant. Thinkers mistake its constant chaotic transformations for evolution and search for its laws. But chaos knows no laws, no evolution, no meaning, and no aim. . . ." Id. at 202-203. From the backcover: "The main story is simple: released after thirty years in the Soviet camps, Ivan Grigoyevich must struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. . . .").

Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate, translated from the Russian and with an introduction by Robert Chandler (New York: New York Review Books, 2006) ("Before slaughtering infected cattle, various preparatory measures have to be carried out: pits and trenches must be dug; the cattle must be transported to where they are to be slaughtered; instructions must be issued to qualified workers." "If the local population helps the authorities to convey the infected cattle to the slaughtering points and to catch beasts that have run away, they do this not out of hatred of cows and calves, but out of an instinct for self-preservation." "Similarly, when people are to be slaughtered en masse, the local population is not immediately gripped by a bloodthirsty hatred of the old men, women and children who are to be destroyed. It is necessary to prepare the population by means of special campaign. And in this case it is not enough to rely merely on the instinct for self-preservation; it is necessary to stir up feelings or real hatred and revulsion." It was in such an atmosphere that the Germans carried out the extermination of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Jews. And at an earlier date, in the same region, Stalin himself had mobilized the fury of the masses, whipping it up to the point of frenzy during the campaigns to liquidate the kulaks as a class and during the extermination of Trotskyist-Bukharinite degenerates and saboteurs." "Experience showed that such campaigns make the majority of the population obey every order of the authorities as though hypnotized. There is a particular minority which actively helps to create the atmosphere of these campaigns: ideological fanatics; people who take a bloodthirsty delight in the misfortunes of others; and people who want to settle personal scores, to steal a man's belongings or take over his flat or job. Most people, however, are horrified at mass murder, but they hide this not only from their families, but even from themselves. These are the people who filled the meeting-halls during the campaigns of destruction; however vast these halls or frequent these meetings, very few of them ever disturbed the quiet unanimity of the voting. Still fewer, of course, rather than turning away from the beseeching gaze of a dog suspected of rabies, dared to take the dog in and allow it to live in their houses. Nevertheless, this did happen." The first half of the twentieth century may be seen as a time of great scientific discoveries, revolutions, immense social transformations and two World Wars. It will go down in history, however, as the time when--in accordance with philosophies or race and society--whole sections of the Jewish population were exterminated. Understandably, the present day remains discreetly silent about this." Id. at at 213-214.).

Howard Norman, What Is Left the Daughter: A Novel (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

Ann Patchett, State of Wonder: A Novel (New York: Harper, 2011).

Tess Slesinger, The Unpossessed, with an introduction by Elizabeth Hardwick (New York: New York Review Books, 2002) ("A world where friends did not trust friends (but it was a sinking ship, the ship that the intellectuals were afloat in, and perhaps it must be a case of each man for himself?) The terrible compromises, the endless postponements. . . . It struck him with full force for the first time that all their arguments were loaded; they were engaged in continually proving to themselves that activity was futile. And the evening, the constant meetings . . . were they not all of them rationalization, an elaborate plan on his part and his friends' . . . for postponement of some stand? For clearly if they felt a common cause (like the Sheep who knew what it was to go hungry) they would sink their differences and act in common. He saw them suddenly, coming together less from their belief in revolution . . . than from some terrible inner need in each of them to lay out his own personal conflicts in terms of something higher, to solve his private ends camouflaged as world-problem, secretively in public. . . ." Id. at 188.)

Jean Toomer, Cane: Authoritative Text, Context and Criticism, 2d. ed. (A Norton Critical Edition), edited by Rudolph P. Byrd & Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (New York: Norton, 2011).