Thursday, October 5, 2017

All's Not So Quiet On the Western Front

"Guernica"by Picasso (1937)
Goya’s The Disasters of War, Picasso’s Guernica, The Bayeux Tapestry, Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night and Remarque’s All’s Quiet on the Western Front all dramatize the enormous suffering of war. At the same time in what might seem like an almost unjustifiable outcome, they all manage to be exquisite expressions of beauty in which aggression and death comprise the subject or content. How can these contrary impulses co-exist? In one of The Times pieces about the Las Vegas shootings ("A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause, Then Carnage in Las Vegas That Would Not Stop,"NYT, 10/2/17), the following description of terrified concertgoers appeared, “Others surged into surrounding streets and buildings, leaving behind debris lost in the panic—drink cups, shoes, and cellphones that kept ringing for hours, as relatives and friends tried to reach their loved ones and find out if they were safe.” The notion of the frantic ringing from the abandoned cellphones is particularly trenchant. It’s horrible and unspeakable and yet exudes a desperation that rises to a crescendo of beauty, say like the Liebestod (literally “death in life”) of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. To estheticize human suffering may seem removed and almost clinical, but the imagery is a reminder that the human spirit will prevail even as it totters at the edge of the abyss.

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