Friday, June 29, 2007

Very long overdue Friday lit. blogging

It's shameful how I've neglected to do Friday literature posts over the last several months. It's just been so hard to keep blogging in the first place. But now seemed like a good time to revisit Virginia Woolf's underappreciated Three Guineas. I chose this piece for today because of its timeliness, given the continuing depressing news from Iraq.

It's also interesting to note that even in a non-fiction piece like this, Woolf can't resist returning to one of her favorite topics: memory. To Woolf, there is no escaping the past. It infuses everything we do, every decision we make, and even, as in this passage, our visceral, immediate reactions to current events. In many ways this emphasis on memory is the overarching theme of all Woolf's works, from To the Lighthouse to Mrs. Dalloway to my sentimental favorite, the towering, epically moving Orlando.

I think if Woolf were alive today, she'd be shocked at our continuing inability to learn that blowing up civilians never solves anything.

Here then on the table before us are photographs. The Spanish Government sends them with patient pertinacity about twice a week. They are not pleasant photographs to look upon. They are photographs of dead bodies for the most part. This morning’s collection contains the photograph of what might be a man’s body, or a woman’s; it is so mutilated that it might, on the other hand, be the body of a pig. But those certainly are dead children, and that undoubtedly is the section of a house. A bomb has torn open the side; there is still a birdcage hanging in what was presumably the sitting-room, but the rest of the house looks like nothing so much as a bunch of spillikins suspended in mid air.

Those photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye. But the eye is connected with the brain; the brain with the nervous system. That system sends its messages in a flash through every past memory and present feeling. When we look at those photographs some fusion takes place within us; however different the education, the traditions behind us, our sensations are the same; and they are violent. You, Sir, call them ‘horror and disgust’. We also call them horror and disgust. And the same words rise to our lips. War, you say, is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped at whatever cost. And we echo your words. War is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped. For now at last we are looking at the same picture; we are seeing with you the same dead bodies, the same ruined houses.

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