Adriana Sklenaříková &
Važno je reći da Nietzsche nije pao nekom tamo konju o vrat, već iznemoglom, starom konju koga je kočijaš bezdušno bičevao ne bi li ga pokrenuo na saradnju: kada je nakon ovog emocionalno-metafizičkog sloma došao sebi, osećao je da je upravo on Der Gekreuzigte (Raspeti) ili Dionis. U izvesnom smislu tako je i bilo: Nietzsche je raspet na krstu sumanutosti, opštem mestu višeg stupnja pribranosti.
The Preacher 11.05.2008. 17:59
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera relates an anecdote from the life of Friedrich Nietzsche:
Another image comes to mind: Nietzsche leaving his hotel in Turin. Seeing a horse and a coachman beating it with a whip, Nietzsche went up to the horse and, before the coachman’s very eyes, put his arms around the horse’s neck and burst into tears. That took place in 1889, when [...] his mental illness had just erupted (290).
This incident has been interpreted in various ways. Kundera argues that “Nietzsche was trying to apologise to the horse for Descartes” (287), according to whose theories animals were mere machines.46 A more straight forward explanation might be that Nietzsche was experiencing compassion. All of the novelists examined in this thesis address to some extent the ability of various scenes to illicit compassion. Suffering does not always inspire compassion; it may breed admiration, or in certain circumstances, contempt. The cruel and senseless spectacle of a horse being beaten by its master, however, inspired compassion in Nietzsche.
Dostoevsky tells of having witnessed a similar incident in his youth. He was travelling with his brother to the Petersburg Academy where they were to train as military engineers. While resting at an inn, Dostoevsky observed the arrival of a government courier in a horse-drawn vehicle. Joseph Frank recounts the incident as follows: “The Courier, a powerful and red faced man, rushed into the station [...], emerged again rapidly, and leaped into a new troika. No sooner was he installed than he rose to his feet and began to beat the driver, a young peasant lad, on the back of his neck with his fist” (1976:70).
The young driver then began frantically whipping his horses and the troika took off and vanished from sight. This incident was to become the basis for Raskolnikov’s dream about the “poor gentle mare” being beaten across the eyes in Crime and Punishment. It is also referred to by Ivan during the “Mutiny” chapter in The Brothers
Karamazov. The incident made a deep impression on Dostoevsky, a fact he admits in his memoirs: “this sickening picture remained in my memory all my life” (Dostoevsky, cited in Frank, 1976:71).
Why is it that such scenes affect us? Nietzsche had presumably had many opportunities to come into contact with human suffering - poverty, for example, was a fact of existence for much of the population in nineteenth-century Europe, and it is a well documented fact that human beings were flogged as well as animals.47 Yet he broke down at the sight of a horse being beaten by its master. Whether or not compassion is forthcoming thus seems to have little or indeed nothing at all to do with any inherent quality of the suffering itself - a minor suffering is equally as capable of eliciting compassion as a great suffering. More importantly, however, the same incident of suffering may illicit different responses from different people. While Nietzsche felt compassion for the suffering of the horse, the coachman (apparently) did not. Compassion thus seems to have more to do with the way in which the observer views suffering. We may be inspired by suffering, or we may feel admiration for the sufferer. If we view an incident of suffering as meaningful in a metaphysical sense we may feel satisfied that everything is as it should be. Nietzsche, however, made it clear that he did not view suffering as inherently meaningful. In fact he repeatedly emphasised its senselessness. He also argued that it was precisely the “senselessness of suffering”, and not “suffering as such” (1967[b]:68) that provoked feelings of aversion in human beings. The senselessness of suffering and out aversion to it are fundamental to our sense of compassion. If suffering is presented as sublime and ennobling, it becomes potentially an object of desire. A senseless and degrading suffering, on the other hand, is clearly undesirable, and is more likely to evoke compassion that a suffering which appears meaningful. Nietzsche argued that all suffering is senseless, but that human beings had successfully blinded themselves to the senselessness of their own suffering through religious or philosophical doctrines which offered the comforting illusion that existence was meaningful and that everything was as it should be. Kundera makes the same observation in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
Behind all the European faiths, religious and political, we find the first chapter of Genesis, which tells us that the world was created properly, that human existence is good, and that we are therefore entitled to multiply. Let us call this basic faith a categorical agreement with being” (248).
The suffering of animals, however, is not accounted for in Christian theology. “Genesis was written by a man”, writes Kundera, “not a horse” (286). Neither is it a subject celebrated by lyric poetry or tragic drama. Where we might be fooled into thinking that the suffering of a human being is meaningful, the suffering of a beast is patently senseless. The novels examined here demonstrate that the suffering of humanity is equally as senseless as the suffering of an animal, and that the death of a human being is no more inherently meaningful than that of a pig or a goat. This is not to say that the suffering of humanity is to be despised no more than that of an animal; it should certainly not be concluded that torturing or killing a human being is the moral equivalent of killing a cow.48 There are of course important differences between the suffering of a human being and that of an animal (the human being, for example, suffers in addition to the physical pain of a beating the mental torture that comes from his recognition of the injustice of his situation and the senselessness of his suffering). The suffering of both human and animal, however, are equally senseless in metaphysical terms, and the secondary suffering experienced only by humans is based partly on an awareness of this fact.
It has been stated thus far that compassion is based on an awareness of the senselessness of suffering. But what exactly is compassion? In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera defines compassion as “co-feeling”:
[T]o have compassion (co-feeling) means not only to be able to live with the other’s misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion - joy, anxiety, happiness, pain. This type of compassion [...] signifies the maximal capacity of the affective imagination, the art of emotional telepathy (20).
In order to feel compassion for another we must, according to this definition, be able to feel their suffering with them. Perhaps we cannot literally experience the pain of a relative dying of cancer (though some recent research argues that we can)49 or feel with the horse the lash on its back. We can, however, imagine the mental pain they experience at the senselessness and injustice of their situation. The compassion we feel for others is based on an awareness of the anguish they experience at the senselessness of their suffering. It means feeling that anguish with them. Each of the authors examined here has an understanding of the senselessness of suffering, and it is this understanding that underlies or informs their representations of suffering as wretched, absurd or banal. Compassion is presented in their novels as the response of a human being confronted with the senselessness of another’s suffering. Feeling compassion means feeling with the other the wretchedness, absurdity and banality of the human condition. It is solidarity in the face of our common situation as sufferers in a meaningless universe.
In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Richard Rorty argues that greater human solidarity is the basis of moral progress: “The view that I am offering says that there is indeed such a thing as moral progress, and that this progress is indeed in the direction of greater human solidarity” (1989:192). Human solidarity means seeing others, despite their differences, as “like us” in important ways - especially with respect to “pain and humiliation” (1989:192). In his definition of solidarity, Rorty avoids the humanist claim that all human beings share a common essence, and argues instead that solidarity is “a matter of imaginative identification with the details of others’ lives, rather than a recognition of something antecedently shared” (1989:190). Rorty’s definition of solidarity as “imaginative identification” sounds very much like compassion as Kundera has defined it, in that it also emphasises the individual’s ability to imagine the suffering of another. Rorty argues that literature has a primary role to play in fostering this imaginative ability. “This is not a task for theory”, he argues, “but for genres such as ethnography, the journalist’s report, the comic book, the docudrama, and, especially, the novel” (1989: xvi). The novelists examined here contribute to this task by allowing us to form an imaginative relationship with their characters - to see them as “like us” in their aversion to suffering. In reading these novels we are allowed an insight into the sense of wretchedness and abandonment felt by those of Dostoevsky’s characters who question their faith; we feel the anguish of those of Camus’s characters who struggle with the absurdity of human existence; and we experience with Kundera’s characters the terrible banality of suffering in the modern world. The literature examined here is thus very different in its affective intent to the literature of the lyric tradition, which seems designed to evoke awe and admiration for suffering, rather than compassion. Such literature actually stifles compassion by undermining the sense of solidarity we may potentially feel at our common situation as sufferers in an absurd universe. It denies us the opportunity to identify with its characters along the lines of our common aversion to suffering, because it presents that suffering as a positive experience. Theodor Adorno believed that art had a responsibility when dealing with suffering to treat the experience as fundamentally negative. In his Philosophy of Modern Music, for example, he writes the following in praise of the music of composers such as Schoenberg: “What radical music perceives is the untransfigured suffering of man […] the surviving message of despair from the shipwrecked” (1973[a]:105). In an important sense, what Adorno is arguing for is an art that would allow its audience to feel or experience something of the pain and despair of the victims of suffering; an art that would allow us to appreciate on a basic bodily level the negativity of that experience. This, as has been suggested, is what it means to feel compassion. “Beautiful” art, on the other hand, is something Adorno deplores, because it makes suffering attractive and enjoyable. When he labelled lyric poetry “barbaric” (1978: 312) he was condemning on one hand an art form that celebrated the individual during a time which had made a mockery of the very idea of individuality, but on a more basic level, he was making a statement about the moral bankruptcy of an art that rendered suffering meaningful and sublime. For Adorno, the suffering of the victims of the Holocaust was a fundamentally negative experience and, as such, it had no justification. He felt that by euphemising suffering, the lyric tradition was in fact justifying it. This thesis has also examined the ways in which both religious and secular doctrines provide justifications of suffering by depicting it euphemistically as a meaningful and necessary part of existence. The justifications of suffering they offer can only be maintained by denying the absolutely senseless nature of suffering. In the face of those doctrines that construe suffering as meaningful, literature therefore has an ethical obligation to draw attention to its senselessness, because it is only by recognising the senselessness of suffering that compassion is aroused. In the novels examined within this thesis, the recognition of the senselessness of suffering is posited as a prerequisite for compassion. Compassion is only experienced, that is, by characters who come to terms with the senselessness of suffering. In The Brothers Karamazov Alyosha and Zosima are among those characters who display compassion. Given their religious faith, and the role religious doctrine has played in disguising the true nature of suffering, this may seem contradictory. In fact it may be argued that there is an inherent contradiction between their ability to feel compassion and their stated religious beliefs.50 Both men quote passages from the scriptures intended to justify the existence of innocent suffering, however, their actions alleviating suffering belie their words, leading us to suspect that they in fact view suffering as something which serves no purpose. Perhaps this contradiction is a manifestation of Dostoevsky’s own uncertainty in regard to his faith. He was, as has been discussed, on the one hand a deeply religious man, but on the other, plagued by doubt, especially when it came to the explanations his faith offered in terms of innocent suffering. The sense of compassion demonstrated by characters such as Zosima and Alyosha involves a recognition that suffering is both senseless and an affront to human dignity. Zosima first experiences compassion in relation to the suffering of his servant Afanasy, which he himself had inflicted. As a young man, we are told, Zosima was enrolled in the cadet corps in St Petersburg. He remembers himself then as “a creature almost savage - cruel and preposterous” (340). Having insulted a man towards whom he harboured jealous feelings, he challenges him to a duel. On the eve of the duel, however, Zosima becomes angry with his servant and strikes him in the face with such force that he draws blood. This incident marks a turning point for him; it is through it that he first experiences compassion. On the morning of the duel Zosima awakes early, unable to sleep due to a strange sensation in his soul. “Why does my soul feel as though there were something shameful and base in it”, he wonders. And then he realises “it was because the evening before I had mercilessly beaten Afanasy!” (342). Zosima is mortified by the memory of the suffering he has inflicted on another human being:
And suddenly I saw it all again [...] he stood before me, and I struck him with all my might, directly in the face, while he kept his hands at his sides [...] quivering with each blow and not even daring to raise an arm in order to shield himself - and this was what a human being had been reduced to [...]. It was as though a sharp needle had passed right through my soul [...]. I covered my face with the palms of both hands, collapsed on to the bed and broke into violent sobbing (342).
In Dostoevsky’s novels, compassion is presented as a rare and sometimes mystical ability to understand another person’s suffering. For example, the revelation of the senselessness of suffering descends on Zosima as if in an epiphany: “And suddenly the whole truth presented itself to me in all its enlightenment” (343). Such an understanding is utterly inconceivable to the rationalistic mind of Ivan. “Let us assume”, he says, “that I suffer deeply - yet I mean, another person would never be able to perceive the degree to which I suffer, because he is another person and not me” (272). The character of Rakitan is also shown to be incapable of compassion. We are told by the narrator that this man “who possessed a remarkable sensitivity to all that concerned himself, only had a very crude grasp of the feelings and sensations of his fellow human beings” (405). In Dostoevsky’s novels, only certain types of characters are shown to have the ability to feel compassion: children such as Ilyusha, holy men such as Alyosha and Zosima, and fools such as Prince Myshkin. Perhaps this is because their ability to feel has not been overwhelmed by their rational capacities. Cerebral characters like Ivan experience compassion only in moments of madness - where they lose hold of their rational capacities. Ivan displays a certain madness in the scene in which he talks about the torture of innocent children. “You talk with a strange look”, Alyosha notes during his brother’s tirade. “It’s as if you were in a kind of madness” (273). Similarly, it is perhaps noteworthy that Nietzsche’s act of compassion for a horse comes at the moment when he is beginning to lose his reason. The aim of human reason when confronted by an absurd phenomenon is to try to make sense of it. The attempt must always fail however, as sense and absurdity are, by definition, mutually exclusive. The novelist perhaps succeeds in providing an understanding of suffering where the philosopher fails, because the latter tries to conquer the phenomenon with reason while the former aims to provoke an appreciation of its senselessness.
The same observation may be made in relation to characters such as Alyosha, Zosima, Ilyusha and Myshkin. Rather than devoting their energies to the attempt to make sense of suffering, these characters aim to feel with the sufferer the senselessness of their suffering, and it is in this that they achieve understanding. Prince Myshkin is the only character in the corrupt world of The Idiot able tounderstand the suffering of those around him. The narrator describes the “infinite sense of compassion” (367) the suffering of others aroused in him. One character, addressing the prince, remarks that “a heart such as yours cannot fail to understand one who suffers” (513). Alyosha in The Brothers Karmazov is the only character in that novel who can understand the burden of suffering carried by Grushenka. “One cannot ask so much of a human soul” (409), he says. Another character in The Brothers Karamazov who is shown to have the ability to feel compassion is Ilyusha, the son of the impoverished second-grade captain Snegiryov. The boy is shown to have an exceptional sensitivity to the suffering of others. He discovers what it means to be weak and humiliated when he watches his father being beaten and ridiculed in the town square. “[A]t that very moment on the square”, says Snegiryov, “the truth [...] entered into him and smote him down for ever” (235). In this moment of profound compassion, the child feels the wretchedness of his father’s suffering to such an extent that he is devastated by it. Compassion is a far more mundane matter for Camus than it is for Dostoevsky. In The Plague it is shown to be a simple matter of engaging with others. Rieux feels compassion towards the end of the plague, when he comes upon Grand in the street, and sees the old man crying:
At noon Rieux stepped out of his car into the frozen air; he had just caught sight of Grand some distance away, his face glued to a shop window, full of crudely carved wooden toys. Tears were steadily flowing down the old fellow’s cheeks, and they wrung the doctor’s heart, for he could understand them, and he felt his own tears welling up in sympathy (213).
The compassion he feels is based on his apprehension of the absurd situation in which all individuals find themselves when forced to deal with the existence of innocent suffering. “At this moment”, says the narrator, “he suffered with Grand’s sorrow, and what filled his breast was the passionate indignation we feel when confronted with the anguish all men share” (214). His compassion, as can be seen, is based on a type of understanding of suffering that does not stand in opposition to the absurd, but arises from it. It was precisely the compassionate solidarity I have been discussing here that Camus was referring to when he argued in his Lyrical and Critical essays, that absurdity “can by itself generate a positive ethic” (cited in Lowen, 1994:1). He developed this line of thought again in a review of Sartre’s novel Nausea:
“The realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end in itself, but only a beginning. It is a truth which nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery which isinteresting, but the consequences and the rules of action which can be drawn from it” (1967:147).
Camus was convinced that the recognition of the senselessness of human existence could have positive consequences. He believed that through it human beings could come to feel a sense of solidarity in the face of their common plight. It was their awareness of the absurdity of things that motivates the characters in The Plague to unify against the pestilence that befalls them, and it is this same sense of absurdity that motivates their compassion for their fellow sufferers. In times of suffering and death, as has been discussed, we experience the greatest conflict between the senselessness of existence and our passionate desire for meaning. We feel a sense of anguish that people should suffer without purpose or meaning. As long as it does not seek to find resolution in a metaphysical solution, this sense of anguish can be a source of compassion. The strong sense of compassion that arises from the obituary Sartre composed upon the death of Camus in 1960 was based on exactly this type of unresolved anguish.
“The accident which killed Camus is a scandal”, he wrote, “because it demonstrates at the heart of the human world the absurdity of what we demand in the depths of our being” (2000:303). This scandalous absurdity is confronted in one way or another by all of Camus’s primary characters, and is the source of their compassion. If compassion is a simple matter of engagement with others for characters such as Rieux, it is an even more commonplace matter for the characters in Kundera’s novels. These characters experience compassion not only during times of immense and inexplicable suffering, but also when they come across relatively trivial incidents of pain and distress. It is the very banality of these incidents that is shown to inspire compassion in the characters. Tomas feels compassion for Tereza when shediscovers his infidelities by rummaging through the love letters he keeps in a drawer. Her discovery is made clear to him when she tells him of a dream she had in which he made love to another woman while she stood by jabbing needles under her fingernails.“If Tereza had been any other woman”, says the narrator,
Tomas would never have spoken to her again [...]. But instead of throwing her out, he seized her hand and kissed the tips of her fingers, because at that moment he himself felt the pain under her fingernails as surely as if the nerves of her fingers led straight to his own brain (20-1).
More often than not, it is given to the narrators in Kundera’s novels to point to the senseless banality of the suffering experienced by the characters, in an attempt which appears to have no other purpose
than to illicit the reader’s compassion. The narrator in The Joke says of Helena’s suffering that “it was a humiliation without purpose, a humiliation without meaning” (302-3). In Life is Elsewhere, the narrator describes Maman’s suffering as “a mean pain, hunched miserably inside her” (103). While Kundera’s narrators may at times appear to mock these characters, they are really only mocking the tragic pretensions with which they try to escape the terrible banality of their suffering. This banality is shown in itself to be a source of suffering, and the reader is asked to identify with the pain the characters experience in this regard. “[E]ach of us suffers”, says the narrator in Slowness, “from the baseness of his too commonplace life and yearns to escape it and rise to a higher level” (43). Kundera’s novels are full of these types of statements; the affective engagement they invite is in fact an invitation to feel compassion. Of course solidarity and compassion are all very well, but they do not in themselves alleviate human suffering. This requires action. Within the novels examined here, however, the experience of compassion is shown to lead to action. For Alyosha and Zosima, compassion is the experience that sets them on the path of their mission to cure suffering. It is Rieux’s recognition of the painful absurdity of the suffering surrounding him that inspires him to fight the plague. “For the moment I know this”, he says, “there
are sick people and they need curing” (107). When Tereza leaves Switzerland to return to her occupied homeland it is compassion that leads Tomas to give up his comfortable life and follow her back there:
Tereza forced her way into his thoughts: he imagined her sitting there writing her farewell letter; he felt her hands trembling; he saw her lugging her heavy suitcase in one hand and leading Karenin on his leash with the other; he pictured her unlocking their Prague flat, and suffered the utter abandonment breathing her in the face as she opened the door (30-1).
The image of her suffering leads him to act. It is an image dominated by a terrible banality: a heavy suitcase, a dog on a leash, and an empty flat. If it had been less mundane, if it had been captivatingly sublime, for example, he may not have decided to follow her back to the country he had just escaped. His compassion, which is based on an awareness of the senseless banality of her suffering, leads him to act, despite the danger to himself, in an attempt to alleviate her suffering. If Zosima and Alyosha had seen suffering as meaningful rather than wretched, they may not have devoted themselves to its alleviation. If Rieux had seen suffering as perfectly comprehensible, rather than as a painfully absurd fact of human existence, he may not have been so willing to risk his own health by treating the sick. In all of these cases, it is the patently senseless nature of suffering (a factor central to the concepts of wretchedness, absurdity and banality) that is shown to lead to compassion, and it is compassion that is shown to inspire ethical behaviour. Adorno, as has been mentioned, maintains that art has an ethical responsibility when it comes to suffering; above all it must avoid attributing a meaning to what is often felt by the victim to be a senseless and degrading experience. “After Auschwitz”, he writes, “our feelings resist any claim of the positivity of existence [...] they balk at squeezing any kind of sense, however bleached, out of the victims’ fate” (1978[b]:361). After such events, argues Adorno, it is insulting to try to sustain the idea that suffering is meaningful; that it happens for a reason. Such a claim denies some of the horror of modern suffering, which lies precisely in its senselessness. The claim is also fatalistic. To insist that suffering is a meaningful part of a divine plan is to justify its existence; it is to say to all of those who suffer innocently: ‘Your suffering is necessary and unavoidable, and it is therefore right that you should suffer’.51 Art forms such as tragedy and lyric poetry (like those sacred and secular doctrines also discussed in the course of this thesis) offer us a vision of suffering as meaningful and sublime. They seek to convince us of the merits of suffering, and thus act as its justification. This is the exact opposite of what literature should seek to do. If literature has a role in relation to suffering, it should be to convince us of its senselessness. Rather than comforting us with the idea that all is right with the world, it should make us shudder at the wretchedness, absurdity and banality of human suffering. In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno argues that all important works of art have the ability to make us “shudder” (1997:79). His theory provides an interesting platform upon which to consider the work of authors such as Dostoevsky, Camus and Kundera. A short detour can explain his ideas. According to Adorno, some works of art reproduce the shudder primordial humans experienced when a “truth” in nature
appeared to reveal itself to them. The revelation of this truth made itself felt as if it were an “epiphany” (1997:80). The individual in the modern world, he argues, has the same experience, but in confrontation with nature as mediated through art. “Under patient contemplation”, he argues, “artworks begin to move. To this extent they are truly afterimages of the primordial shudder in the age of reification” (1997:79).52 But what is the substance of this “truth” supposedly revealed through art? What is it in the work of art that makes us shudder? If the “substance” of art is suffering, as both
If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard the words ‘Everything happens for a reason’, I’d have enough dosh to purchase a fleet of bulldozers capable of shovelling this tripe back into the mouths of all those who have uttered it. This inane, quasi-mystical mantra is invoked for every situation, from losing the love of one’s life to missing the last train home [...]. Psychology refers to this type of thinking as ‘belief in a just world’. In a desperate bid to impose order on the mind-bogglingly infinite mysteries of the universe, and the shocking things human beings do to one another, we [...] cling to the simplistic idea that there is always method to the madness. Unable to grapple with the question ‘How could this happen?’, we opt for the more palatable ‘This happened because some vague, cosmic law justified it’ [...]. And here’s the paradox: the ‘everything happens for a reason’ theory not only blames the victim, but is also fatalistic - as if we are mere puppets flopping about the stage of life, getting run over by trucks and losing our children to cot-death, while some nimble-fingered string-puller controls our destinies (2002:10).
Adorno and Nietzsche suggest, 53 the revelation the work of art engages in must be a revelation of suffering. “We shudder”, as Adorno wrote, “at the brutalization of life” (1974:27). The “shudder” may thus be understood as a physical reaction to a painful truth, and in this it is closely related to compassion. It is a bodily response provoked by contact with another’s suffering. The novels examined here create the sense that they are revealing the truth of suffering to the reader in all its wretchedness, absurdity and banality. Of course the “truth” they claim to present is a manufactured truth, but the reader identifies with it and takes ownership of it just as the primordial human must have done when witnessing what appeared to be the revelation of a truth in nature: “The aesthetic shudder once again cancels the distance held by the subject [...] to him is revealed the truth of the work as if itmust be his own” (1997:269). But how exactly is this affective identification produced? In Negative Dialectics, Adorno argues that certain words and expressions can engender an almost uncanny experience that points us to the existence of something hidden beneath the surface of civilised culture. At such moments, we shudder as we are made aware of a “knowledge” that seems to have been repressed. According to Adorno, western culture has been built on the denial of the wretched and degrading aspects of suffering and death. However, this repressed material can be brought to the surface in various ways (some of which have been discussed in the course of this thesis), and when it does so we experience a shudder as we come to an awareness of a previously concealed “truth”:
An unconscious knowledge whispers to the child what is repressed by civilised education; this is what matters, says the whispering voice. And the wretched physical existence strikes a spark in the supreme interest that is scarcely less repressed; it kindles a ‘What is that?’ and “Where is it going?’ (1978[b]:366).
Adorno argued that the repression of the wretched and degrading aspects of human suffering by “civilised culture” had produced real and terrible consequences. It led, he argued, to a loss of our “practical abhorrence” of suffering and a consequent dulling of the moral sense. This meant that human beings were able to stand by and watch as terrible atrocities were committed in their backyards. Art, he argues, is directly implicated in these events because it contributed to the moral blindness that 53 Nietzsche, as has been discussed, claimed that art was built on a substratum of suffering, which was its contentand inspiration (1967[a]:45). Adorno also made reference to suffering as the substance of art: “Surely it would bebetter for art to vanish altogether than to forget suffering, which is art’s expression and which gives substance to itsform” (1983: 369)
If one accepts the proposition that art itself contributed to the Holocaust, what is one to do? We cannot simply do away with art, argues Adorno, as this would further the barbarism of which our culture has already shown itself capable (1973:367). However, in its current form this “radically culpable and shabby culture” is impossible to maintain (1973:367). If art is to be ethical, argues Adorno, it must be governed by a “new categorical imperative” that would seek to address what he saw as the failings of culture:
A new categorical imperative has been imposed by Hitler on unfree mankind: to arrange their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will happen. When we want to find reasons for it, this imperative is as refractory as the given one of Kant was once upon a time. Dealing discursively with it would be an outrage, for the new imperative gives us a bodily sensation of the moral addendum - bodily, because it is now in the practical abhorrence of the unbearable physical agony to which individuals are exposed even with individuality about to vanish as a form of mental reflection. It is in the unvarnished materialistic motive only that morality survives (1973: 365).
Whereas Kant believed that reason could deliver us with a set of principles for acting ethically, Adorno demonstrates that reason itself is corrupt, and capable of leading just as easily to the concentration camp or the gas chamber. The only possibility for ethical behaviour, according to Adorno, lies in our “bodily” response to suffering. The role of art under this new categorical imperative would be to shock us into a “practical abhorrence” of human pain and misery - to make us shudder at its wretchedness, absurdity and banality. The novelists examined here succeed in doing precisely this. What is notable in their work is that they draw attention to those aspects of suffering repressed by the lyrical attitude in all its manifestations - theological, philosophical, political or literary. These authors destroy our illusions about the meaning of suffering, and present it to us as if in its naked state. The effect of this can be shocking; in fact this literature is designed to shock. Dostoevsky’s litany of tortured children, for example, aims to jolt us into an awareness of the senselessness and gratuitousness of human suffering; in fact all of the novels examined in this thesis seek to do the same in one way or another. This has often seen their authors accused of cruelty and immorality. In the earliest reviews of The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky was criticized as a “mighty torturer and a man with a sick conscience” (Gorky, cited in Belknap, 1982:30), who orchestrated the suffering of his characters for his own amusement. Camus has been charged with being “anti-Arab” (Brock, 1993:5) and of treating his murder victim in The Stranger as a “non-person” (1993:8), while Kundera has been accused, as Fred Misurella notes, “of not caring for his characters and of being morally irresponsible” (1993:12). Contrary to such criticism, I would argue that the authors examined here are ethical in their treatment of suffering. Their novels do not present us with long winded moral treatises on the iniquity of cruelty (this is more the domain of philosophy, which would seek to deal discursively with suffering and to convince the reader with moral arguments of the necessity of eradicating it). They do instead what literature does best - they provoke through their particular treatment of their theme a “practical abhorrence” of suffering, a compassion for those who suffer, and a vehement conviction that things should be otherwise.
46 “Man is master and proprietor of nature, says Descartes, whereas the beast is merely an automaton, an animated machine, a machina animata. When an animal laments, it is not a lament; it is merely the rasp of a poorly functioning mechanism. When a wagon wheel grates, the wagon is not in pain; it simply needs oiling. Thus, we have no reason to grieve for a dog being carved up alive in the laboratory” (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 287).
47 Dostoevsky documents such incidents on numerous occasions in his work. In a letter to his publisher he notes that all of the incidents in The Brothers Karamazov about children being beaten and flogged had come from factual sources: “All the stories about children occurred, were printed in the papers, and I can show you where; nothing was invented by me” (Dostoevsky, cited in Belknap, 1990:128).
48 Animal liberationist and ethicist Peter Singer points to some of the important ethical differences involved. He argues that killing a fish, for example, is less deplorable that killing a sentient human being; a statement he bases on a distinction between “persons” and “non-persons”. Put simply, the most important difference between the two is that the former is able to value existence while the latter is not. He also recognises that there is a difference between inflicting pain on a mouse and inflicting pain on a human being:
Normal adult human beings have mental capacities that will, in certain circumstances, lead them to suffer more than animals would in the same circumstances. If, for instance, we decided to perform extremely painful and lethal scientific experiments on normal adult humans, kidnapped at random from public parks for this purpose, adults who enjoy strolling in parks would become fearful that they would be kidnapped. The resultant terror would be a form of suffering additional to the pain of the experiment. (1990:15-16)
49 Speaking in a radio interview, clinical psychologist Petria King cited a number of cases in which people have displayed symptoms of the illnesses from which loved one’s had died. If the person died of a brain hemorrhage or heart attack, the remaining relative suffered respectively from headaches or chest pains. She even cites a case in which a person who lost a partner in a fire developed burns. King argues that these symptoms are a physical manifestation of the compassion they feel for their dead partner (King, 2003).
50 This same contradiction is deeply imbedded in the Christian faith itself. The Old Testament preaches about the value and meaning of suffering, while the figure of Christ in the New Testament preaches about the need to cure the sick and feed the hungry - that is, to alleviate suffering.
51 In an article in The Big Issue (a magazine sold on the streets by homeless people in Sydney and Melbourne), Meg Mundell expresses this point so beautifully that I feel compelled to quote her at length:
52 Adorno’s theory reads a little like Heidegger’s argument on the work of art revealing the hidden essence of things. In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger argues that the role of art is to disclose the essence of things. For example, he writes about a painting by Van Gogh depicting a pair of peasant shoes, arguing that the painting reveals the essence of the shoes, disclosing what they are in truth: “What is at work in the work? Van Gogh’s painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes, is in truth” (1971:36). However, one difference between Heidegger and Adorno is that the latter admits that the artwork in fact produces what it then presents as being in nature: “Artworks become artworks in the production of this [truth], they produce their own transcendence”
53 Nietzsche, as has been discussed, claimed that art was built on a substratum of suffering, which was its contentand inspiration (1967[a]:45). Adorno also made reference to suffering as the substance of art: “Surely it would bebetter for art to vanish altogether than to forget suffering, which is art’s expression and which gives substance to its form” (1983: 369)
Ovako to izgleda:
Iza restorana teče potok. Na potoku pliva patka. Svinja leži u blatu.
Stariji bračni par na terasi restorana divi se konju imena Lord koji je smješten u štali na samom rubu šume.
Pohitao sam vidjeti Lorda.
Štala je ispunjena konjskim balegarskim guzicama. Djevojka čita knjigu na stogu sijena i zadiže noge na drvenu gredu.
- Gdje je Lord?, zaustih.
- Taaamooo…aaa…ahhh…tamo je.
Prišao sam Lordu unoseći mu se u njušku
- Jesi pripremio robu?
- Njiha-ha., uzvrati Lord.
Djevojka je okrenula stranicu ubrzano dišući. Pomislio sam da možda čita Don Juanov dnevnik, ali…
Lord je iskoristio nesmotrenost i konjskim zubima posegnuo u džep moje jakne.
- Hej, vrati mi novčanik konju!
- Ti si konj, uzvrati Lord i dade se u galop.