“Was it not noticeable at the end of the [First World War] that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? . . . A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn street car now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remain unchanged but the clouds, and beneath those clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny fragile human body.”
Benjamin, The Storyteller.
A poignant text, of course. Something of the reality of mechanised warfare silences the storyteller. A particular relationship between the breaking of narrative frames and the shattering of the world. Sebald, Semprun push the same questions. Just a few notes, maybe something more another time.
BBC4’s documentary on British photography last night touched on this. The horrors of the 20th century led to the response of “There are no words”. Photography, in a way, took the place of words in documenting those horrors.
I must find some time to watch that. It seems appropriate that photography is a response to mechanised warfare.
Thanks for an inspiring post as always. When I saw the word “First World War” and read the passage quoted from Benjamin’s The Storyteller, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf suddenly occurred to me, especially, Septimus, an ex-soldier who is shell-shocked and kills himself. Here is an interesting passage on Sir William (physician to Septimus): “Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalized despair.” This part implies that even those who despair can be regarded as dangerous to society of those days and be “penalized.” This can also be a good example of “mechanized warfare” which “silences the storyteller” as you commented. Benjamin and Woolf…there may have been an affinity between these two writers, it seems. Your post makes me think a lot. Thanks again.
Yes, thank you, Septimus, unable to hate enough to write poetry about his experience, returns to taciturnity. I think often of Septimus.