Announcements Quotes

Authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Categories: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
He spent two years in the extermination camp at Auschwitz. According to his own reluctant account, he came this close to going up a smokestack of a crematorium there: "I had just been assigned to the Sonderkommando, " he said to me, "when the order came from Himmler to close the ovens down." Sonderkommando means special detail. At Auschwitz it meant a very special detail indeed-one composed of prisoners whose duties were to shepherd condemned persons into gas chambers, and then to lug their bodies out. When the job was done, the members of the Sonderkommando were themselves killed. The first duty of their successors was to dispose of their remains. Gutman told me that many men actually volunteered for the Sonderkommando. "Why?" I asked him. "If you would write a book about that, " he said, "and give the answer to that question, that 'Why?'-you would have a very great book." "Do you know the answer?" I said. "No, " he said, "That is why I would pay a great deal of money for a book with the answer in it." "Any guesses?" I said. "No, " he said, looking me straight in the eye, "even though I was one of the ones who volunteered." He went away for a little while, after having confessed that. And he thought about Auschwitz, the thing he liked least to think about. And he came back, and he said to me: "There were loudspeakers all over the camp, " he said, "and they were never silent for long. There was much music played through them. Those who were musical told me it was often good music-sometimes the best." "That's interesting, " I said. "There was no music by Jews, " he said. "That was forbidden." "Naturally, " I said. "And the music was always stopping in the middle, " he said, "and then there was an announcement. All day long, music and announcements." "Very modern, " I said. He closed his eyes, remembered gropingly. "There was one announcement that was always crooned, like a nursery rhyme. Many times a day it came. It was the call for the Sonderkommando." "Oh?" I said. "Leichente¤rger zu Wache, " he crooned, his eyes still closed. Translation: "Corpse-carriers to the guardhouse." In an institution in which the purpose was to kill human beings by the millions, it was an understandably common cry. "After two years of hearing that call over the loudspeakers, between the music, " Gutman said to me, "the position of corpse-carrier suddenly sounded like a very good job.

Kurt Vonnegut
What, then, can Shakespearean tragedy, on this brief view, tell us about human time in an eternal world? It offers imagery of crisis, of futures equivocally offered, by prediction and by action, as actualities; as a confrontation of human time with other orders, and the disastrous attempt to impose limited designs upon the time of the world. What emerges from Hamlet is-after much futile, illusory action-the need of patience and readiness. The 'bloody period' of Othello is the end of a life ruined by unseasonable curiosity. The millennial ending of Macbeth, the broken apocalypse of Lear, are false endings, human periods in an eternal world. They are researches into death in an age too late for apocalypse, too critical for prophecy; an age more aware that its fictions are themselves models of the human design on the world. But it was still an age which felt the human need for ends consonant with the past, the kind of end Othello tries to achieve by his final speech; complete, concordant. As usual, Shakespeare allows him his tock; but he will not pretend that the clock does not go forward. The human perpetuity which Spenser set against our imagery of the end is represented here also by the kingly announcements of Malcolm, the election of Fortinbras, the bleak resolution of Edgar. In apocalypse there are two orders of time, and the earthly runs to a stop; the cry of woe to the inhabitants of the earth means the end of their time; henceforth 'time shall be no more.' In tragedy the cry of woe does not end succession; the great crises and ends of human life do not stop time. And if we want them to serve our needs as we stand in the middest we must give them patterns, understood relations as Macbeth calls them, that defy time. The concords of past, present, and future towards which the soul extends itself are out of time, and belong to the duration which was invented for angels when it seemed difficult to deny that the world in which men suffer their ends is dissonant in being eternal. To close that great gap we use fictions of complementarity. They may now be novels or philosophical poems, as they once were tragedies, and before that, angels. What the gap looked like in more modern times, and how more modern men have closed it, is the preoccupation of the second half of this series.

Frank Kermode
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