Saturday, 10 October 2009

Making up for lost time

There are many things I’d like to be able to do at some time or other in the future. And then there are things I wish I had already done, some time in the past, but can’t work up the enthusiasm to do any time soon. Things like reading David Copperfield or doing a 10 km run. I’d like to be able to think ‘I’ve done that’ but I’m not sure I can inflict the sustained punishment required on my mind or body. On the book front, in particular, I’m close to having to admit that what I am is a voracious non-reader. I keep buying books I know will be interesting, and then I fail to read them. My bookshelves groan under the weight of all those volumes.

Last winter, Danielle organised a trip for a bunch of us up into the Black Forest near our then home outside Strasbourg. At one point we came across a collection of plaques planted in the snow, around a little chalet. The chalet had apparently belonged to Martin Heidegger. He was a Christian philosopher who brought a distinctly faith-inspired approach to Existentialism, or so I’m told (and who am I to question what I’m told? Especially since I haven’t read any of the work). What really amazed me was the information that Heidegger had made his peace with the Nazis and been allowed to serve as rector of the nearby University of Freiburg. He’d done this even though some years earlier he’d had an affair with a brilliant doctoral student of his, Hannah Arendt. Arendt was Jewish.

Curious stories keep crawling out of that whole pit of horror that was the Nazi time.

The reference to Arendt rang a bell with me. Nearly fifteen years ago I bought a copy of her Eichmann in Jerusalem. Seeing her name pricked my conscience. I’m finally reading the book.

It’s an extraordinary work which, in particular, gave us the concept of ‘the banality of evil’. You can quickly see why. There was nothing special about Otto Adolf Eichmann, a middle-ranking SS official who had served under Heydrich and played a dirty but essentially logistical role in the Nazis’ so-called final solution of the Jewish problem. He had organised transport to take the Jews to the killing centres. In 1961, he was kidnapped in Argentina by Israeli agents and taken to Jerusalem, where he was tried and eventually hanged in 1962.

Reading the account of Eichmann’s trial, I realise that I’ve know lots of little Eichmanns. I’ve worked with them. They’re nonentities. They fail at school, they fail at work. They’re convinced that they deserve better from life, that what’s needed isn’t more effort from them but a proper recognition of their natural talents. They’re the kind of people who can take charge of a project but need to be chased twice a day to make sure they’re getting on with it.

Unfortunately for sad little Eichmann, the project he was in charge of was a significant component of probably the most obscene act of barbarity in history, the Holocaust. It cost him his life, having cost a lot more innocent lives first.

My conclusion, anyway, is that there’s some good stuff on my shelves. It’s time I read it.

PS. This new resolution of mine spills over into films too. Danielle’s away this weekend visiting her mother in Strasbourg. So I could without boring her to tears make up for a 44-year old gap in my cultural education: I watched The Sound of Music. It’s really quite good, isn’t it? Just strange they used all those old songs I’ve heard so often.


Bob said...

"I keep buying books I know will be interesting, and then I fail to read them. My bookshelves groan under the weight of all those volumes."

In this respect, we are brothers. I wonder why owning these books is more satisfying than adding their titles to a library list for that someday-maybe Neverland. Tsk.

Oh, and if you happen across "My Fair Lady", you'll find the director adapted many old and familiar tunes there, too.

David Beeson said...

You're right: we ought to take the same approach to books as we do to New Year's resolutions - list them and forget them. Much cheaper on the pockets, much lighter on the shelves.

It is worrying, isn't it, that directors of musicals feel they can get away with using old songs. They never start out that way but within a few years, they get back to their usual habits, and the songs are all old.