Sunday, June 8, 2008

On Writing about Evil

I was happy to see Kathryn Harrison’s new book, While They Slept, reviewed in the “NY Times” today. I haven’t yet read the book, but I know Mr. Robert Pinsky could not have done it justice. The book is about a boy who murdered his abusive father and mother and little sister while his older sister was asleep upstairs.

Pinsky talks about the “flatness of tone” when “speaking about the unspeakable.” Maybe I’ve missed the whole point but it seems to me that “flat” is about all one can be when speaking about the “banality of evil,” as Hannah Arendt called it. I mean, what was Ms. Harrison supposed to do? Sensationalize it like it was some tabloid serial?

No, flatness seems just right. Like when I sit with a young man who murdered his pregnant wife because she confessed to him that the baby she carried was “probably” not his own. How am I to react? I take my cue from him, the horrified criminal. He has enough tears for the both of us.

I’m guessing that Harrison’s understatement allows the readers to feel the terror themselves, without interfering. To some, this may seem flat. But to any survivor of trauma, it’s on the mark. Trauma is enough to silence us all to stand blunted and numb before its destruction.

1 comment:

One Person said...

My life never experienced the type of horrific trauma you speak of here, but there was trauma.

For years I hid in a journal, writing my way through self-loathing and into hope. It truly changed my life. Though when I began, my journal entries were 'timid,' over time I was able to allow the 'darkness' a place outside myself...and the 'dare to hope' a place to flicker.

Recently, I wrote part of my story for public view. The initial version was flat, just the facts, no real detail and not much emotion. In fact my thought was that it was 'flat.'

However as the months progressed I changed the original version to include more detail. I'm not sure why. *shrug*

Anyway...I get the "flatness" and when I read people's stories, I read between the lines. The silence speaks loudly.

Kudos to you for helping these people (many considered trash by society) to find a sense of worth and hope.

A reader