Then, the planes flew into the
I stopped reading entirely. The blood and killing in the books that I’d enjoyed – and that made the sleepless nights tolerable – were suddenly too much, the pleasure of fictional slaughter obliterated by real events. I thought then of Theodore Adorno’s comment at the end of World War II that “After Auschwitz, writing poetry is barbaric.” Telling stories in which the ugly looked beautiful – writing death and destruction into pleasure – all this seemed wrong because it displaced a terrible reality that needed to be handled in real life, not in fiction. In the days after September 11, as my stack of books sat unread, I wondered whether anyone could write or read fiction in good faith.
I still don’t know the answer. But eventually I picked up my books and started reading again, and I returned to the keyboard and started typing. I can justify reading and writing fiction a hundred different ways. I can say, against Adorno, that fiction enables us to understand real violence before it happens and to deal with it after it happens. I can say that if we give up the pleasures of fiction, then terror has won another victory. I can say a lot of things, but I still wonder what would happen if we all put down our books and spent our time fighting real problems instead of reading and writing about pretend heroes fighting pretend problems in pretend worlds.
I won’t put down my books, though. I’ll keep reading and writing just as I’ll keep eating meat though I know that a vegetarian diet would be better for the world.
I’ll do this and I’ll make no excuses for myself. I’ll do it because, when I’m honest with myself, I recognize that I have a taste for blood – that I like to eat animals and I like to read and write about violence – even as I abhor bloodshed.
Maybe someday in the distant future, I’ll turn off my computer, shut my books, and fight the good fight, stopping only to eat a dinner of soy beans and wheatgrass. I’ll ride my bike instead of driving my car. I’ll avoid plastics. I’ll adopt stray dogs. I know that this would be the right thing to do. But I’m not there yet. I wish I were.