IN A DARK TIME by Robert Jay & Nicholas Humphrey--Eds. Lifton


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Albert Einstein observed that the atomic bomb changed everything but our thinking. Psychiatrist Lifton and psychologist Humphrey, both active in efforts to forestall a nuclear war, have responded to Einstein in a curious way, collecting excerpts from sources as diverse as Thucydides and W. H. Auden, Bob Dylan and the National Security Council, all dealing with aspects of war and the nuclear abyss. The selections are grouped into sections dealing with the manipulation of words to mask the horrors of war, the apparently deep-rooted need to define enemies and also to deprive them of human attributes, the despairing image of nuclear holocaust, and a redeeming hope captured in Theodore Roethke's line, ""In a dark time, the eye begins to see."" The easiest thing to say about the contents is, not in jest, that it's all been said before. The eloquence of individual passages is muted by their juxtaposition with other passages bearing the same messages, as when a poem by Sappho avowing that the sight of a lover is more beautiful than that of ships at war becomes a clichÉ following a selection from Lifton's own writing on confronting the threat of nuclear devastation: through such confrontation, writes Lifton, ""we feel stronger human ties. We turn to beauty, love, spirituality, and sensuality. We touch the earth and we touch each other."" Selections from Luther and Thoreau, a letter from an Austrian farmer about to die for refusing the German military oath in 1943, and other testimonials to individual moral strength don't add up; rather, the number of them flattens the meaning of each. Taken as a whole, the anthology undermines the editors' intentions, making the current waves of antinuclear fear look less special, even banal. That's not what Einstein had in mind.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press