Two things on a grey Saturday in January

Anais Nin writing from Paris in 1939.

Monday war was not certain, but anguish was in the air like a poisonous fog. The calm too, the calm before the catastrophe. yesterday in the street I saw the headlines: Warsaw bombed. Now it means war. We can no longer hope for a revolution in Germany which would put an end to the war. One cannot read the signs on restaurants and movies or cafés. Rain. People colliding in the darkness. The punishment. Selfishness grown too big. The personal and historical problems insoluble because of selfishness. The world problems insoluble because of selfishness. Duality and schizophrenia everywhere. The death instinct stronger than the life instinct. Panic. A million people turned criminal because of their weakness, capable only of hatred. A million people knowing only hatred, envy and fear. War was certain. A war of horror and blackness. The drama for years enclosed within human beings, now enacted wholesale, open nightmares, secret obsessions with power, cruelty, corruption. So much corruption can only end in bloodshed. I see all this as I walk the streets, and i do not feel a part of the crime, but I will have to share in the punishment.

Hari Kunzru writing yesterday in The Guardian.

Today I feel tired. I feel depressed and afraid. Above all I feel old. Somehow this attack, with its mix of the grotesquely familiar and the unforeseen, has brought home to me in a way other recent atrocities have not, how much of my life has now been lived inside this war trapped in its logic of permanent emergency. I never want to see another man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit. I never want to stand in another security line wondering if today will be the day. I am hollowed out by disgust. I am worn down by outrage. I want to get off the damn bus.

Of course I can’t. None of us can. The war will go on until it doesn’t, until it runs out of fuel and the historians take over, arguing about who or what won. I no longer expect to see an end in my lifetime. It will take a generation, and many enormous geopolitical shifts, before the wheels of this juggernaut shudder to a halt. Until there are no more self-dramatising young men who prefer the abstraction of death to living a meaningful life, until there are no more wealthy pious bigots to fund them, until there are no more disenfranchised migrants pressed against the border fence and no more hard-faced “realists” eager to turn the war dial up to 11, this will go on and we will have to live through it.

Those of us who want to short-circuit the logic of confrontation have our work cut out. Even if the French keep their nerve, even if the state and people do not succumb to this bloody provocation, we still have to distinguish our position from compromise. Mumblings about “respect” and “avoiding giving offence” seem cowardly and dishonourable. And compromise with the jihadi position is meaningless: the jihadi is absolute because otherwise he is nothing. Without the childish simplicity of binary logic, all his power and glamour leak away, and he becomes just another lost boy, picking up a gun in the hope that it will have the answer written on the barrel.

But refusing to compromise with the jihadi does not mean becoming his mirror. When I’m stupid enough to switch on cable news here in New York, the optics are different but I hear much that is familiar. Big hair and bright teeth instead of black flags and balaclavas, but the same parochialism, the same arrogance, the same atavistic lust for violence, the same pathetic need for good guys and bad guys, to be on the winning team.

So much changes and yet so little changes. I feel sad and I feel tired too.

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Lotta

Journalist, writer and coffee lover in London.

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