Sometimes I am surprised by the kind of books I pick up. It is not always the name of the author or the title of the book. Sometimes it is just the topic of the book, and some very few times, it is just the feel of the book in my hands that force me to buy or subscribe it. I am not sure how many of us have felt that way with books.
So when I joined the Sahitya Academy Library here in Delhi a week ago, I happened to pick up one such volume. Todorov’s book was a tiny volume – almost the size of my palm, I just couldn’t put it down, and I decided to take the book home. At just a mere 83 pages thick, each page spanning and the almost slightly bigger than my palm, and the instant connect I made with the author following the initial sentences, I thought I can finish it off sitting in the reading room while Rajeeb was grazing through the shelves for vernacular publications from Assam. Apparently I couldn’t finish it off so soon since it was deep philosophy.
I definitely don’t know if (that’s a big if) today’s teens bother to read philosophy other than their academic publications. I was a big fan of Bertrand Russell and never missed an opportunity to read a book/excerpt/essay by him even if it weren’t part of my syllabus. So Todorov’s book brought me back that nostalgia of reading a serious book, something that interrogates one’s heart in a profound manner.
As the title aptly indicates, the book is about using public memory as a tool to fight against social evil. To highlight his point, Todorov points out how the victims of the sins and the local populace in general that has suffered the ill impacts of totalitarian and abusive regimes ranging from Nazi Germany to Cambodian Khmer Rouge use their future to bring justice to the wrong-doings of the past. In the effort to bring to instant justice the representatives of abusive regimes accused of genocide, the victims of yesteryears become abusers themselves. He argues that ‘an eye for an eye’ kind of justice doesn’t bring to just representatives of abusive regimes. On the contrary, it brings out the animals in us.
Here it is also interesting to read Todorov’s comments about animals themselves. I cannot help but perfectly agree to that argument:
“Animals kill to eat and defend themselves; people do so to protect themselves against dangers that exist only in their imagination or to accomplish projects of their own devising. Revolutionary utopianism boils down to an invention of the mind that people try to turn into a reality by force.”
On an argument to bring about a humane manner (the adjective ‘human’ to indicate matters of high morality is indeed a misnomer, Todorov argues) to deal with war criminals, it is necessary to maintain the memory of the incidents so that people never repeat crimes of the past.
For people looking for sparkles of wisdom to awake public conscience, especially on the aftermath of a bad incident that has affected the masses (for example a religious riot or a public fight), this is an eye opener. If you intend to open up your conscience, enjoy reading! Do you read books that open public conscience? Do please share your experience.