In the fall of 1997 I had a lot of raking to do, but my friends dragged me up to the University of Chicago instead. Kurt Vonnegut was there, reading from his new book, Timequake. During an extended discussion with the moderator, the old man made a keen point about what challenges an audience’s sympathies and what placates them. Referring to Schindler’s List, I think, Vonnegut suggested the movie was exploitative, and that a far better goal would be to try showing Hitler from a sympathetic angle. I would go farther and look for an art that makes me empathize.
No one has done either yet, though Downfall does show him in a very human way (as opposed to most other representations of Hitler, which I think are caricatures and, as such, not human). But would a writer be castigated for showing Hitler as a sad, diligent, intelligent and charismatic leader? Would an audience be able to accept the despot portrayed as a hardworking idealist, perhaps kind and grandfatherly — or would we call for censorship? I doubt it would be difficult to put together a story that showed Hitler, truthfully, as someone we can identify with. It would be scary, but would there be value?
I can’t see how there wouldn’t be. Continue reading “Choose to Know”