Erich Maria Remarque is an author whose message and appeal is universal. Read by Germans, French, English or Americans it spells out the tragic impact of war on the ordinary soldier. But what it also powerfully shows is that in the teeth of war, in the teeth of death the value of life is magnified and enhanced. His central protagonist Paul Bäumer says it in one short italicised word in response to an acquaintance he speaks to in the pub when he is on leave.
They just talk too much. They have problems, goals, desires that I can’t see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything – just sitting in the quiet. Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it’s only talk, only talk, that’s the point – they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else. They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life; anyway it is impossible for me to put what I mean into proper words….
This is an amazing passage that describes the human condition succinctly. When we are not faced directly with what Paul has to face, we are “fragmented”, dispersed, never capable of feeling anything with the “whole life” , always “thinking of something else”. How powerful is that description of where we all are most of the time. And the contrast to this is Paul’s powerful, but little understood, and hardly every experienced is.
I believe that the core of the novels’ message is contained in this two letter word. The 20th Century poet T.S. Eliot described the same condition slightly differently. He wrote – about the human condition:
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before time and after.
This is from the first of T. S. Eliot’s” Four Quartets,” Burnt Norton, and describes again vividly the human condition, our inability to stay centred, to appreciate deeply our Being, our life, here and now, our “is”.
Blog Topics Arising from Week 3
*Write a letter to Erich Maria Remarque thanking him for opening your eyes to what is most important in how we live our lives.
*Write a film review of Everyman (The Carol Ann Duffy version). Write from the heart: say what it was precisely that touched your imagination.
*Imagine yourself in a an impossible war-time situation and describe your responses to the event.
*Create a digital kit that focusses on the impact that Erich Maria Remarque has had on readers since the time of the publication of his book.