Patrolling the catastrophe

“We gain our knowledge of life in a catastrophic form. It is from catastrophes that we have to infer the manner in which our social formation functions. Through reflection, we must deduce the ‘inside story’ of crises, depressions, revolutions, and wars. We already sense from reading the newspapers (but also bills, letters of dismissal, call-up papers and so forth) that somebody must have done something for the evident catastrophe to have taken place. So what then has been done and by whom? Behind the reported events, we suspect other occurrences about which we are not told. These are the real occurrences. If we knew these incidents, we would understand. Only History can inform us about these real occurrences – insofar as the protagonists have not succeeded in keeping them completely secret. History is written after catastrophes. The basic situation, in which intellectuals feel that they are objects and not subjects of History, forms the thought, which they can display for enjoyment in the crime story. Existence depends upon unknown factors. ‘Something must have happened’, ‘something is brewing’, ‘a situation has arisen’ – this is what they feel, and the mind goes out on patrol. But enlightenment only comes, if at all, after the catastrophe. The death has taken place. What had been fermenting beforehand? What had happened? Why has a solution arisen? All this can now be deduced.”

Bertolt Brecht, ‘On the Popularity of the Crime Novel’ (quoted in Ernest Mandel, Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story)

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