[E]ven in the middle of the catastrophe, individuals and groups were still unable to assess the real degree of danger and deviate from their usually socially dictated roles. Since, as Kluge points out, normal time and "the sensory experience of time" were at odds with each other, those affected "could not have devised practicable emergency measures . . . except with tomorrow's brains." This divergence, for which "tomorrow's brains" can never compensate, proves Brecht's dictum that human beings learn as much from catastrophes as laboratory rabbits learn about biology, which in turn shows that the autonomy of mankind in the face of the real or potential destruction that it has caused is no greater in the history of the species than the autonomy of the animal in the scientist's cage, a circumstance that enables us to see why the speaking and thinking machines described by Stanislaw Lem wonder if human beings can actually think or are merely simulating that activity, and drawing their own self-image from it.
Monday, September 03, 2007
From W. G. Sebald, "Between History and Natural History: On the Literary Description of Total Destruction," in Campo Santo: