Amos Oz on the art of writing and a cure for fanatics

Amos Oz on the art of writing and a cure for fanatics

The author Amos Oz describes his childhood as an atmosphere of Tolstoy’s philosophy and a daily conflict, and from this, his writing was born. The city he grew up in was at that time one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world with German, Armenian and Jewish quarters, a Greek and an American colony, as well as the Arab neighborhoods. Oz describes it as loosely composed districts during his childhood in the 1940s where tensions existed but no violence. The city where the author grew up was Jerusalem to which his parents in the 1930s managed to escape from Nazism and other Jewish persecution that ravaged Europe. In the ever-present book “How to Cure a Fanatic”, Amos Oz delivers a recipe for a cure for fanatics.

He writes:

“Uniformity and conformism, the desire to belong somewhere and the desire to get everyone else to do it too, may well be the most widespread if not the most dangerous form of fanaticism.”

If you then add personal cult, totalitarian ideology, and/or religious fundamentalism to this stinking brown soup then you have some of fanaticism’s main ingredients.

Oz delivers in the book, a cure to vaccinate against fanaticism. However, it is nevertheless a slow-acting medicine consisting of using humor and imagination. Because those ingredients have the ability to open up boundaries and minds and operates on several levels in direct contrast to fanaticism. The literature here can be a source, although it can also be used in the opposite direction as propaganda writing for nationalist self-glorification and other extremism, Amos Oz writes:

“Shakespeare can be very helpful. Any form of extremism and fanaticism, every uncompromising crusade ends with Shakespeare either in tragedy or comedy. The fanatic is never happier or more satisfied at the end, he is either dead or he has become a joke. It’s a good vaccination.”

In the short story “Warrior” in the short story collection “Bordertraveller Stories” that will be published after summer 2020 (available in Swedish, book title “Gränsfarare”) the reader finds new perspectives on Amos Oz’s cure for fanaticism. It contains, to quote from the short story: “All the beautiful nuances of life accompanied by the black night of war.”

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Europe before the misery of nationalism

Listen to the story

When the author Karl Kullberg travelled through a fairly peaceful Europe in 1842, the map looked much different than today. Germany, for example, had about thirty years to go until its final unification and Italy for about twenty years. Both before and after the upheavals of the mid-19th century, Europe’s internal borders have been in constant motion, and almost exclusively because of victories and losses on the battlefield. A fact that led the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to designate national borders as the worst invention ever created by politicians. Especially in the way they have most often were created. But also because they gave birth to an ideology that has created and creating so much misery in Europe, namely nationalism. This ism, which in addition to both nazism/fascism, communism is based on in its practical implementation.

Europe before the misery of nationalism

“Nationalism is war”

A prominent philosopher, Ernest Renan, described 1882, 40 years after Kullberg’s journey, the nation as a daily plebiscite, and writes further in his famous essay “What is a nation?”:

“A province means to us its inhabitants; (…) The people’s wish is after all the only justifiable criterion, to which we must always come back.”

This was now at a time when the walls of nationalism were built ever higher within which the modern national state was born and brought together different provinces into one entity. The many brutal and long-lasting wars of the 20th century reveal its shortcomings.

These shortcomings that the former French President Francois Mitterrand made a glowing speech against in the European Parliament in 1995, please look at this, the speech is in French and subtitled in English, and should be a natural part of school history teaching. Mitterrand himself was one of those who survived the Nazi concentration camps, and he concludes the speech with the words; “nationalism is war”. His own evidence in the speech and the entire history of the 20th century provides solid evidence that he was telling the truth.

Europe before nationalism

Nevertheless, in 1842, the European continent is open to Karl Kullberg’s insightful gaze and talented writing. The journey goes through the States of the German Community, such as Saxony, Prussia and Bavaria, and on to Switzerland. Some of his insights are well in line with today’s research and beliefs. While others produce a different and sometimes more insightful view. One of the reasons for this is that Kullberg as an eyewitness experienced the events on the spot and through the news agency of the time. While contemporary scientists and writers make interpretations from a distance. Another difference is that today’s historians often consciously or unconsciously write from a national perspective. This was not the case in Kullberg’s time. Especially not for him, whose humanism shines through in all his writing.

The book is available in Swedish