by Georges Duhamel


Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, December 9


Civilization, 1914-1917-this title on the back of the 1918 Goncourt Prize volume seems a mockery. But the author is Georges Duhamel, poet, essayist, and enlightened man of letters: the book is a fruit of his four years' service as a surgeon with the French army. You will not be sorry if you read it.
First there was Under Fire, then Men in War, and now Civilization-a great trilogy of accusations of war as a violation of humanity. Dunhamel in war reminds me forcibly of the littérateur, Olivier Jeannin, in Jean-Christophe. If Rolland had sent the latter to battle, he would have recorded the same reactions Duhamel has, I believe. Such compounds of disillusionment, irony, and a patient, pitying weariness with a brutal world, all lightened by a distinguished humanism, are not so easily deceived by patriotic and idealistic cant as the Coningsby Dawsons. They have the sharp sight to see through all the pleasant veils wrapped about the hideous spectacle.

And so Duhamel faithfully snapshots bits of that insane civilization of l9l4 to l917-Ponceau, with a wound in his thigh, "a hideous wound, large enough to hold a soldier's képi-a great greenish wound, with the bone broken at the bottom," Cousin with the splintered leg and the blood percolating through the dressings like a scarlet dew, and the bundle of dripping remains which Duhamel himself lugs about to find a resting place for. He has witnessed the work of conscription boards, "the flesh-mongers," and he has summed it up. "Sacred human flesh-holy substance that serves thought, art, love, all that is great in life-you are nothing but a vile, malodorous paste that one takes in one's hands with disgust, to judge whether or not it is fit for killing!" Enough. This is not a book for those who cannot stomach terrible details.

The indictment contained in the last chapter (I would wager it was this chapter which won the Goncourt Prize) is directed against the age of machines and science. Certain painters-for example, Nevinson-have tried to show the overwhelming power and influence of machines on our lives. Duhamel would agree with them. And he recoils violently from such an age. "I hate the twentieth century as I hate rotten Europe and the whole world on which this wretched Europe is spread out like a great spot of axle-grease," he cries out. At the front he sees the vast destruction wrought by machines and in the hospitals he notes civilization's answer to itself-an answer delivered by microscopes, knives, and autoclaves. But now and then Duhamel sees going about his 'work a tenderly smiling surgeon who is something over and above all this, who is not deceived by the intricate accomplishments of science And so after all, he can write. "Civilization! the true Civilization-I often think of it. It is like a choir of harmonious voices chanting a hymn in my heart, it is a marble statue on a barren hill, it is a man saying, "Love one another!' and 'Return good for evil!' And if it is not in the heart of man, well, it's nowhere."

Since the publication of Civilization, he has written La Possession du Monde a series of essays developing his indictment of a scientific and industrial régime and calling for a new living of "la vie intérieure"' and "le régne du coeur." For him, perhaps, the experiences of war have been the birth pains of a stronger, wider vision.

-The Modernist: A Monthly Magazine of Modern Arts and Letters, Volume 1, Issue 1 [1919]

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781409951636
Publisher: Dodo Press
Publication date: 12/05/2008
Pages: 172
Sales rank: 901,470
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

Customer Reviews