Table of contents

Schindler’s list 2

Some notes on poetry & history

History as it is now practiced will soon be forgotten, because it is the preserve of comparatively few specialists. Films, on the other hand, may endure much better. But film cannot be historical truth. The whole created by fiction cannot bear the weight of the facts. In a coherent plot, even the accidents are planned. A history that insists on each memory, each testimony, cannot rise to an ordered whole.

Spielberg appeals to a moral vocabulary & to the moral passions which educate the audience without preaching. Historians therefore accuse him of manipulation. Spielberg’s superiority is nevertheless obvious: for the historian knows Schindler was a real man, but this helps him none when it comes to understanding him, whereas Spielberg understands the man without concerning himself with the historical details of his life. This would tend to prove that history is inferior to movies when it comes to understanding human beings. A coherent moral vocabulary, careful to real distinctions & unafraid to see things as they really are, is necessary for that. & an understanding of the question: how should man live?

Perhaps the fundamental difference between our historians & our poets is that the latter at least attempt to grasp all the human affairs. Spielberg is both the serious Spielberg & the not-serious, showing a range that imitates the range of human affairs. Historians cannot possibly match that.

Schindler changed his opinions when he confronted Nazi injustice. Seeing men stripped of their property & then of their lives, he learnt about persecution & the need for prudence & decent laws. Therefore, he did not behave differently to the Nazis. He understood, like all people who think about their predicament, that deceiving his friends & enemies is necessary. Therefore, he eventually chose a private life.

Of particular interest is the dialogue between Schindler & the SS strongman. Schindler does not appeal to morality or religion; that would achieve nothing. He talks about the good: he offers money. All the Jews he saves are saved as Nazi war profits. Indeed, had Schindler not been a war profiteer, he would have had nothing to offer to gain favor. But Schindler, a womanizer & lover of the pleasures of the table, knows also that tyrants crave the love of the people they tyrannize, not to mention that tyranny & lust have much in common, so he also talks about glory. He argues that the greatest power is mercy, like the Stoic philosopher Seneca argued to the mad tyrant Nero. As an aside, Xenophon tells us in his book on the science of tyranny that the poet Simonides told the desperate tyrant Hiero that his greatest glory would be the love of his subjects.