"Where death becomes absurd and life absurder" - Literary Responses to War & Peace

Escapism: How Do You Get Out? | October 20, 2009

I was recently catching up on one of my favorite NPR radio program/Showtime television program This American Life.  One of the episodes focused mainly a man who experienced something traumatic and developed a unique type of escapism to deal with it.  The man had been assaulted and hurt so badly he was hospitalized.  After being released from the hospital he began to work his anger out through therapy using action figures.  Eventually the man built an entire city dedicated to these action figures.  The setting was a city in Germany occupied during WWII.  His attackers he embodied through Nazi soldier figurines.  His way to escape from what had happened to him was to create a fictional war setting where this type of violence was typical.  Where the horrible fates of the soldiers were accepted as the norm.

I found this interesting and ironic in contrast to the play we by Stuart D. Lee, The Ghost May Laugh that we have recently read in class.  The officers in the play partake in a bit of story telling to allow themselves to escape from the trauma and violence of WWI.  There is no physical way for these men to get away from the idea of death, so they have to create a mental state that can do this for them.  In fact, one of the men, Jenkins, adds on another level of escapism by drinking himself into a constant stupor.

The comparison of these two scenarios I find very interesting.  They are practically mirror images of each other.  In relation to the first, the man who has been assaulted and now takes his revenge out on action figures, I think there is an element of our society instilled in him that says: war makes violence okay.  In the setting he creates he gets to determine the fate of his aggressors and whatever violent ends they meet are par for the course.  The comparison of these two stories shows that while it is more likely for a person to need an escape from violence, there is also the possibility of a person choosing to live vicariously through fictional violence as their form of escapism.


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  1. First off, I love NPR! There are some awesome things floating through the airwaves these days. I found some cool podcasts recently, actually. Second, that is a form of escapism I have never heard of, or even thought about, but it makes sense, embodying an arbitrary toy, riling up violence that cannot manifest into actual violence, and never becoming tangible. I am not sure, but I suspect he finds comfort in being able to start, stop, and dictate the moves and actions of the figures, since he may feel what happened to him was out of his control. Interesting idea, though. Also, like you stated, in the soldier figurine world he created and was in charge of, it was normal that some soldiers lived and some died, all under his hand, of course. Also, going from your post, it is acceptable that during war violence is OK, fore they go hand-in-hand. It is almost as if we are expected to separate war from any sense of morality and any sense of the world we want to live in. Or, is war and is violence the real world, and we are lost in idealism if we do not come to terms that death, pain, and war are part of reality? I prefer to keep my violence between action figures.

    Comment by niemanr — October 22, 2009 @ 3:19 am

  2. The storytelling in “The Ghost May Laugh” fits in nicely with the storytelling from Survival in Auschwitz. Perhaps the characters who give something to the Yiddish story teller are like Jenkins, Saunders and Lewis, escaping through some venue and indulging in storytelling. Those who do not could represent Jones. They don’t want to buy into “the lie.” In “The Ghost May Laugh” the lie was that there are ghost, that people live on after death, but in Survival in Auschwitz maybe the lie is that one can hold on to their humanistic qualities and still survive.

    p.s. you’re a fan of Showtime? you wouldn’t happen to watch Dexter, do you?

    Comment by ortquiju — October 29, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

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