Here in the Real World…

This is one of several photos in a New York Times slideshow, each of which testifies to the truth that equates one picture to one thousand words.

This is one of several photos in a New York Times slideshow, each of which testifies to the truth that equates one picture to one thousand words.

In Hamlet and The Inferno of Dante, revenge and punishment are the abstractions we observe, enacted by characters whose motives and reflections we can safely analyze from a distance, filtered by language whose beauty may or may not be apparent to you now. In fact, the spirit of vengeance in the Inferno is so alien to me on a personal level that we are looking at the text almost solely for its literary qualities, and much, much less for the idea that it might communicate a thematic truth the way we’ve sought such truths in everything else we’ve read.

In “Portraits of Reconciliation” in The New York Times Magazine today, the photojournalist Pieter Hugo gives you a glimpse into the lives of people who have to live with the past, the Hutu and Tutsi faces that survived or perpetrated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. For whatever reason, Africa is the place where the process of reconciliation, initially implemented in an effort to make peace among people (not nations or factions) in post-Apartheid South Africa, institutionalizes forgiveness.

If you choose to be an English major in college, you will find many people who want to study literature for literature’s sake. In high school, literature study should be relevant no matter what field of study or work you choose to pursue, and that’s why we focus on themes, on the truths that exist simultaneously within and without the works we read. If you were to ask me why I emphasize so much the complexities and ambiguities, and have so much disdain for the simplicities that tell you you’re supposed to find an answer in literature, I’d ask you today to look in the faces of the people in these photographs, and that would be my answer.

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