About the Book
In a Dark Time: Images for Survival
is the title of a book, published in 1984 by Harvard University
Press. Edited by psychologists Robert Jay Lifton and Nicholas Humphrey, it is a collection of poetry
s, and excerpts from speech
es and literary
texts. The back cover of the book describes it as "an anthology
for the nuclear age...successive selections reflect and comment
on one another, compelling the reader to think
about the insanity of war
The introduction opens the book with a brief account of Paul Gauguin's 1897 suicide attempt, including what the painter intended as his final signature: D'où venons nous? Que sommes nous? Où allons nous? (Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going?) After pointing out that Gauguin's attempt failed, the editors theorize that the world has been preparing so long for its self-destruction that when the time comes, it cannot help but succeed in wiping all of us out. They go on to explain that this is the context in which they assembled the writings in the book, saying that it was "designed, quite deliberately, as an emetic against war."
In a Dark Time journeys through nine chapters. "Words" includes an unpublished speech by Aldous Huxley, part of a 1969 interview with a Vietnam veteran, and an excerpt from a 5th century BCE work by Thucydides. The next chapter, "Enemies," opens with a paragraph from Melville's Moby Dick, then includes the Bible's Judges 12:5-6 and a quotation from Lao-Tzu, poetry by Robert Burns and Thomas Hardy, and writings by Orwell and Steinbeck before closing with a few lines from Eugene Ionesco. "Civilization in Suspense" features works by Freud, Thoreau, and Joseph Heller, as well as a secret memorandum written by Winston Churchill in July 1944. "Only Part of Us Is Sane" takes its name from the opening piece, by Rebecca West, and includes lyrics by Tom Lehrer, quotes from Kaiser Wilhelm and Ronald Reagan, and lines from Milton's Paradise Lost, written in 1667. The fifth chapter, "Nothing, But Who Knows Nothing," has several quotes from survivors of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, and one from an observer of an American atom bomb test on Christmas Island, plus a quote from Mao Zedong and some lines from Macbeth, Act 4 Scene iii. The next chapter, "There's a Nuclear War Going On Inside Me," is named after part of a 1982 quote from an eleven-year-old girl in Massachusetts. The chapter includes a couple of pieces from William Blake and the text of Bob Dylan's Talkin' World War III Blues," plus further interviews with Massachusetts schoolchildren and 1983 interviews with Soviet children. "Hope Abandoned" quotes from Jean Anouilh's 1942 Antigone, Edward Lear's 1846 A Book of Nonsense, and includes all of "Do not go gentle into that good night," the famous 1952 villanelle by Dylan Thomas. The eighth chapter is called "Different Drummers" and includes excerpts from works by Sartre, H.G. Wells, and John Donne, as well as poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a quote from Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 letter from Birmingham Jail. The final chapter, entitled "In a Dark Time," opens with the first three lines of Genesis from the Bible, and includes a few lines from a 7th centure BCE letter by Sappho and part of a 1957 speech given by Omar N. Bradley, then General of the Army. The chapter - and the book - closes with the first line from Roethke's poem: In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
In a Dark Time was published in 1984, in the middle of the Cold War at a time when many Americans believed they might be in danger of being attacked by Communist forces from either the Soviet Union or nearby Cuba. The Cold War was not an actual fighting war with combat, but it still scared many U.S. citizens (and perhaps Soviet citizens as well, but we wouldn't have been told). While it requires thinking and analysis on the part of the reader, the book does offer insight into those who would encourage war and those who support peace in all cases, and solace to those confused by the situation. I came to own it in early 1994, when my high school's library was getting rid of books that had not been checked out in a long time; I found it in a half-full cardboard box and decided to bring it home. It has become one of my favorite anthologies - over the past several years I have read through it dozens of times; I have used some of the pieces in presentations and in letters and cards, and have worn the edges down quite a bit more than they were when I got it. In the past I have read it and thought in terms of World War II and the Vietnam War, but today I find my country in the beginning stages of a war on terrorism. Perhaps a blending of combat-based altercations and the Cold War, it is not being fought on my country's soil and yet most people living here are afraid of terrorist attacks that might happen in the near future. It is my intention to read the book again, trying to see it from this new point of view; I definitely recommend it to others as well.
Finding the Book
It is apparently available through Amazon.com, which lists a price of $9.50 for the paperback (mine has a price of $5.95 on the back cover) - this may be a reprint, I don't know; it is probably also available from other online sources including eBay. Be sure to get the one edited by Lifton and Humphrey (ISBN 0674445392) - this shouldn't be confused with Virgil Bisset's 1983 collection In a Dark Time: An Anthology of Poetry of a Nuclear Concern even though they seem similar, the latter is from Puckerbrush Press. It also isn't In a Dark Time: The Apocalyptic Temper in the American Novel of the Nuclear Age, an out-of-print book written by Joseph Dewey. Finally, it shouldn't be confused with Larry Watson's novel In a Dark Time, reprinted in 1998 by Washington Square Press. This writeup is about the Harvard University Press publication only, I have never seen the other three.