The End of The Beginning

I just finished volume I of Rising Up and Rising Down, and I am now about 50 pages into volume II, which is the first volume of Justifications, i.e. when it is permissible to use violence.

The first section is “Defense of Honor”. In it Vollmann divides the idea of honor into two cross-referenced groups of two: Inner honor – the way a person holds his actions in relation to his conscience; outer honor – the way a person is perceived; individual honor – or honor as a person, and collective honor – honor as part of a greater whole or group.

I am not far beyond these definitions, but already Vollmann has quite an impressive list of players: Joan of Arc, Napoleon, the Afghans, rape victims, the families of rape victims, Yukio Mishima, the Samurai, Japanese twentysomethings, Martin Luther King, the Light brigade, King Xerxes and the Spartans at Thermopylae… the list goes on. In each case, he examines the violence committed and then compares the act to the justification given for the act and asks “Was this truly justified, or merely apologized for?”

Needless to say, this is an uncomfortable book to dig through. Vollmann writes beautifully, but the topic is, ultimately, so very ugly.

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