Henry James on War and Language

Henry James told the New York Times in 1915, ‘The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated like motorcar tires; they have, like millions of other things, been more overstrained and knocked about and voided of the happy semblance during the last six months than in all the long ages before, and we are now confronted with a depreciation of all our terms.’ While writing A Farewell to Arms in the late 1920s, Ernest Hemingway copied out part of the interview, wrote above it ‘on the debasement of words by war,’ and assigned to his main character the observation, ‘Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.'”

 From: Lapham’s Quarterly: A Magazine of History and Ideas Tues, March 27, 2012


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