Revenge is Sour (p. 899)
I wish I could say definitively that I'm not a vengeful person. However, nothing bad has really happened to me, so I can only speculate and learn from others. There are many interpretations about the nature of vengeance; Orwell says that vengeance only exists in the event of cruel treatment. An ancient proverb says, "He who goes searching for vengeance needs to dig two graves." In more recent history, it's said that "Revenge is a dish best served cold." And the modern philosopher Kristhoffer says it can be plotted over long periods of time.
These all point toward the same thing; how vengeance is specific. Orwell approaches vengeance through the immediate reward of a counter-strike. He highlights Jews who had gotten a hold of SS soldiers and beaten them brutally, arguing though that they struck out of obligation rather than a genuine feeling of retaliation. Now I don't know if vengeance can be reduced solely to an immediate emotional reaction, considering events that people are vengeful of are characteristically lucid and ordered in their recollection. That's mental. A large part of vengeance is anchored in memory, where specific things are acknowledged, not disconnected, whimsical ideals. These memories are unreconciled, causing the self to revisit them and order them as well as they can, which often leads to a plotted retribution. There was an excellent scene in the movie The Specialist depicting this, where Sharon Stone's character under an alias dated the man who killed her family, only to reveal her family name seconds before he picked up a bomb-rigged coffee cup. She went to great lengths to establish a relationship with him to create the perfect opportunity for vengeance.
Well-played, right? Maybe not. The grave-proverb would suggest that she lost herself in the process, and could've even been killed if he foiled her plot. I can't argue against that. However, once he was dead, what direction did her life have? Her whole purpose up to that point was to kill him. She gave him a lot of power. For this reason vengeance is a primal feeling, yet a cold, distant feeling. It can be equally cold to the self as it is to others.
Kristhoffer's approach is no less cold, however is more objective, allowing one to live a life outside of the vengeful thoughts. It's more realistic in that the emotion of the implicating event is left in the past since you can't repeat it. The edge of retribution is calmly honed over time. So it's not at all about changing the past or about exerting power to reclaim power, but about precisely and nefariously changing the future course of another's life. That could entail a range of things, from one subtle change causing a ripple effect, or one large thing that will be present in their minds each time they open their eyes.
Going back to Orwell, his view of revenge was informed by the brutality levied upon the SS by the recently freed Jews. One small event changed the way he saw vengeance. As he and a young soldier crossed a footbridge into a rubbled city, the corpse of an SS soldier laid supine, equally peaceful and gruesome. Someone laid lilac across it. The young soldier averted his eyes, as apparently many do when seeing their first dead body. Upon leaving the village, which included seeing Jews beat imprisoned SS soldiers, the young man voiced a better understanding of war, with no vengeful thoughts of the SS. Hence, Orwell's interpretation that the rush of emotion felt by immediately brutal events fuels actual vengeance, however the separation from the event allows reflection, which may still carry retributive actions, however to him they're not vengeful.
Since vengeance is a targeted response, vengeance via stereotype can't exist, whether or not fueled by emotion or calm, cold reason.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new Orwell 365 posts.