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This review is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

JARGON In a Dark Time edited by Nicholas Humphrey and Robert Jay Lifton (Faber) £3.95 pb.

In a Dark Time is an anthology of writing against war. The authors range from Sappho to Ian McEwan, but the editors have aimed in selection and arrangement to make a book about our sort of war - cold for the past forty years, and potentially hot at any moment - not, of course, that it would be war in any recognizable sense.

Our sort of 'war' would be fought with nuclear weapons, and this anthology is mainly, and very tellingly, about the human attitudes that let us make, possess, and even consider using them. It is a polemic - a handbook to be carried around and lent - because the editors want to change what we think, chiefly by making it impossible for us to subscribe to certain ideas ever again; but its interest and significance do not stop there. The book highlights the role of language in the formation and maintenance of those attitudes, and this makes it crucial to anyone concerned with the state of language, public and private, political and literary.

The first of eight sections is called 'Words', but many entries from the rest of the book could be put under that heading (e.g. Steinbeck: 'the little spitting experimental bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki'). Abuses of language, connected with wartime propaganda, helped us to welcome the first atom bombs in 1945, and then helped keep the public quiet for more than thirty years. Nuclear arms technology is necessarily dauntingly complex, ...


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