It happened that I read Mr. Riesman’s book just after I had gone through several recent novels of some pretension to social and moral seriousness. The authors of these books were known to me as men of good intellect and of a degree of talent which, if it is not of the highest, is certainly sufficient to do the job which we may reasonably expect will be done by the contemporary novel when we think of it in its wide generality and not merely as the high, fine product of a very few geniuses—the job, that is, of giving us reasonably accurate news of the world, of telling us the way things are. Only genius, of course, can tell us the way things really are: but there is a kind of information which falls short of this in accuracy and comprehensiveness and which is nevertheless interesting, and useful to have, and even necessary to have. But the novels I speak of told me only one thing about our life: that intelligent and serious men, such as these authors are, have the greatest difficulty nowadays in being even minimally aware of our life. And since the novelist’s sense of the internal life is concomitant with his sense of external life, it seemed to me that these novelists were writing about people who did not exist, or who, if they did exist, might as well stop existing.
D. H. Lawrence called the novel ‘the book of life,’ and these novelists would have said no less in praise of the novel, and they were most touchingly devoted to life, and to ‘values,’ and to ‘affirmation,’ and to goodness in general—all of which had the effect of making me feel that I had been brushed by the Angel of Death. (No one has yet paid attention to the anti-catharsis, the generally anti-hygienic effect of bad serious art, the stimulation it gives to all one’s neurotic tendencies, the literal, physically-felt depression it induces.)
But as I read Mr. Riesman I began again to believe that life was not merely a more troublesome form of death. There are no characters in his book, only situations, but I began to believe that people must really exist in order to create these situations, the reality of which cannot be doubted. And I could suppose these people would some day present themselves in their actuality to some novelist who might not quite like them, who might even despair of them, but who would believe that they really existed, that they really made a society.
Because everything’s in ruins. Everything’s been degraded, but I could say that they’ve ruined and degraded everything. Because this is not some kind of cataclysm, coming about with so-called, innocent human aid. On the contrary… It’s about man’s own judgement, his own judgement over his own self, which of course God has a hand in, or dare I say: takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine. Because, you see, the world has been debased. So it doesn’t matter what I say because everything has been debased that they’ve acquired, and since they’ve acquired everything in a sneaky, underhand fight, they’ve debased everything. Because whatever they touch - and they touch everything - they’ve debased. This is the way it was until the final victory. Until the triumphant end. Acquire, debase. Debase, acquire. Or I can put it differently if you like: to touch, debase and thereby acquire, or touch, acquire and thereby debase. It’s been going on like this for centuries. On, on and on. This and only this, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, but it has been going on and on. Yet only in one way, like a rat attacks an ambush. Because for this perfect victory it was also essential that the other side… That is, everything that’s excellent, great in some way and noble should not engage in any kind of fight. There shouldn’t be any kind of struggle, just the sudden disappearance of one side, meaning the disappearance of the excellent, the great, the noble. So that by now these winning winners who attack from the ambush rule the earth, and there isn’t a single tiny nook where one can hide something from them, because everything they can lay their hands on is theirs. Even things we think they can’t reach - but they do reach - are also theirs. Because the sky is already theirs and all our dreams. Theirs is the moment, nature, infinite silence. Even immortality is theirs, you understand? Everything, everything is lost forever! And those many noble, great and excellent just stood there, if I can put it that way. They stopped at this point, and had to understand, and had to accept that there is neither god nor gods. And the excellent, the great and the noble had to understand and accept this right from the beginning. But of course they were quite incapable of understanding it. They believed it and accepted it but they didn’t understand it. They just stood there, bewildered but not resigned, until something - that spark from the brain - finally enlightened them. And all at once they realized that there is neither god nor gods. All at once they saw that there is neither good nor bad. Then they saw and understood that if this was so, then they themselves do not exist either! You see, I reckon this may have been the moment when we can say that they were extinguished, they burnt out. Extinguished and burnt out like the fire left to smolder in the meadow. One was the constant loser, the other was the constant winner. Defeat, victory, defeat, victory and one day - here in the neighborhood - I had to realize and I did realize, that I was mistaken, I was truly mistaken when I thought that there has never been and could never be any kind of change here on earth. Because, believe me, I know now that this change has indeed taken place.
Source: http://tativille.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-film-turin-horse-of-gods-and-men-co.html (I have made a pair of corrections to the spelling.)