Henry Adams at Nuremberg-A Fantasy
HE HAD missed the Civil War, had heard of the pyrotechnics and ruin from his comfortable vantage of a few thousand miles remove like a Xerxes of privilege and been puzzled by it. The letters from his brother Charles had intensified his isolation, albeit exalted, and by the time he returned to his native land the soil itself had forgotten the desolation. Of the many questions that had plagued him only one had found answer. The photographer, Brady, had pre- served for him images of Atlanta, images that sprang out of the recess of memory as he drove through the ravaged streets of Nuremberg in 1945. For years his imagination had sought to animate those hauntingly lifeless daguerreotypes, to find in the refuse of history the source and course of man’s energies. Yet he could find no hand, only the imprint of machines; and only machines could record the ruin: a ruin so swiftly visited and so quickly absorbed that but for a few seconds needed to transform glass plates into negative imagery, no record would exist. Adams’s own eyelids now acted as such a shutter, powerless before the flood of new sights that forced his memory back to its origins.
Hurled from his comfortable train compartment into the very heart of a present past, Adams rode behind two gleaming white helmets in the bitter November cold. His open jeep crossed the devastated city on the way to the Palace of Justice rising like St. Michael above the rubble. Rat-like clusters of women and children huddled against charred stone walls trying to escape notice.
Dressed in black, they burned the wooden remains of church and state in small fires trying to keep warm, fires that cast odd shadows on lifeless walls all along Adams’s path.
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