I’ve always been struck by these two similar yet contrasting images from two of my favourite novelist-philosophers:
Albert indicated a stretch of stone wall beside the road, protecting against a marshy dip of the terrain. … Oh, another historic spot … each had the same story of unarmed hostages facing a German firing squad. Impossible to realize; the blood did not cry from the ground; it was just a stone wall, with houses beyond …. Thought stopped there, against that stone wall. It wasn’t in the least terrible; it was simply so. Restful, rather. It stood. The burghers must have felt it at their backs at the very end, solid and on the whole friendly.
[Isabel Paterson, Never Ask the End (1933)]
Listen, they’re going to take us into the courtyard. … They’re going to stand up in front of us. … There’ll be eight. Someone’ll holler ‘aim!’ and I’ll see eight rifles looking at me. I’ll think how I’d like to get inside the wall, I’ll push against it with my back … with every ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare.
[Jean-Paul Sartre, The Wall (1939)]
Somehow I think my own reaction would be more like Sartre’s than like Paterson’s.