Culture works like a camera obscura. The image is predicted upside down, and there’s a blank and blind spot right at the centre, by the very nature of the mechanism. Take our commemoration of World War I, for example. For the next four years we are condemned to a moment-by-moment recreation of this appalling conflict, which plunged Europe and its resistant colonies into three decades of blood and turmoil.
Yet the one thing we will not see discussed is the central point of the war — that it hid in plain sight, that the European powers were edging towards it for years and hiding from themselves the ample evidence (from the US Civil War, for example) that the conflict would be total and consuming. Such apocalyptic imaginings were contained in a slew of novels and cheap serials, while the official discourse was one of enlightened self-interest between powers.