BOOK WISH LIST: STEPS by Jerzy Kosinski
Below is a comment on this book by Dr. Joseph Suglia:
“The book’s ethical dimension first becomes apparent in an italicized transitional episode in which the protagonist tells his lover of an architect who designed plans for a concentration camp, the main purpose of which, the narrator explains, was “hygiene” [IV, 1]. Genocide was for those responsible indistinguishable from the extermination of vermin: “Rats have to be removed. We exterminate them, but this has nothing to do with our attitudes toward cats, dogs, or any other animal. Rats aren’t murdered-we get rid of them; or, to use a better word, they are eliminated; this act of elimination is empty of all meaning.” This passage in particular casts light on the “theme” of dehumanization that runs pervasively throughout the book. In Steps, the other person is reduced to the status of a thing. To make of the other human being a thing: such is sadism. Only by representing those to be murdered as vermin (as things to be exterminated) is mass murder possible. It is no accident, from this perspective, that the narrator imagines himself felling trees when he obeys an order to slit his victim’s throat toward the end of the book: it is the only way that he can suppress the nausea that wells up within him [VIII, 3]. Each human being is irreplaceable, and the death of a person is, therefore, an irrecoverable loss. By forgetting this, by turning the other human being into a mere object, one is able to dutifully “obey orders” to kill without the intrusion of moral consciousness. Steps aims at disgusting the reader by showing him/her the obscene consequences of objectification. From this perspective, Steps is a profoundly moral book.”
I read a short story from this book in Krungthep Dhurakij’s newspaper more than ten years ago. It is very disturbing.