Based on his personal experience as a political prisoner, Victor Serge brushes a haunting picture of prison life at the beginning of the 20th century.
Prison discipline was based on hunger. The inmates lived in stench and filth and were constantly under total surveillance, even their private parts and their excrements. The system was organized in such a way that `living was forbidden'. The worst part was the fact that people were `not able to remove their face from the peeping glance of others, betraying at every moment the secret of an obtusely disturbed inner life.'
Psychologically, prison life was a permanent fight against becoming insane with three major obsessions: preoccupation with one's `case', family worries and sex. All emotions related to the struggle for life, religious faith, political convictions or sex drive, were exacerbated. Constant introspection revealed the most secret recesses of one's being.
After prison, the scars left were very deep: `old chains have tortured us so deeply in our flesh that their mark became a part of our being.'
Victor Serge's vision on mankind is deeply pessimistic: `Man is not too far removed from the brute ... bestial revolts from the flesh.'
The 1st World War confirmed his moral skepticism: `Men, for millennia, have made daily use of death penalties, clan against clan, society against society. The `Thou shalt not kill' of the Decalogue is a vulgar lie. This moral law has always been completed by another imperative: `Thou shalt kill the man of the other tribe''.
But, on the other hand, he remains optimistic: `Perhaps one good blow is needed before everything changes. It's worth living for, and maybe dying for.'
His hopes revived with the Russian Revolution. But he didn't foresee the tragic consequences for himself and his political fellow travelers.
Victor Serge's in depth psychological analysis of the `No Exit' is of all times.
Not to be missed.