It’s here. One doesn’t want it to be here (this day) for every reason… Aggressively confusing: the odd waffling between being annoyed that so much attention is paid, and the nettlesome sense that we haven’t finished (started) paying attention to its first reality. Between frustrated negation and a rashy desire to scratch deeper – between these parentheses at the edge of our understanding – is a deep well of fear, grief and hot rage. This bears on conversations going on around child soldiers in the journal the More Life project kept through Northern Uganda this summer; so again, a few more reflections.
The concern that there’s too much notice, comes from (among many other things) an experience with colonialism, and a desire to back away from it. [I’m going to a reference in Gourevitch’s New Yorker article on Humanitarianism, and he’s quoting Michael Marin…]
Where Force sees: a) that an absolute wrong has been done and that b) Force can redress it, suddenly the map of the world is a round hole and Force is just the square peg it needs. Force can take the form of death on the one side, described as clean, square, right/right-angled, and life on the other, sold as Our area of expertise – hygienic, sane, ours to give, and self-enriching when given (we are cleaner for making Someone Else clean). An adamant, extreme focus on Sept 11 from a US view implies that the attack is an avatar of offense – that there has never been dying or suffering like this on Our continent before (that the continent is Ours), that we were one thing prior and another thing after, that what We were prior was innocent (not what the victims in the tower were, but We who feel the event, the We who arbitrate the graph, the score of judgment), that our wounded innocence requires the Force of death to achieve balance, and that this innocence requires a direct address to the wound (versus the body) in remediation – through compensation, memorialization, and medical services. This thinking saves us from the deeper heart of fear and anger. If you believe in violent conflict, or that death (which is weightless) balances anything – even if you believe this… it’s clear the violence was against more than the towers and the people in it, against more than NY or the US. The violence was against poverty and powerlessness, the ideas in the attack were also against the idea of the human, against the notion that God is incarnate in our lives… And the corresponding war invites global solidarity against our self-rending. As with the union movement – it’s worldwide or – gets lost in business. A patchwork of small wars attempts to build a watch with gears scattered around the room; it is never time. The only thing big enough to save the world is the world + the world’s choice (a choice to live). What protects Eden is the one angel with the sword; meanwhile, Cain and Abel. The horribly complex, compensatory, corrective war (if you believe in this) is not – could not possibly be Us versus Them, it’s us versus ourselves and we must fight with holistic care or we’ll bleed out. Likewise with healing – we’re not only healing from the attack… If in a hospital all one is doing is sewing up knife wounds, without coordinating with efforts to address all the knife fighting that’s going on – then all it’s doing is making knife fighting more sustainable. The healing for 9/11 involves counseling, memorials, money for survivors and their families – also education, tolerance, patience compassion within borders broadly defined, and across borders. The healing is global, and takes the world + an idea. A global war and a global healing are to huge to get one’s head around – it’s frightening, awesome – and that’s the point. It’s more than one, it’s more than a head, and we’re neither the center or the circumference of the “around.” We are in the area of an idea – spiritual to the measure we are helpless even as we are helping and being helped.
One parens recoils from this mess.
We back away from the day – sure, esthetically, because there’s too much repetition, but also ethically, because if we grab hold of it, the grief is our boss (again, and again). There’s nothing “wrong” with taking a break, with skipping this disaster, today… but maybe grief is our boss. Maybe it is consort with agape, which also begs self abandonment (is also a boss).
Similar applies to the other end of the spectrum, the other parens. We want (or I know I do, I want) 3,000 or so plays – one for each person who died in the towers. I want to look in 3K pairs of eyes, want to sing 3K songs, be speechless 3K times over; I want to break 3K plays. I want memory to be a problem, and I want the solution to be the size of my sadness… But sadness, even born out of proper compassion, is as weightless as death. Grief provides the energy of action, and can purge guilt (making one feel as if one has done something) – but it balances nothing. The killed are as killed after my grieving; I can never grieve “enough.” The awfulness of grief is that we have to find a way to quit it even though it is absolute – grief is like a play this way; plays never end – they consent to leave iteration to the audience.
There’s a horrible middle ground between dismissal (excessive contextualization – the tendency to say that there is so much going on in the world that the tragedy at hand is tiny, is in fact not at hand…) and obsession (my hands are so full of this that I am not obliged to do any of the other work of living). It’s in that horrible place that we end up living out our lives. There is a sustainable practice for the horrified, I believe. Horror/fear is dilation; the tunnel of love at the state fare generally involves scare tactics – because the openness of a scream is openness after all; “to have and to hold until death do us part” is nothing if not a scare tactic – and wise. Be afraid, and move forward… Horror can discover heroism, the same heroism we need for love.
About child soldiers and witness to trauma. About the Genocide against the Tutsis.
One wants to be historical, analytical, objective, even cynical. One wants to doubt every testimony, one wants testimony from all sides, one want to distribute what guilt there is spherically, one wants to move away from the term guilt, one wants to be as impartial as a doctor… But an impartial doctor (an impartial science) is impossible, of course, and dangerous in practice (e.g. – one of my favorite books on medicine – The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). Medicine that doesn’t’ respond to or even bother to read cultural specificity, medicine that isn’t itself wounded to a degree, that isn’t nerved in web with its “subject” – is attempting to translate the human language into something that isn’t human; it just doesn’t apply – or more specifically – it doesn’t relate. A tractor’s a great thing, truly; it’ll run right over a child if it runs on its own. What is our new knowledge from and who is it for? How do we advance knowledge (of, for example, false testimony regarding experiences of torture, or war crimes committed by a targets of genocide) in ways that can be heard, and understood, and are sensitive to truth while revealing cant?
We need something as complex as a poetics.
We see, but not concentrically.
For example – we see a trauma, a violation – a child soldier. Our eye focuses, we are entranced, we act with something close to total dedication. Then we also see that the concentration of resources disturbs the ecology of the region; we’re drawing food away from widows, medicine away from whole towns; we see that people are falsifying records in order to seem more like child soldiers; in extreme cases, we see regions permitting disaster so as to be more attractive to aid. In seeing all this, we can leave that first child soldier at a point of origin in the biography of our knowledge – the soldier can seem smaller and smaller – we can feel betrayed by the soldier, abandoned, cheated of our own virtue.
Alternatively, neither the center nor the circumference are ours to command. We are all in the area of the circle – the child soldier (the precipitating trauma) comes forward with us, as our knowledge expands. That evil to which the good in us responds, the good still alive in the trauma that called to the good still alive in the non-traumatized, remains as absolutely good and evil as it ever was, even as it moves through more and more context.
So 9/11 will always be the worst thing that ever happened. And not. The appropriate response must be complicated, incomplete – and yet built as we must build things – one concrete choice at a time.
We must see, see exactly, see as our personalities direct us (personalities, or co-suffering; personality = compassion; our identity as a person is our move to the impersonal, or more specific –the omni-personal). We must see, and then see our seeing – recognizing our bias, while understanding that bias is at the heart of understanding (that perfect objectivity is God’s, or Plato’s, or the sun’s, or -).
I believe Concentrism is the philosophical movement that Beckett wrote a term paper on once – as a hoax. It’s a fake philosophy; distrust as colonial ideas of absolute center, the absolute right, a universe whose math and physics is other than stringy and fuzzy – because that universe will not function as fully real.
Today is horrible. And another day available to perfect love. Not one against thee other. Both. Satisfy the historical record. The record is not superior to or corrective of what I saw. Yes, in my heart. The record is incomplete, my heart is incomplete. It’s all incomplete – that’s the basis of action – the incompleteness that allows us space to fall forward. Fear, and move forward.