Wednesday, May 25, 2005

“It Looks Like War, But It’s Really Peacekeeping”

Despite or perhaps because of their reputation as fierce and skillful warriors, capable of repulsing on several occasions the Roman legions which fought them in the dark, spirit-thronged forests, the early Germanic tribes had no word for war. Was it this that gave them such courage, such bloodlust, this lack action edged out with brutal feints and parries? This quiver of related but not quite adequate poeticisms? Did the Romans so frequently lose because of their tendency to conflate war (bellum) with beauty (bello), fascinated by the aesthetics, the pageantry and dark iconography of bloodshed, which meant whether they liked it or not an ethics as well? In English, so many centuries later, we’ve resolved these problems situated at the twin headwaters of our language. We have many words for war, as many words as we have wars: on terror, on poverty, on immorality, drugs, of hearts and minds. Some of its synonyms are “biology,” “lungs” and “name.” Some of its practitioners are human beings, as if that absence, bouqueted by so much language, still in them militated toward that wall of molten limbs and skulls called law, begging to be charged against with armor-plated Leviathan bulldozers. Oh endless levy, oh my Levites. “And who in time knows whiter we may vent/ the treasure of our tongue.” As from the knitted brow of my uncle, persecution mania, and name a name for name drilled back all the way to Sanskrit, which it tears you apart to think. Bios in its divide and conquer, its primal discomfort fizzing away in the mitochondria. As if war were the name for the name we don’t have for war. It’s like trying to pronounce “heav’n” as one syllable. Lungs, the light organs; light which rips into the dark, repeating the big bang; a heaviness we leave our Privates stranded in.

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