Friday, June 02, 2006


By what factor should we multiply reports like those of the massacre of Hadifa, or torture in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base and _____? What is the ratio of reported to unreported atrocities? How often is the military successful in suppressing information?

To think like this--to search for a horrible and unspecifiable multiplier--runs counter to the work of feeling, it seems, the work of disgust and compassion which wants to value every death like this as infinitely unaccountable and unbearable. Comparisons are odious (quoth Marianne Moore). These things can't be quantified. And yet, it seems that the predictable pattern of reportage and response--doubt followed by indignation and promises of "justice," the intensity of anger and disgust devoted to the singular atrocity only helps to reinforce the notion that these are isolated events. On the other hand, to see something like Hadifa as the visible portion of a field of violence where, everyday, soldiers and security forces out-of-mind with fear kill people armed and unarmed--babies and old men and all--pushes me beyond the limit of feeling and into the realm where I can mostly only cogitate. Maybe I'm dead in a few hard to find places, so that the big picture ( seems to push against the work of disgust and indignation that Hadifa deserves. It's wrong, wrong and necessary.

Focusing on the singular event is, to me, akin to the equally seductive tendency to lay the war in Iraq--in here, over there--on the doorstep of "the administration." It's easier if there's a human explanation, a series of choices made by people with beating hearts. I think often of a friend's description of Bush as "merely the most repulsive face of the machine." And even the phrase "machine" has a hidden anthropomorphic component (a maker, right, a hand?), a way of giving face to something that is faceless: broken machine that keeps on working.

I am irrational in grief. I am unable to give up magical thinking, to stop reading horoscopes, to give up looking for agency, the agency, the icy A. And here, too, the seductions of conspiratorial thinking arise--in the vertigo of the big, unclear picture: a plot, a little story with explosions and perfect hair and betrayals and midgets who live in the Los Angeles sewers, that makes everything make sense.

This is where Thomas Pynchon's novels can help: allowing the drift into the magical, refusing any ground for it.


I'm off to LA for a week.


Speaking of perfect hair, though, I highly recommend Clean. One of the best new movies I've seen since, oh, the other movie with Maggie Cheung. I've been thinking about intensity lately--how there's a kind that comes from speed and another kind from slowness (concentration) and then a third kind that comes from both speed and slowness--slowness in the foreground ( that seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of affects that Cheung's face contains balanced from a brief moment), but speed in the background, the camera jerking to keep Cheung in the frame while everything else is in flight, in disarray.

This happens in poetry, too, sometimes.

1 comment:

jane said...

If we're allowed coefficients without losing our humanity, the one I'd want wouldn't be a multiplier but, i dunno, a prequelizer: an imagination that allows the knowledge of Haditha to be extended backward.

By which i mean: the knowledge of Haditha is no knowledge at all, in the sense of new information. The fact of military humans slaughtering unarmed civilian humans was absolutely and immanently present the day before the USA bombed Afghanistan, and the day before that. It was present in the election of Bush, and the election of Clinton, and in the putting of these and other candidates on offer.

It does not diminish the horror of Haditha, nor our compassion and disgust regarding it, to place its facticity in the appropriate context -- which includes understanding that your congressman, uncle, student who voted the war voted for Haditha just as they voted for Abu Ghraib. And each person who accepts the idea of rogue individuals etc joins this parade. It is the opposite of a surprise; it's a policy.