Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sandy salty om nom nom

I'm going to skip the anger and rage this article inspired because you've heard me say it before. At some point it's just babies crying in a nursery for the sake of crying, and no one can do anything to calm them down for all the sobbing, and no one can hear the individuals for the cacophony of voices.

If that article were part of Catch-22 I could laugh at it. As Judith Butler has already explicated, someone who buys into a normative version of the world can still find a transvestite on stage funny, even if he would be discomfited or upset by that same individual on a bus.
Butler's full article is "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory," Theatre Journal vol. 40 no. 4(1988) 519-531, for those playing along at home.
I mean to say that in a satirical or fictional context, this performance of sadness and retrospection, brought about by this arbitrary number, this one thousandth death, would be a moment of high artistic value. In the bus that is this world, hurtling along some road that can only end, presumably, in a murky body of oil-piss-water we've spilled for our greed, which we'll try to clean up by some Iranian nuclear weapon's test strike, it's just pitiful.

I wonder how many Faustian watchdog lists I just signed up for with that last sentence.

The point here is that I think it's a performance, a propagandic performance, a hollow and empty pretense at sorrow, that comes about at any of these "landmark" deaths. How come we still haven't realized that it's not dulce et decorum pro patrii mori? Faced with the dehumanizing effect of statistics and numbers, rather than addressing the problem that is creating those statistics and numbers, our response is to try to rehumanize the dead? That's stupid. That's like looking at a patient with an infection on a hospital bed, and instead of diagnosing the specific infection and giving whatever regimen of steroids and antibiotics is necessary, providing palliatives for all the symptoms. It's not "like" that - that is precisely the phenomenon under question. The one-thousandth little boy who gave his life for freedom [this he knows for those who bade him fight had told him so] gets a special exposé in the New York Times not for anything special about his life, about his death, except for that number; conversely, the nine hundred ninety-seventh, -eighth, and -ninth soldiers to live and die were no more or less special than Mr. One-Thousand, except that they died too soon. And, of course, the obverse with Soldier One-Thousand-and-One.

It's like that Biblical story, when Abraham tries to talk his God into sparing Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of a certain number of people. He talks the Wrathful One down to sparing the cities for just 10 people -- but even as a kid, I remember it upset me that he didn't try to save the cities for the sake of one person. The tale is contradictory - on the one hand, it says the number of "good" people is irrelevant (inasmuch as he talks down the collective number of good souls) but on the other, the number is of the utmost importance (because there still must be a total of ten souls for the cities to be saved).

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