Karl-Erik Tallmo on Fri, 14 Dec 2001 08:30:20 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> At Twin and None

It has been three months now, and I found this text from September on 
my computer:


Stocks, sports. Disasters. Catastrophes. Headlines had been big 
before. Suddenly it happens. The flames, the dust, the screams. And 
then yet another crash. The scale of it, the high fidelity of it, the 
threedimensionality of it, it's all there, "Jesus fucking Christ", 
human eyes panning towards the sky, camera eyes panning towards the 
sky, the smoke, the debris - soon televised. Again. And again and 
again and again. The sequel to earlier televised, photographed, 
cinematographed, fictionalized, factionalized, infomercialized, 
docudramatized versions. The first tower. The second tower. The first 
tower. The second tower. Again and again. Shown for days, and 
re-shown, trying to undo itself. And everybody is interviewed, people 
in the streets, prime ministers, people working in grocery stores in 
France, in grocery stores in Sweden - or Singapore: they all say, it 
was just like a movie. The highest degree of realism: the movie, the 
photograph, that devastating supremacy of simulacrum. "Independence 
Day" or "The Siege" or "Escape from New York", and we don't know if 
it is an explanation in retrospect, or, an inspiration for 
perpetrators. They all stand there, like shields of film strips or 
magnetic tapes, between the subjunctive and the indicative, and, I am 
ashamed to admit, even I, when looking at those repeatedly, and 
again, repeatedly televised images, those moving images of that 
airplane creeping through the unsuspecting, cerulean air, towards 
that adamantine facade, even I aestheticize, my hair on end, a loud 
howl in my ears, and still I aestheticize: the bright sunlight on the 
dust clouds, the sharp bluish brown shadows, that picture both 
smudged and clear at the same time, the color of the sky, the 
violence, it's like that painting by Turner, "Cottage Destroyed by an 
Avalanche". Or is it maybe "The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last 
berth, to be broken up"? So crisp, like something by Richard Estes. 
And then there's Ballard. Crash. High-Rise. Atrocities. My heart 
crumples into a tiny ball of useless paper manuscripts, and again I 
hear "Jesus fucking Christ", a voice like from a prompter, trying to 
help me phrase - - something. And in the background I hear the 
speaker from the 1937 news-reel, when the Hindenburg took fire, the 
speaker's voice that has haunted me, ever since I heard it first, how 
the human eye was transformed by this new medium, the seer seeing on 
behalf of a nameless crowd, screaming out on behalf of who knows who: 
"Oh the humanity!" ... and he cries into the microphone. "Jesus 
fucking Christ" - is compassion still possible?

What can one say. Or write. I wish I could ask the reader to tell 
what I have not yet written. That is truly what writing is about, 
being a link more hyper than anything, linking the write time with 
the read time. And maybe the teacher, who I suspect is rather strict, 
will not even find out we cheated.

How could we ever - ? How can we - a happening as huge? Still there 
were millions, a few decades ago, you-all-now-what! And there were 
millions in olden days too, in medieval days, during antiquity. 
Sameness doesn't change - and neither does man. They say.

So what remains for us with time and peace? I was just struggling 
with those eternal questions, those eternal questions that sometimes 
seem so uncalled-for: does God exist, is God really a good force, 
since people on this earth are starving and suffering, or is that His 
way of trying us all, asking us with a voice without sound but full 
of action: Are You Worthy You All? Then for the first time on this 
side of the Enlightenment we hear bearded disciples invoking the very 
deity I am trying to comprehend, as their leading star and commander 
- how sure they are, how doubtful I am, how frightening they are, and 
how they frighten me with their confidence, their confidence in my 
anticipated redeemer.

Then I hear them, those petty voices talking in a very matter-of-fact 
tone about repression, imperialism and the Western way of life 
encapsulating its own punishment. I have only been to a ballgame 
once, but all of a sudden it seems as if I am back there. Every 
single move from one of the teams brings on unanimous cheers.

Who are those people who tell me that my compassion is not genuine? 
That I am a hypocrite? They say I did not mourn when people died 
elsewhere. What do they know? No minutes of silence any of the other 
days when 20,000 children die, they say. Or for people dying because 
of bad housing, or no housing, or environmental poisons or safety 
neglect in the industry? Or for the plotted deaths of city planners, 
calculating some formula for the highest allowed death rate on 
certain highways?

I shed tears every time people are eradicated by earthquakes, famine 
or bombs whether it be with the lot of Abraham or Ibrahim. What 
presumptuousness allows someone to deny me of my right to mourn my 
fellow men? I believe some scars, many scars, maybe most scars when 
you look at them more closely, go way beyond team-spirits or 
dogmatism. Some scars, maybe most scars, the deep scars inflicted 
into the very gut of us all, should move us all, should awake our 
compassion regardless.

There are certainly minutes of mourning everywhere, years of 
mourning, decades. And maybe mass death of any kind, still, after 
all, somehow, goes beyond politics - not beyond insanity and 
fanaticism surely, but beyond politics? Earthquakes, floods, sinking 
ships, AIDS. Maybe there are personal sorrows and sorrows deep enough 
to touch our oldest parts, parts old enough maybe to even keep 
imprints of an amphibian subsistence of ours, and suddenly it is as 
if humanity itself had been struck by a huge blow, a boot in the 
ant-hill, a threat against our species, not just the Reaper calmly 
attending to his usual slow harvest, but suddenly getting some 
unexpected assistance of monstrous efficacy.

But, when humans inflict wounds as big as that upon themselves, we 
are deeply affected by it, shocked, sickened, like when witnessing 
some poor soul deliberately, methodically, cutting himself or 
molesting himself. Yet healing is still possible. Is it not?

© Karl-Erik Tallmo, December 11, 2001.



    KARL-ERIK TALLMO, Swedish writer, lecturer

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