Saturday, October 13, 2007

Death is the Future: Quae caret ora cruore nostro?


War porn. Footage of training exercises with the paradoxically named Minigun. The predictable Carmina Burana [ thanks elberry ] and heavy metal. And similar to porn, the repeated loops of the "money shots". Extensions of time, slow motion ecstasy, the desire to approach zero, the still point. And the fury of axiomatic intangibility that lurks in the heart of all calculus. What cannot be possessed must be destroyed. With rage. With vengeance. One imagines Achilles in his helicopter, in his Wrath, in his Rage.

Then Hector said, as the life ebbed out of him, "I pray you by your life and knees, and by your parents, let not dogs devour me at the ships of the Achaeans, but accept the rich treasure of gold and bronze which my father and mother will offer you, and send my body home, that the Trojans and their wives may give me my dues of fire when I am dead."

Achilles glared at him and answered, "Dog, talk not to me neither of knees nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill have done me, as I am that nothing shall save you from the dogs- it shall not be, though they bring ten or twenty-fold ransom and weigh it out for me on the spot, with promise of yet more hereafter. Though Priam son of Dardanus should bid them offer me your weight in gold, even so your mother shall never lay you out and make lament over the son she bore, but dogs and vultures shall eat you utterly up."

Hector with his dying breath then said, "I know you what you are, and was sure that I should not move you, for your heart is hard as iron; look to it that I bring not heaven's anger upon you on the day when Paris and Phoebus Apollo, valiant though you be, shall slay you at the Scaean gates."

When he had thus said the shrouds of death enfolded him, whereon his soul went out of him and flew down to the house of Hades, lamenting its sad fate that it should en' youth and strength no longer. But Achilles said, speaking to the dead body, "Die; for my part I will accept my fate whensoever Jove and the other gods see fit to send it."

- Iliad, Book XXII, Butler trans.




‘Anger’ is the first word of Western literature. ‘Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles’ is the opening prayer of Homer’s Iliad, but in the original Greek, the word mhˆnin, ‘wrath’ or ‘anger’, comes first, in the place of emphasis. The anger of Achilles is the central theme of our civilisation’s first and most powerful epic.

- Excuses for Madness, M.F. Burnyeat




War is conducted by the blind justice of necessity - nemesis. Master becomes slave and slave becomes master; it is only a question of time, a time deprived of the future. "For those whose spirits have bent under the yoke of war, the relation between death and future is different than for other men. For other men death appears as a limit set to the future; for them, however, death is the future (...) Regularly, every morning, the soul castrates itself of aspiration, for thought cannot journey through time without meeting death on the way." (A...) Thus, thought is immobilized in the present. War turns people into living corpses (still living, living in the "still"). The unbearable, never-ending, and always-beginning pain presents them with the only possible vision of deliverance. It appears:

...in an extreme and tragic aspect, the aspect of destruction. Any other solution, more moderate, more reasonable in character, would expose the mind to suffering so naked, so violent that it could not be borne, even as memory. Terror, grief, exhaustion, slaughter, annihilation of comrades - is it credible that these things should not continually tear at the soul, if the intoxication of the force had not intervened to drown them? The idea that an unlimited effort should bring it only a limited profit or no profit at all is terribly painful (...) If the existence of the enemy has made a soul destroy in itself the nature put there, then the only remedy the soul can imagine is the destruction of the enemy. At the same time the death of dearly loved comrades arouses a spirit of somber emulation, a rivalry in death. (A...)

The passion of injured time is the desire for extermination and suicide. Here, moderation is foolishness. A realm beyond force does not exist.
- Simone Weil – Love and Language by Piotr Graczyk [ pdf ]




Roof of the Rex, ground zero, men who looked like they'd been suckled by wolves, they could die right there and their jaws would work for another half-hour. This is where they asked you, 'Are you a Dove or a Hawk?' and 'Would you rather fight them here or in Pasadena?' Maybe we could beat them in Pasadena, I'd think, but I wouldn't say it, especially not here where they knew that I knew that they really weren't fighting anybody anywhere anyway, it made them pretty touchy. That night I listened while a colonel explained the war in terms of protein. We were a nation of high-protein, meat-eating hunters, while the other guy just ate rice and a few grungy fish heads. We were going to club him to death with our meat; what could you say except, 'Colonel, you're insane'? It was like turning up in the middle of some black looneytune where the Duck had all the lines. I only jumped in once, spontaneous as shock, during Tet when I heard a doctor bragging that he'd refused to allow wounded Vietnamese into his ward. 'But Jesus Christ,' I said, 'didn't you take the Hippocratic Oath?' but he was ready for me. 'Yeah,' he said, 'I took it in America.' Doomsday celebs, technomaniac projectionists; chemicals, gases, lasers, sonic-electric ballbreakers that were still on the boards; and for back-up, deep in all their hearts, there were always the Nukes, they loved to remind you that we had some, 'right here in-country.' Once I met a colonel who had a plan to shorten the war by dropping piranha into the paddies of the North. He was talking fish but his dreamy eyes were full of mega-death.

Michael Herr, Dispatches [ via ]




It is well that war is so terrible;
else we would grow too fond of it.

--Robert E. Lee, U.S. general.
Said to another general during the battle of Fredericksburg (1862).




I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

- Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now


2 comments:

elberry said...

That was a really powerful post, thank you. It's not Wagner, by the way, it's Carl Orff's 'O Fortuna' (a light-hearted song to Fortune) from his Carmina Burana.

i think i'll write my own post about this in a couple of months. That was a really disturbing video.

Alana Keres said...

How in the dies irae do you do it? Scot, 15 seconds into this video I was weeping blood. Couldn't even go past about 40 seconds of it, had to put it away. Sometimes your ability to simply stand and *see* sends me right off of my rocker.

Thanks for the nudge about Homer and the "A" word. Now if I can just stop shaking...