Posts Tagged suffering
“I have so many selves, I cannot contain them all” –Kobo Abe
Never enough hand sanitizer
Bottles and bottles everywhere
But not a drop to drink
A bathtub filled with antiseptic
For the terminally dyspeptic
And still not enough to drown in
Never enough hand sanitizer
To kill the sin of germs
To kill the pain of waking
To kill the dissonance and consonance
Of everyday hell
Never enough hand sanitizer
To sting the wound into unbeing
All factors beyond the control
Of those who wish to vanquish
And be vanquished
Never enough hand sanitizer
To ebb the fatal tide
As the mass of men lead lives of desolate calculation
Never to emerge from slumber
Even in our waking nightmare
(A heavy set man named Oliver stands alone in the center of a nearly endless, empty but brightly lit furniture store. He is greeted by a thin, cheerful man with a name badge that reads “Stan”)
Stan: Can I help you with something, Sir?
Oliver: Well, I’m in the process of moving from an apartment into a house. I have more room and am in need of some new furniture to fill the place out.
Stan: Great, well you’ve come to the right place. What are you looking for first?
Oliver: Well, I’ll need a new couch.
Stan: Right this way.
(Stan leads down a row of dining room tables into a bank of couches)
Stan: Are you looking for a sectional, maybe a divan….
Oliver: (pointing at a large, rather non-descript red couch) That one…over there. I like that.
Stan: Ah yes! Our 20th Century Persian Sectional. Very popular item.
Oliver: I don’t mean to be rude, but I’d like to cut right to the chase. I have a budget I’m working with. I’ve seen this couch before at another store but it was too expensive. If you offer me a good deal on it, I’m pretty much sold. What’s it cost?
Stan: No problem at all. I like working with someone who wants to get right down to business. (pulling a tag from behind the couch) This couch right here will cost you the first twelve nights you spent alone after your wife and children left you and the funeral of your Aunt Sally.
Oliver: Wow. That’s a bit steep for a couch. The IKEA up the street only wanted the week my father was in a coma after the construction accident and the time my dog froze to death on the back porch when I was six.
Stan: Hmmm…..Okay, look, you’ve got me over a bit of a barrel here. I’ll be frank with you, I need to move some merchandise pretty quickly. Got a new shipment coming in, plus my boss needs to see some numbers. You seem like a nice fellow, how about I ask you for the time your parents locked you in a closet for five hours because you got caught smoking and the time you were eight and your uncle punched you in the face because he thought you had hidden the remote control?
Oliver: Not bad. Will you throw in the ottoman?
Oliver: We have a deal. Now, let’s see about a bed for the guest room.
Stan: (hurriedly moving to the bed section) Right this way.
Oliver: Looking for a queen-sized mattress and an upscale looking frame. Oak maybe. What’s that set over there run?
Stan: Well, that one will set you back the week after you were first diagnosed with diabetes, the time you got fired from your high school job at Target because you fell asleep in the stock room and the death of your good friend Ralph.
Oliver: That’s just too much. This is going in the guest room. Do you have anything a bit more reasonable?
Stan: Well, this set in the corner will only run you the time you got cut from the JV basketball team and the car accident where you caused that man to be in intensive care for five weeks. And it’s quite sturdy.
Oliver: Sold. Now, all I’m really in need of are some end tables for the living room and a recliner and I’ve got everything I need.
Stan: Well, I’ve got a recliner over here that I think you are going to love. Check out this little number.
Oliver: (sitting down in a huge leather chair and leaning back) Oh yeah! Stan, may I call you that….
Oliver: Stan, this is like heaven on earth. I haven’t been this comfortable in a long time. This would be perfect for the living room.
Stan: Well, you sure picked the right day to visit us! That’s a closeout special. Do you like the style of table next to it?
Oliver: Very much.
Stan: Here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll get you the recliner and two end tables just like that one as a package. All you need to give me are the ten or so experiences of sexual inadequacy with women you’ve accumulated in the last three years and it’s yours. What do you say?
Oliver: Well, it’s a great chair…..
Stan: Imagine putting your feet up on a Sunday and watching the game in that chair. Think of how comfortable you’ll be. Think of how much joy this will bring you. Think of all the pain and suffering this will substitute for. You don’t need anything in this world but a comfortable chair and a place to put your feet up. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that.
Oliver: Stan, you’ve got yourself a deal. When can it be delivered?
Stan: Well, delivery will cost the week that in elementary school that everyone decided to ignore you because someone caught you picking your nose. I could have it in your home by Friday. Just write down your address and I’ll have the fellas bring it on by.
Oliver: Sounds like a plan. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.
Stan: Likewise, Oliver. Likewise.
(The two men shake hands)
When something terrible, something truly unforgivable occurs, we often look to the language for comfort. One readymade expression that is used to comfort us in times of genuine despair and confusion is “Never Forget”. This expression has become a part of our post-9/11 mourning process. The idea behind it is that if we don’t forget the horrors of that terrible day it will have some meaning for us. Then, maybe we can use those feelings of pain and grief in order to achieve some balance in the world. We can right the wrongs of that day, on some level, through an act of national collective memory.
As comforting as that idea may be, I wonder if it really has achieved what we’ve wanted from it. It has been 10 years since that day and few have forgotten. The test of an idea is its manifestation in the world we live in. Has clinging to the memory of 9/11 made the world a better place? Have we used our memories to heal the wounds of that day? Some would believe that we have. I do not. I look out into a world where we are mired in two of the longest wars in U.S. history, into a world consumed by turmoil, into a world where chaos and strife are commonplace, into a world where we have seemingly lost all faith in the systems that have been created to help us, into a world where the center surely has not held. We have remembered, but our memory has served us poorly.
Al-Queda has been weakened significantly. If that was the goal of not forgetting, then we can argue it has been effective. But, was that all we wanted? Was disrupting the actions of a small, but vicious terrorist group all we were hoping for after that terrible day? I believe that America saw the terror of that day and wanted desperately to be part of a world where that sort of thing could not happen again, not just here, but anywhere. For a brief and fleeting moment, we stood together. Ten years later, we are a deeply polarized nation, extended far beyond our means, spiraling from one catastrophe to the next without much hope for a better world. Ten years later, we may be safer from Al-Qaeda, but as a whole, our world is an unmitigated disaster.
There is no clear consensus on what 9/11 actually meant. Some people believe that its meaning is that we need to use all means at our disposal to crush anything that resembles a threat, some people have taken the message that we should curb our military adventurism, some people have taken the message that all Muslims are evil, some have taken the message that the world should come together in spite of religious and racial differences. It is even become relatively acceptable to question whether the U.S. government itself was complicit in the horrors of that day. We all remember, but our memories have led us to a very different place.
I’m going to suggest a radically different approach to how to cope with the anniversary of 9/11. It will probably be viewed in some circles as highly disrespectful, but I assure you that no disrespect is intended. I believe that the central lesson of 9/11 is that terrible things happen to innocent people for no reason whatsoever. It is an unjust world where some things can never be explained or properly understood. Life is filled with random and capricious acts of horror that take place everyday. Our responsibility is to lessen the suffering of the living, not to compensate for the horrors inflicted upon the dead. We have remembered, but we have not healed, we have not grown and we have not made a better world for our children. For those who lost loved ones, it will be impossible to forget that day, but for the rest of us it is time to move on. We cannot create a better world from our past, but we have a greater obligation to create a better future from the world around us today.
We have lived in the looming shadows of those buildings for ten years. Maybe it is time to forget. Not from a place of ignorance or disinterest, but from a need to build a healthier, safer world. Instead of remembering the violence of the past, we can renounce the use of violence in the present. Instead of thinking of the paradise that was lost to us, we can build a new, more beautiful world out of the tools of compassion and empathy. The past is over and that day can never be changed. The present and the future extend before us filled with promise and possibility. We have cried, we have mourned, we have prayed, and we have paid our debts to the dead. It is time to move on.
The second song on the record “Carnal Forge” is one of the more lyrically challenging songs I’ve encountered. When I first got a copy of the record, I sat there with a dictionary for an hour trying to figure out what on earth Carcass was talking about. Jeff Walker is known for having a remarkable vocabulary and this song proves it. Unless you scored in the top one percentile on your college boards, you are going to need help with a few of the words he uses. As a service to our readership with IQs below 160, I took the lyrics and clarified them a bit.
(A massacre that takes many different forms)
(A vulgar, disgusting display of death)
Sublime enmangling steelbath
(A glorious, destructive bath)
Of escheated atrocities
(Of things lost to the State through terrible acts)
Enigmatic longanimity of ruminent mass graves
(Quiet graves that show a mysterious ability to suffer without sound)
Meritorious victory, into body-bags now scraped…
(A great win worthy of recognition that is shown by a high body count)
(The authority and power of piles of dead bodies)
The dead regorged
(The dead shot out of their graves)
Osculatory majestic wrath
(A union of beautiful anger)
This carnal forge
(Human forms beaten and molded like a blacksmith working with metal)
Desensitized – to perspicuous horror
(No longer able to feel the awfulness of horror)
Dehumanized – fresh cannon fodder…
(Humans reduced to objects and killed on the battlefield)
(Something awful being praised for its greatness)
(An obvious massacre)
Dehumanized – cannon fodder
(Murder in a way that is clean and neat)
(Murder made holy)
Desensitized – to genocide
(No longer capable of feeling what is wrong with mass murder)
(Piles of dead bodies ruling over the land)
(Death shot upwards)
(Being drenched with blood)
(Bloodshed and death turned into something else)
In the cold, callous dignity of the mass grave…
(Respectful mass graves without feeling)
(Violence taking different forms and leading to a massacre)
Cruel, mendacious creed
(Evil, lying system of belief)
Sublime, murderous bloodbath
Of fiscal atrocities
(A massacre having to do with money)
Inexorable mettle in redolent consommé
(Unstoppable courage blended into a pleasant smelling soup)
An opprobious crucible of molten human waste…
(A disgraceful furnace of melting bodies)
(Bodies piled up to the sky)
(Endlessly shot upwards)
The smelting butchery
(A process of separating metals, a process of slaughtering animals)
Of the carnal forge
Desensitized – to pragmatic murder
(No longer feeling the horror of murder which is committed for practical purposes)
Dehumanized – into cannon fodder…
(Turned into non-human form and destroyed without feeling)
“Carnal Forge” is a searing study of the horrific nature of war. The whole “war is bad” theme has been done to death in heavy metal, but through the use of clever language and Joycean puns, Carcass is able to breathe life into a hackneyed lyrical concept. The major motif in the song is the monstrous merger between mechanized and human form. The effect is that the listener has a difficult time distinguishing between the two. This melding of forms stresses the concept of dehumanization in an even more immediate way. When Walker sings of “inexorable mettle in redolent consommé” he is giving the image of a soup made from mettle (courage) but also a soup made from metal (the human form turned into scrap). “Fiscal atrocities” means the destruction of capital, but also is meant to imply physical atrocity (the destruction of the human form). In these puns, we see a world where the lines blur between the animate and inanimate. When this line is obliterated, so are we. Our willingness to see humans as objects makes it possible for us to murder those who share our likeness. It is in the Carnal Forge of war that our human characteristics are lost.
The ultimate irony of this destruction through desensitization is that it is so engrained in some circles that it is not greeted with horror. Instead, it is celebrated. Soldiers who return are feted with parades; those who do not are given dignified, stately memorials. The dead do not care about these things. They do not care about the flags that cover their caskets, they are not interested in the soldiers firing skyward in their honor, and they do not gaze proudly at their names etched into stone walls. They cease to feel anything in the name of country or God or safety or resources or land or whatever-reason-was-given-to-them as they take their final journey into endless night.
There is no honor in death. The dead only know coldness and silence. Yet through a stroke of pure madness, many believe that the great wrongs that have been committed can be righted through ceremony. The louder we shout our love for the soldiers, the easier it is to forget the great waste of life that has been sacrificed in our names. Even the veneration of the dead is an act of objectification that makes future suffering more possible and even more likely.
Remembrance of their anguish does not wipe the slate clean. It is not for them; it is for us. A genuine act of contrition would be to create a world where massacres are entirely unacceptable, no matter who commits them. We do not live in that world. Instead, we live in a world where idle actions and traditions absolve us of our responsibility to stop the madness of war.
(Special thanks to Metal Matt Longo for his brilliant edit of this. Thanks to his fine work this article is being simulcast by the good folks over at MindOverMetal.org. Stop on by. Tell’em Keith sent ya!)
Heartwork, the 1993 release by Carcass, is easily one of the most compelling metal albums ever recorded. First and foremost, it is an explosion of monstorous guitar riffs, frenetic drumming and raging energy. The music is captivating and overwhelming. Heartwork is a remarkably powerful lyrical album that deals intelligently with issues like globalization, dehumanization and existential dread. The music has been widely praised by many music journalists. The lyrics, however, have been given scant attention. Jeff Walker, the band’s singer, bass player and chief lyricist, envisions a world that is entirely devoid of human feeling or empathy. Walker’s adept use of language, particularly double entendre, lays bare the man’s inhumanity in all of its baseness. His world is an empty one, filled only with sorrow, guilt and deep-seated hatred.
The album behaves like a book, each song a chapter examining a set of widely held beliefs and contrasting them with his vision of a world gone completely insane. Over the next few months, I will attempt to analyze the themes and ideas song by song in an attempt to convey the inventiveness of Walker’s lyrics as well as the perspicacity of his message.
Welcome, to a world of hate
A life of buried dreams
Smothered, by the soils of fate
Welcome, to a world of pain
Bitterness your only wealth
The sand of time kicked in your face
Rubbed in your face
When aspirations are squashed
When life’s chances are lost
When all hope is gone
When expectations are quashed
When self-esteem is lost
When ambition is mourned
…All you need is hate
In futility, for self-preservation
We all need someone
Someone to hate
Buried Dreams is a nightmare vision of a world completely unconnected to its humanity. It serves as an overview of the themes that are addressed in each song and is a great starting point because it contains the most unambiguous lines on the record. In Walker’s “world of hate”, humans begin their journey in life filled with hope only to see that hope slowly eroded by the fixed nature of reality. This reality is the death and pain experienced by all humanoid beings. It is immovable, unchangeable and constant. Humans search blindly in the dark for some reason, some deeper meaning that will connect the dots and make the pain they experience intelligible. We fill ourselves with illusions in order to soften the blow of this horrible truth. As the truth becomes more real, we grasp harder at the illusion but ones commitment to an illusion will never make that deception a reality. We slowly come to terms with the understanding that there is no connection, there is no one tending the fire and the center simply does not hold. Once this veneer of meaning has been stripped away there is nothing left to hold onto but pure visceral hatred.
By experiencing hatred for something, we are given the ability to overcome our basic alienation from ourselves all the while connecting to the other beings around us. Love would be another way to connect, but the drawback of love is that it is fleeting. Its initial joy is snuffed out by the understanding that our basic existential problem, death, will cause love to one day give way to sorrow and despair. If you connect with hatred you never have to feel loss because the eventual vanquishing of your foe will be greeted with a feeling of joy and accomplishment. No one mourns the death of their enemy.
On the surface, the lyrics could be read as a simplistic explanation of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 30s and 40s. A society like Germany, which was drowning in debt and filled with impoverished humans recovering from the insanity of years of mindless trench warfare, was ready for the message of hate that Hitler brought. I believe the song is meant to have much more of a timeless message with broader overtones about the human condition. The line that universalizes this song is “in futility, for self-preservation, we all need someone…someone to hate.” This is a Hobbesian view of a world of beings so frightened of death that they are willing to do anything to avoid it, even if they know that their actions are eventually pointless. We are willing to create a Leviathan that may kill us for our disobedience in order to be safe. The wall each of us run into is death and we are willing to embrace any idea that allows us to fully avoid thinking about our eventual consequence. We are willing to embrace ideas that are self-destructive in order to escape the fear of death. If this isn’t true, then how do you explain war? This horrible irony of our basic condition is that we long to avoid death, but we do so in a way that often hastens its coming.
And so our dreams are buried as we are carried kicking and screaming to our own certain demise. We mask our fears with delusions of enemies all around us. We think that we can stop the inevitable if we bomb that thing or execute this thing but with our last dying breath we are reminded of the futility of all of it. Even hate cannot save us. The final, horrible irony of our Buried Dreams is that we will eventually be buried next to them.
(I am pretty darned excited to announce that this series will also be running at MindOverMetal.org, one of my favorite metal sites. Special thanks to my homeboy Metal Matt Longo who not only agreed to run the thing, but even gave me a fantastic title for the series and some killer editing ideas. Anyway those dudes speak truth and wisdom over there, check’em out)