Saturday, October 13, 2007

perhaps the phonograph needs a new needle

one way of starting: i was speaking to a class of honors freshman the other day, discussing why it's important to study the "great books." at one point, i referred to "humans," and then i corrected myself and said, "people," and then i again corrected myself and said "not that the two are necessarily the same thing." the first question after my talk was about this distinction. what did i mean? i told them that i'm still working this out, but that it is i think unfortunate that we have so few ways to talk about homo sapiens. it's risky to refer to any person as "not-human." but it's also risky to refer to all people as "human." we need better definitions, or at least i need better definitions, i said.

or another way of starting: people post things on blogs all the time, and they say "i cried when i read this; the world is a horrible place." and usually i read them, and usually i agree that in that context the world is a horrible place. but i've developed quite a thorough distancing response from this kind of information. when i did some serious reading on the holocaust as an undergraduate, i reached a point where i could not think anymore. that horror, like a cloud of wasps on the horizon, approached, attacked, and overwhelmed me with each particular moment of trauma.

this is when i turned to aesthetic theory, so i could investigate this kind of situation but remain outside of it. i've been trying to deal with the implications of this stance since reading Mann's Dr. Faustus a couple of years ago - aesthetic formalization begs the question of one's own humanity. this is one of the reasons that i've become so interested in concepts of "care," "love," "touch..." though i'm only beginning to really investigate the wonderful literature around these terms. they make aesthetics possible again. there's a certain kind of redemption there.

and then i read something like this. and everything becomes more complicated again. i don't understand how to deal with this kind of dehumanization. the sheer numbers combined with the brutality. the idea that these men may have been psychologically damaged by years of genocidal conflict. the fact that these rapes are so widespread - how many men are committing them?

i know that this is not the first case of rape being used in warfare. i know it's not the worst. i know that constructing this as a "crisis" situation, pointing towards the imminent end of the world, is no more effective than it can be in any of the thousands of cases in which this kind if thing has happened.

what i don't know is how to incorporate this into my ideas of what "human" is. all of my thought-structures about form, politics, regiment, dehumanized aesthetics - they break here. this is a different kind of coldness, so inextricably connected to and also disconnected from sexuality, that i am again in unfamiliar and reiterative territory. there are many things to say here about the state's role in such acts, about the inversion of social values. these are important things to say and investigate, and a critical part of the way this particular kind of people seem to come into the world. right now, though, i'm hung up on these broken people themselves, the ones who commit these kinds of acts. i cannot think them effectively. they are so other. i do not know how to conceptualize this kind of brokenness.

and so, thinking stops. i will write more about this later. i do not know how or if this place i am in is productive or necessary or what. but for now, i am on a static repeat, like a finished record.

so much so that i don't know how to end this.

i just keep wanting to repeat, statically.

like a finished record.

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