Friday, March 22, 2013

Sunken Ships

When one dives down into the dark waters of the mind, shipwrecks arise, spilling their corpses and outdated coins into the current. Such a discovery need must be uncomfortable - but even worse is not being able to get down there at all. When buoyancy forces you to keep to the surface waters, where you can still see the sun, and the filthy submerged things reach you from a distance, giving you no chance to confront them - this is worse.

This week: too much of the latter, not enough of the former. Let's talk violence.

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I've been rereading old Goss posts, and came across one in particular that resonated with me this week: The Black River. I'm going to quote rather extensively:

I think at some level, I can understand why someone might be driven to acts of destruction. We call those acts senseless, but I’m not sure they are, and I suspect that part of my duty, as a writer, is to make sense of them...To understand [violence], I have to understand what creates violent or destructive impulses in myself.
A lot of writers have said similar things: to be a writer is to examine even the ugliest parts of being human. At sixteen I can't claim to have had many very unpleasant experiences, but, being sixteen and therefore an angry teenager, I can understand what drives some people to violence.

Thinking about this, I immediately remembered Freud’s idea of the death drive, the desire for something that is not life, for a return to the inorganic...I can understand the desire for violence as a rupture of the ordinary, of daily continuity. I can understand how in certain circumstances, someone might want something, anything, to happen. A war, a bomb, a shooting.
All true, but my understanding of the violent drive would also include the desire to assert power by (over)compensating for weakness. Personal example: Once, late at night, I heard strange noises in the backyard. Before getting my parents, who were five seconds upstairs, I turned on all the lights I could and got the biggest knife I could find from the kitchen. If it had been a robber, I was fully prepared to cause injury. (It was not a robber. It was a raccoon and my dad chased it away with a broom.)

Another possible incentive to violence: nostalgia for times when physical contest was a legitimate way to settle a dispute. I'm not just talking about duels or pre-civilization club-fights, I'm also talking about elementary school. Somehow, in the right mood, it seems cleaner to hit someone who annoys you instead of talking it out. More noble, somehow.

Before anyone gets worried about my mental health: I know it isn't. There is nothing noble in hurting another person - but perhaps there is something liberating. Now I'm on the same territory as Goss: violence as someone's backlash/rebellion to the stifling daily routine. Like an oscillator: compress a spring (make people "be good", where good is defined as a straightjacket) and when something happens to release it, it will expand past equilibrium with all the force of the spring constant times the distance. *

I believe it’s important to understand [violence], because only by understanding something can we present an alternative.

I believe that the opposite of violence is not peace, but art.

Art is a way to commit the extraordinary, to rupture ordinary life. To move us to a different plane of significance. It is the way to express most completely all that we are, including our will to life, our desire for death. A great work of art is an apocalypse, a bomb in the mind. It is at once an act of creation and destruction.
All my recent talk about expunging the poison from your soul/the filth from your blood relates directly to the above quote. Violence is not a morally acceptable outlet for anger; creation is.

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Song for this week: "Broken" by Sonata Arctica, a band my friend recommended to me last fall but which I've only looked up now.

I´d give my everything to you, follow you through the garden of oblivion
If only I could tell you everything, the little things you'll never dare to ask me...

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*To continue the physics analogy a little:
U = .5*k*x**2
is the equation for the potential energy of a spring.

k is the spring constant - corresponding, in the analogy, to a person's natural predilection toward violence
x is the distance from equilibrium - corresponding to how much a person is forced [by what? many things] to repress their natural urges

I know that it's foolhardy to draw direct comparisons between human behavior and mathematical models. However, notice that the x term is squared while k is not. If we were to take this equation literally in describing potential for violence, it would seem to indicate that anyone, pushed far enough, can become violent. "Always the quiet ones"?

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