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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

just a line 2

this follows on from another post found here http://waywardfoe.blogspot.com/2012/11/just-line-1.html

The more we know, it seems, the more we regret it. The new James Bond movie begins with an exhilarating chase across streets with guns, motorcycles and trains. The opening sequence comes to a head with Bond and the villain fighting atop a train. One of Bond’s colleagues is stationed nearby with a sniper fixed on the warring couple, the shot is hazy and uncertain, a bullet could hit either one. As the sequence draws to a close the shot becomes more certain. She reports back to headquarters that she has a clear shot and if she should fire now she would hit Bond. Her orders come back, “take the bloody shot!” She does hitting Bond square in the chest and sending him down into the icy embrace of a cold pool at the bottom. When next we see him he is a mess. Living in a tropical island somewhere, waking up to a bottle of beer and dragging himself through days whose main promise is barroom bets. He drinks with a purpose. He believed in his superiors and always suspected that when the time came he would be sacrificed in the stead of what was good for his country but he didn’t know. He couldn’t know until then. Suspicions are illusions, like the people in the cover of Some Monday for Sure they are always half formed. They hide behind masks and take shapes that we can’t quite see. They are as familiar as true knowledge but they shimmer and shake and freeze us in inaction. The clear certainty of knowledge, the crystallized, unsatinized world view that comes of intelligence too sharp to begin fooling itself results in this; an intelligence whose only recourse is to numb itself.

The true curse of excessive intelligence may be the need to have things as either completely fair or completely random. To either believe that the universe must be intelligent enough that things are happening for a reason or that nothing is and subsequently nothing matters. Some are able to mitigate these circumstances but some like Ivan and the character from the Nadine Godimer story are tormented by their intelligence. Tortured night and day like a ghost that refuses to die, shifty and not quite there but always in the background, a song you can’t get out of your head, a taste your tongue will not forget. It bring up memories and feelings, the whole world is coated with the pain of all those around you. Your empathy is your  cross and the intelligence needed to figure out just how much empathy the world really needs is the reason you can’t  bear it.
Christianity tells us that on his way to Calgary Jesus bore all the sins of mankind. There can be few things worse than carrying around the guilt for all the actions of more than one human being. Carrying our own load tires us out, it makes us spiteful and mean and suspicious. It leads us to believe that because we did evil others can do it too. Carrying another’s load would be doubly as hard. And if there is anything that flows in more abundance than guilt it is grief. If I could imagine the depth of grief that is borne in the world today by all the people in it, I would see an abyss too huge to void, too dark to light and what is required to see it for what it is an intelligence that would be too difficult to bear. After all even Jesus at the end of his road asked for some wine to ease the way.

What else do we know about this man from this most descriptively efficient sentence?

He must brood. I can see him as being a great time at a party (as opposed to having one), being crack whip with the jokes but soon he sits there and gets drunker and drunker and when he gets to the end of the bottle he realises what we all do; the answer is never at the end of the bottle and the hope that we will get to the answer this time is what drives us to drink in the first place. Then he will get home and sleep in the only way he can. Too drunk to dream, too tired to think, too exhausted to empathize. In the morning the sun will check in on him and he will wake up bleary and tired. Even this feeling of being only half alive he will prefer to the anguish he knows awaits him when his mind is clear. A man like this would be a study in wasted potential, he will be the guy who everyone says was, “so smart but I don’t know what happened, he could have done great things.” Instead he will wake up and expend the bare minimum of energy necessary to take him to his next bout with alcohol. At this point it isn’t a friend the alcohol and he knows this. No friend would lie to him so consistently; no friend would trick him time and time again with promises of oblivion just to return him to the world where that other curse is awaiting him. By now he considers alcohol an enemy but one he is comfortable with. In the middle of their grapples, when they have a hold of each other, nothing else matters and he prefers having that moment to all the others. This is not a solution he knows but it can’t matter. It is, to quote an episode of Mad Men a temporary bandage over a permanent wound. His intelligence betrayed him and now he would rather kill himself than give in to the pain of letting it win, letting it show him over and over what the world is really like. And for our man, this particular character in these particular circumstances, an extremely intelligent black man born in the midst of apartheid South Africa.  Born in a place where his natural talents added only more frustration to his already hard life. Born in a place where he would see people less capable than him given things that were rightfully his, knowing this wasn’t right and maybe even trying to fight it before the overwhelming weight everything finally crushed him. It would be too much

With that one sentence, “he drinks to deaden the pain of his intelligence,” a whole man sprang Athena-like to my mind mythic and mystic. Words and books have a tag-team effort with the person reading them. A mirror only looks how we want it to look, how we have taught ourselves to make it look, it only sees the things already there. My description of the man and my sense of deep empathy towards him are a result of my life experiences and the deep, dark fears that I can confront in print. We can be any of the characters in a great book but we know who we do not want to be and we know who we are most scared of becoming. By reading it we are looking for ourselves because being alone in the world may be the hardest thing. Loneliness walks hand in hand with fear and the greatest disappointment we have may be that we didn’t share anything with anyone.

It does not have to be material goods that we share. It can be the things a lot of people feel are even more important. A fear, a dream, a secret, a great love. To know that we didn’t have to share it in order for someone else to know how it felt can be a great relief. The angst of teenage-hood with the often derided, “you people don’t understand me,” is great for a while. For a lot of our lives we are defined by other things and we are so-and-so’s son or sister. And at the point when we want to define who we really are it may be important for us to think that the people we were defined in comparison to have absolutely nothing to do with us. They don’t know what it’s like being us, how could they? Later we realise that it’s not that simple and smile wryly when the next generation does the same. We understand that they think we don’t get them because were them. As you get older and have more control of your identity and life it’s easier to see the similarities that arise out of all these things. And that teenage angst gets assuaged by realising that a lot of people are a lot like us.

For a long time we find purpose in supposing we are different. Our emotions aren’t like those that came before, our relationships are made of different building blocks, our paths and ideals will not be corrupted by all that happens in the world. But as we grow older we realise how much of a farce all this is. The world can be changed and we can be unique but someone else felt the things we felt, our emotions are not all ours, we can find the thoughts we have been thinking, thoughts still so abstract we couldn’t put words to them in the speech of a character in a Russian novel from the 19th century. We can hear our deepest desire described eloquently by a person on the other side of the world and we can realise that we no longer have to feel alone. Everyone has a cross to bear but bearing it alone; believing that you have to because your intelligence is completely unlike that of anyone around you is the thing that will make you drink to deaden its pain.

And that’s the last thing we learn about the man, he was lonely. He believed himself different from all those around him. He felt the pain of the world but was not brave enough to let the world feel his. And despite the vast intelligence he had the only solution he could think of was to drink and drink until he couldn’t feel his pain either. No man is an island and those who believe they are soon sink.