Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The horror! The horror!

Anything approaching the expression that came over his face I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of strange pride, of mental power, of avarice, of blood-thirstiness, of cunning, of excessive terror, of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life through in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried whisperingly at some image, at some vision--he cried twice, with a cry that was no more than a breath--

'The horror! The horror!'
- The Heart of Darkness
; Joseph Conrad.
From Apocalypse Now:

KURTZ: "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 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 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..."

RADIO: "PBR Street Gang, this is Almighty, over...
This is Almighty, standing by, over.
This is Almighty, how do you copy, over..."

Willard leaves the boat and starts going to Kurtz' temple with a machete:

WILLARD (voice over): "They were going to make me a major for this and I wasn't even in their fucking army any more. Everybody wanted me to do it, him most of all. I felt like he was up there, waiting for me to take the pain away. He just wanted to go out like a soldier, standing up, not like some poor, wasted, rag-assed renegade. Even the jungle wanted him dead, and that's who he really took his orders from anyway. "

Kurtz sits in the temple :

KURTZ (dictates to tape): "They train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write fuck on their airplanes because it's obscene! "

Willard kills Kurtz with a machete, simultaneously the natives sacrifice a water buffalo and kill it with their machetes .

Kurtz is dying, his final words :

KURTZ: "The horror. The horror..."

- Apocalypse Now, Transcript
; John Milius and Francis Coppola.
Most of us invest much time and energy trying to hide from the horror. We live in gated communities behind locked doors, with armed police units only three digits away. We hoard our resources, keep to our routines, and avoid strangers. We want to be safe. Our society enables this facade that safety is an external commodity. Yet, regardless of our efforts, in the middle of the night we awaken trembling; the fragility of our fate made manifest within the darkness that surrounds us. We cannot keep the horror out, because it dwells within;

...I no longer had a healthy mind that could contemplate the world in a cheerful light. I had found that any such vision was indeed infirm and weak, because I had experienced the horror that lay just beneath our ordinary waking consciousness. Nothing could change that. Even if I never had another panic attack, I would never be able to forget what I have seen...
- The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness,
Karen Armstrong.
Even though the horror is nothing new, our means of global communication is greatly enhanced today. More of humanity is being forced to confront the horror than ever before. To some, it is the death of an age of innocence. We are witnessing a time of grieving over the loss of more carefree days. Fear, denial, anger, and depression are anticipated responses.

Eventually, we must enter into acceptance. The horror is part of our reality. We do not have to surrender to it, of course. But we have to know it well. We have to know the horror that dwells in the darkness because we must enter into it. Our personal escape from the horror is not enough. We are called to enter this dark place, to guide others lost within it back into the light of hope. Our salvation is yoked to the salvation of all of creation.

We are powerless against the horror. The fragility of life, and the potential depravity of humanity, is a reality that must be faced. Only then can we admit our brokenness. Only then can we turn to a power greater than ourselves for healing. Only then do we dare to enter the darkness in search of those who are lost, not trusting in our own sputtering spark, but in the One who walks with us, the One who is is known in some traditions as the Ain Sof; Limitless Light.

Karen Armstrong found a particular poem instrumental to the rebirth of hope. May it offer such a rebirth in your life as well;

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
- Ash Wednesday I,
T.S. Eliot.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read all six parts of the poem I recommend that you read do... It's amazing...