Monday, July 12, 2010

Heart of Darkness

Today's Thoughts: (has my formatting changed? Like, did it used to be a lower-case T in "thoughts"?)(Is it retarded to say "lower-case T" but make the T upper-case? These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night)

First of all, I thought I'd write a bit about my prose style. Despite the fact that it makes perfect sense to me, I can entirely understand that it would read to most people as a garbled, convoluted mess with clauses being inserted where has no clause has ever been designed, or desired, to go. Also, the sentences are really long.

The reason for this, mes amis, is once again the way my brain works. I simply write the way I would speak, and that entails a lot of pausing and inserting in bits of information that I feel are relevant to that exact part of the sentence. For this reason, my favourite bits of punctuation are hyphens, brackets and ellipses... as I'm sure has become obvious.

A measure of deeper introspection that I undertook yesterday revealed that the reason I insist on adding these clauses is because I have an almost paralysing fear of being misunderstood. When I'm talking to someone about something important I'm crippled by the fear that should they misinterpret what I'm saying, regardless of whether I later clarify it, the damage is already done. For this reason I'm constantly trying to erase variables in my words and provide a solid foundation of understanding in what I'm saying, as I'm saying it, as it occurs to me. Needless to say, my speech gets very stilted and frankly I think writing is a better medium for me since it allows me to consider my words.

Now, on to today's topic. This one gets extra spacing to separate it from the above paragraphs because it's super important. Or, well, super grave. Last night I finished a detective novel I had been reading on and off for some time. It was a combination of life in Venice and the usual gritty cop stuff - this time prostitution, human trafficking and sex slavery. Feel-good stuff that might have stirred anger and revulsion in me, but is what you expect in thrillers these days (jaded Western consumer that you are).

What I didn't expect, could never have anticipated, is the sheer horror to which the last few chapters were devoted. Without going into the greatest detail (the book is called A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon, if you want to read it)(don't) the plot was revealed to concern the creation and distribution of snuff films, including a soul-defiling description of the filming process. I was so revolted I literally threw up - nothing spectacular, just a reacquaintance with dinner in the back of my throat, but the anecdote still stands.

Having not slept, there are various lines of thought that have visited me, and it seemed relevant to bring them up here like so much veal schnitzel. I can't completely remember the minutiae of my thoughts, but the broad topics are as follows

Censorship: Should I have not read the book? Was it better for me to remain ignorant and unthinking of this horror (there really is no other word for it) than to have the knowledge of the world but also the sickening feeling of despair and impotence? And given that the book was from my old high school's library, are there places where such literature should not be made available to the general populace?

Armed with hindsight, I think reading the book was the right thing to do. While I would rather not have done so, if I had been actively given the choice it would have been nothing short of cowardice to refuse. A cowardice born of the futile, ineffectual and self-destructive - but entirely human - desire to view the world as we would want it to be rather than how it is. As for the school censorship, I honestly believe that the book should be included and even promoted. Nothing shakes a private schoolboy's smug sense of self-entitlement like graphic depictions of third-world living, gang rape and the grotesque desecration of the human spirit for profit. Or maybe it wouldn't... that is even more horrifying.

Action: The investigation of the book is centred around the murder of three prestigious businessmen, who it later turns out are the ones who place the orders for and distribute the snuff films. The murderer, when she is apprehended, reveals that she was an entirely complicit member of their people-smuggling/prostitution business. However, upon seeing one of the films she realised that these three people must die. Change through the system is ineffectual and as a result success is far from guaranteed. So the question is: is violence permitted in order to serve the cause of humanity?

FUCK YES IT IS. Jesus, it's more than permitted - it should be expected. We can sit around - all any country does is sit around - and talk about how awful it is that Congos or Bosnias exist, and (to paraphrase the game Far Cry 2) cluck our tongues and send our next tax-deductible donation. Sometimes, we'll even take action. We'll impose sanctions, as we did in Iraq, or allow peacekeepers to protect foreign nationals, as we did in Rwanda. But it is a fallacy that you can always achieve change through the system. Perhaps in some cases you really can, eventually, but the suffering we are tolerating in attempting to reach this wet and idealised belief in pacifism is simply beyond what is humanly and humanely acceptable. There is a difference between those two, incidentally.

Voltaire said "All men are guilty of the good things they did not do".

Muse best summed up this feeling with their two songs
Butterflies and Hurricanes - this is directed at the individual. It is up to them to "be the best" and "change the world".
Take a Bow - this is directed at the perpatrators of any crime against humanity. Put simply, "you will burn in hell for your sins".
Also, Hysteria provides some good additional material, since the film clip is pretty much a snuff film it itself.

Finally, Anna has just turned up and declared that "Heart of Darkness" is an excessively melodramatic title for a blog post. So! a justification of that. Upon completing the book last night, all I could think of was Kurtz's dying words from Heart of Darkness - "The horror, the horror". I thought I understood what he had seen in humanity's heart of darkness. If that sounds melodramatic (and it kind of does to me, now) then maybe you should read A Venetian Reckoning after all. You'll... you'll understand.

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