An empty gesture.
33,000 dead. As of this date, the 28th of December, from the tsunamis in Asia. This number may grow or decrease in one's estimation of both tragic circumstances or the efficacy of abstract numbers to communicate meaning (especially the meaning of tragedy) as the days pass. It may shrink or increase suddenly yet again, as yesterday I viewed the number of dead as being 22,000 on a website, and on the front of a newspaper I saw on the street it said 12,000. This does not matter, as any number of deaths over one causes all of the generalizations throughout this text to come into being. They can apply to 2 or 22,000, as they are only abstractions. I thought to myself yesterday: "Can it really matter, these numbers?" And I wondered what it meant to me, if anything. I tried to picture 22,000 dead people, today I try to see in my mind 33,000. It is impossible. I thought to myself, yesterday, that one could close one's eyes and picture one corpse, tracing its features and details with discrimination and a limited imagination, perhaps based on one's own faculties or experience, memories and remembrances of photographs, actual sights, film. One would linger over it in the mind's eye as with any other object: a tree, a stone, a building, a sunset. Increase the number of carcasses to two, and the inner sight already begins to blur. The features of the bodies become hazy, they lose their distinctive personality and psychological (emotional, imaginary) impact as they are thought of in a pair, and not separated and examined individually. Then I thought of a dead couple, perhaps, and their children, and then expanded outwards to an entire family, dead as it may be after a Christmas dinner, the wine or meat having been poisoned, each member lying in different awkward poses throughout an anonymous, shadowy house, on the floor, sprawled over furniture, caught unaware and carried off while in the middle of routine activities or the arduous process of digestion. Considered en masse, their features resolve into a white or tan background of anonymous flesh. One sees bodies, perhaps retreating or coming forward into consciousness one by one as the mind focuses on each imaginary scene, but there is always, also, the idea behind each tableau of another corpse in another part of the same locale - the same "atmosphere" or ambient, pervasive visual or otherwise sensory awareness of life ceasing and still evident, the transition from subject to object, the ceasing of motion - and this awareness of death scattered throughout a location, throughout a scene (and thus the focus, overall, of the consciousness, not limited to a single moment or sight and its evidence) reduces the importance and individual impact, upon the senses and one's understanding and/or emotions, of each death in itself. When given two corpses, the mind already begins to generalize - its sees "death" as an abstraction or comparison standing between the two bodies, overshadowing them, hanging invisibly (yet always present) in the space between them, it does not see the single appearance of death in one body, in one soul, in one life cut off from breathing and becoming. It only sees the "being" of the objects, which is an abstraction, and not the individual being of each person, which is a becoming that has been halted forever. Life is reduced to motionless matter, and is then further reduced to a comparison of objects, then of objects of experience - upon which the mind can withdraw almost limitlessly, back into itself - and then, finally, of concepts and ideas, free from direct, immediate experience and the engaging of one's emotions. The individual becomes flesh, and then matter, an external, a member of a group, and as the group grows ever larger the individual's ability to capture the concentration, consciousness, or emotions is reduced accordingly, almost (one would want to say, just to make it an organized equation - which would seem like a law of perception) in direct proportion to the number of the dead open and presented to one's awareness.
These are all illusions. The number of the dead, at any one given time of consciousness, say upon the first moment tomorrow of awakening, or of sitting down to breakfast or lunch, or in the time allotted to one's self in the space between office and home (that single period of awareness and thought), is ever increasing. Over the life span of this planet - or just its own time, "life" being a temporary, novel occurence in its history, and the planet itself certainly does not "live" by our normal standards of that term, no matter what certain people would like to believe - the number of the dead can only increase, the dead come into being and leave existence like waves of sound or echoing reverberations of witnessed actions, they leave only skeletons behind and certain memories, but these memories also are mortal and, in time, if not recorded and preserved, will also cease to exist. Even if recorded, they will still cease to exist, of course...considered from the standpoint of eternity. Memories are preserved in language - and now images - but these methods of preservation or recording are based in human experience. Without humans to observe them - and only one will do, one human reconstitutes all of human existence, all human experience and possibility - these objects of sight, sound, and sensation are meaningless, they are objects open to existence and decay like any other, and without human interpretation and symbolic casting (that is, perception and the assigning of meaning, the personal "witnessing" of witness objects), they stare at the sky and stars like any other forms of matter. They might as well be grains of sand, or drops of water, or leaves fallen in their turn from dying branches. Even if they somehow did not decay, having been cast in a permanent form, they would ultimately outlive their usefulness as witness objects as humanity ceased, and under the cold night skies of a world left barren and/or free in the future from the minds and eyes of men, they would share the same "meaning" as stones or any other form of evidence from the dead past - we have examples of this phenomenon in the untranslatable languages or witness objects from humanity's own past. Without a link between symbolism and the mind, when all communication between representing (or existence and time-capturing) objects and human interpretation has ceased, we are eternally outside the world of recorded meaning. This is obvious. The dead, then, in their numberless waves (for who can count all the individuals who have died since the beginning of our own time, the time of humans and their lives, their existence and reflection), leave absolutely no record at all, and when the last human has died it will be as if we never existed. An entire eon and extended age of human existence, sensation, consciousness, awareness, of passion, sorrow, desire, etc. would pass back into nothingness. If one human could exist, then, forever, somehow immortal and enshrined, or even wandering over this Earth or other worlds, he would carry the means of understanding every human record left behind, as he carries in himself all of humanity, and in his ability to empathize and share the same sensations as generation upon generation of the dead, he would cause all of mankind to live forever through him. One consciousness can unlock all other consciousness. If he were removed from existence, mankind never existed at all. If he lives, we all live.
I feel that the most honorable reaction to thousands upon thousands of people dying all at once, passing into nonexistence, leaving only sorrow behind them and the agony of the bereft (if they exist - if they don't then this also does not exist, and it were as if the dead never lived), is to halt the presumptuous and ultimately unfeeling self-mockery (as in mocking the human, one casting aspersions upon one's own humanity, one's own potential) of drawing meaning from such events. I did not lose anyone in these mass deaths, the events are ultimately meaningless to me. I can draw out of them abstractions and sententious lessons, but these are flawed because they do not have any link to direct experience, either that of my own or the witnessing of participants. Such illusions of wisdom would just be embarrassing, even if taken for the deepest depths of perception and fellow-feeling by every other human. I would know the truth. I would rather not pretend to feel pain or a loss that I can not approach because of my existence outside (forever) of these events, and I would rather not try to mimic pain that I do not even understand. I would also, out of respect, wish to avoid perceiving all of these deaths as just fodder to support and buttress my own personal beliefs or "approach" to life, even though I am in fact doing this right now...but I am at least aware of it, I think, and I am trying to minimize its impact on my consciousness and ego. In being aware of my own weakness for meaning (or a withdrawal from the same) I can at least pretend to maintain some sort of irony. I do not feel sorrow, but neither do I feel a hypocritical elation springing free from that embroilment of possible remorse. Out of respect for the dead, then, I will try to draw no meaning whatsoever from their deaths, because any meaning that I could form in my own mind would only be a shadowy, pale, feeble reflection of the pain human beings can feel, and the immense experience of individuals encountering their own deaths, whether individually or en masse, in a collective carrying-off. There is a reason, I believe, we observe "moments of silence" when we strive to remember, or act out of respect, for those who have left us behind. Moments of silence return to the essential awareness of our existence: nothingness, and meaninglessness - the silence in the face of experience that we all carry inside of ourselves. Out of "respect" (and fear is a part of this, of course) we quiet the meandering of souls eternally reflecting on reality and their own temporary lives, we return to the cold silence of space - which, after all, is the end of all existence itself, as it was the beginning. Horror is mute, it returns each individual to himself. The only true utterances of horror, in my opinion, are a moaning or a frustrated, instinctive scream from the inside, each wordless and thus both transcending and devaluing all language. Everything else is hypocrisy or poetry. The experience of horror is thus silent and completely internal, it immediately dissolves this world and reduces each of us to the singular consciousness that we are: alone, indefensible, left to face existence outside of all relations and meanings, divided from everything else and divided internally. This deference of silence (not reverence) must carry a deeply personal awareness, in each observing individual, of the unavoidable end of their own lives, and of the provisional nature of their own strivings, their own wills - otherwise it doesn't have any meaning even in the center of their own selves, and the deaths of thousands moves into the past without a trace left in human hearts. The general and conceptual must become the personal, through an effort of concentration and meditation. And so, then, out of respect for the possibilities and almost limitless pain of human existence, I will return this series of words to the silence from where it found its source, the same silence that invests 33,000 in Asia and now swallows their personal histories, their wishes and desires, their pain and pleasure, their every witnessing moment.
I will end this game of meaning right here.U. Amtey
28 December 2004