I have been thinking about casual cruelty. Not the person who will not date you because you weigh a hair too much, though that too is included, but the manner in which we live.
While, on the one hand, I’m not sure I have a handle on injury—what it is, where it happens, to whom it happens—particularly at a time when injury seems so ubiquitous (are there more people to be injured, more people willing to name injury, are we more responsive to claims of injury, is redress not the single most important issue of our time), I feel more able to name cruelty.
Is such naming an acknowledgment of intimacy, of familiarity, akin to detecting cumin in lentils? (I borrow the comparison from Teju, though cumin might be more my palate than his.) Perhaps, though, it is this naming that makes cruelty casual. Casual like dressing in pyjamas.
There is a weight to certain similes. Here, that one’s most comfortable mode of being is that of cruelty. We are able to name cruelty because it is recognizable, the shadowy face that haunts our reflective surfaces.
For years I have resisted thinking of Hitler as inhuman—or inhumane. Hitler, of course, is a metonym (this spatial relationship being more apt, I think, than synecdoche) for evil. Perhaps it is trite to acknowledge that his sins might lurk in my own soul. Certainly it is naïve to imagine that we (a gesture of inclusion) cannot surpass his worst excesses.
And we do.
Sotto voce—I have worried about the singularity of the holocaust in the western imaginary, and I continue to do so. Once I would have asked what this imaginary effaces. Now, I am, I think, less naïve. As long as we can say nothing equals the gas chambers, cruelty remains casual. We might be indifferent, live within limits.
I started to write on evil, spurred, in part, by Teju’s posting on Coetzee. I find that I have returned to a before, a time before his posting, to an idea that has been bouncing around in the wake of my reading Bound to Violence and Graceland and Wizard of the Crow.
I imagine an elaborate ritual where I serve as a make-up artist to evil. Perhaps to my own face.