“these are the materials”

but this is not a bad dream of mine                    these are the materials
–Adrienne Rich

Two page of silence punctuate an elegiac essay, a tribute from a loving wife to a now-gone husband. One enters the post-elliptic somewhere in a conversation—one is tempted to write “somewhere in the middle” or “somewhere close to the beginning” or “somewhere close to the end,” an ordering of temporality that misunderstands the ongoing conversation, the ordering of timbre and tone, the sequence of pause and repetition. And the cut.

What happens to names when time stops?
—Susan Howe

:a wall of names: a grave of names: a funeral of names : a massacre of names: a genocide of names: a killing of names: a murder of names: an extinction of names:

Now, we count in hundreds: the days since girls were taken in Chibok; the days since #kasaraniconcentrationcamp was opened; the bodies of the mounting dead in #Gaza, #Lamu, #elsewhere. Counting has become difficult: in books, captives mark days on walls and floors to “orient” themselves.

Countdown.

We who count from outside seek order. We want to believe that time passes at the same rate on the inside as it does on the outside. Despite knowing better, we want to believe in a shared experience of time. To forget, if we can, that time stretches and bends and tears and ruptures. That time pulls and lags and pauses and cuts. That violent time ravages bodies.

(but, now, I want bodies to tell a different kind of story—and must check that desire)
*
I do not like, and might actively resent, Adrienne Rich’s poem “An Atlas of the Difficult World.” It feels laden, heavy, weighed down, lagging, time extending, time ravaging. And Rich’s reminder—“these are the materials”—does not help. What is it to write with “the materials” at hand? To write with(in) the archives of disposability? To read:hear:see:feel how disposability is envisioned, created, distributed, destroying?

These are the materials:
Name
Age
Sex
Kin
Died

These are the materials:
Detained
Harassed
Extorted
Imprisoned
Deported

These are the materials:
Sanctions
Blockades
Curfews
Sieges

These are the materials:
Treaties
Truces
Torture
Technicalities

“these are the materials”
*
This register is dismissed as “sentimental.”

One should cite from the philosophers of war, the policy makers of war, the treaty breakers of war, the death-machine suppliers of war, the economists of war. Perhaps begin with the observation that “perpetual peace” is impossible, and then move to “war is politics by other means,” and then, citation by citation, unsee the unmaking of life we describe as war, adopt accounting procedures produced by insurance companies, slave ship captains, concentration camp philosophers, genocidal settlers, ecocidal profiteers, and powerful men with moral dilemmas.

“these are [also] the materials”
*
“Then there are the phrases I seize in order to distort them”—Rosmarie Waldrop

“We learn to value being loved as an advantage that allows us to renounce other advantages”—Sigmund Freud

“An accumulation of simultaneous deaths strikes us as something utterly terrible”—Sigmund Freud

“Death can now no longer be denied; we are obliged to believe in it”—Sigmund Freud

“Even today, what our children learn as global history in school is essentially a sequence of genocides”—Sigmund Freud

Freud will argue that the drive toward destruction—the death drive—can be countered by the drive toward attachment—the erotic drive. Writing on war, he will insist that he is a theoretician: he has no “practical” lessons to offer. And if one objects to his developmental logic—that war and violence are “regressions” to more “primitive” selves—one also finds oneself startled (is that the right word?) by how inarticulate war makes Freud. He is “disillusioned” by the failed/failing promise of “civilization,” even as he invests boundless faith in “reason.”

A self-declared pacifist, Freud seems unable to theorize war. His attempts to think about war are, Maud Ellman writes, “laboured and apologetic,” “offered with a sense of resignation.” A self-declared pacifist, I am unable to be articulate about war. I cannot read “great” war journalism or fiction: death-fertilized eloquence.
*
and then, there are the poets who valorize death
*
“I have dreamt many times of a new sacred haven for women: a safe and holy place where the women will pour out their thoughts, their cries and their joy”—Rebeka Njau

There is no redeeming vision in Octavia Butler’s Patternist series, at least none for women. The two most powerful women, the immortal Anyanwu and the pattern maker Mary, one of her descendants, exist as memories, pathways, in the final book in the series. And while some women have power at the end, they are subject to a patriarchal order, a world where the most powerful survive. A world where power is genocidal.
*
It will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple
–Adrienne Rich, “Final Notations”