A New Refutation of Nuclear War, by Rudy Martinez
No longer is there time to murder and create. The heights of human achievement have been reached, the rest of our time on this planet will be spent squabbling over what to label the latest trend in literature or contemporary art.
Post-obscurity. How wonderful, to sit around and playfully toss labels.
“What was it?”
The question will be asked incessantly a week after a tantrum leads to the initial strike, hundreds of thousands will have perished instantly in what will be known, if we can know known unknowns will be available for interpretation in a post-Nuclear War society, as the most dangerous instance of name-calling in the Common Era.**
Chimamanda Adichie, speaking during her masterful TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, describes her utilization of ginger beer and white characters in her early short stories as an example of how “impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” She is referring to the influence reading British books had on her. Language is not simply powerful, but it is the foundation upon which civilization is built. However, the foundation is unreliable. Throughout this semester I have seen how language can separate and infuriate on a personal level, through my own use of rhetoric, and on an international level, as the use of bellicose rhetoric by several world leaders has drawn us to the verge of a war that could be as devastating as the Second World War. It is odd that language, a tool used for reasoning, can just as easily force us into an arena where reasoning is impossible.
Toni Morrison, in her 1993 Nobel Lecture, discusses the death of language and how we are all responsible for its demise. Twenty-four years before the world was forced to stare down a precipice to the death of rationalism, she asserted that “tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state…whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts…”. Morrison is obviously drawing on historic precedent, but one can imagine that her pen, while writing this speech, was summoning the spirit of bellicosity and infantilism that Donald Trump and Kim-Jong Un embody in 2017. These are the men forcibly waltzing with us into the fire, they are one another and we are they—the war they wrought upon the earth will be our fault too.
“Manuscripts don’t burn” is a phrase of the pre-nuclear era.
Though I would never subscribe to a single story concerning myself, the last two weeks have brought fourth dozens of masks, now on display in a dimly lit gallery, begging me to wear them. The screams are incessant, and I blame language, both mine and theirs.
In the Tanakh, YHWH was infuriated with mankind because he saw the “wickedness” in humanity and concluded that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The fall of man does not happen without language, the music of temptation. Once more, our species’ flesh seems rife with corruption and impiety, but it appears the vindictive vengeful God of Noah’s time is gone. Who will bring the flood anew?
“…a deep-seeded disdain for the actions of Anglo-Americans.” Medieval philosopher Boethius, in his still-relevant “The Consolation of Philosophy,” claimed that chance was an empty word. Every event is preceded by a chain of events that themselves have been preceded by a chain of events ad infinitum. The farmer who sets out to cultivate new land and instead finds a treasure worthy of a king should not praise chance---nothing comes out of nothing.
I claimed, at the onset of the semester, that the pursuit of knowledge was a “Sisyphean” undertaking. One must imagine the student happy, so excitedly reading and writing, attempting to prove to their professor that they are the brightest of pupils. However, like Sisyphus, the student lays down before slumber and is inundated with self-doubt and ennui. It is difficult to find motivation when one is cognizant of the fact that their words, like Sisyphus’ rock, will return to dust. If we are lucky, there will be a handful who wish to dissect one’s words after our physical passing---I prefer a death via misreading over a death via obscurity.
“But we do language.” I lie to myself and say that four more months in school has sharpened by utilization of language. I lie to myself and believe that one day I will have mastered it holding on to it tightly, struggling to keep it in my grasp, refusing to call out for help. I speak out against those slimy power grabbers yet think that I too would have fun playing a game of manipulation. Reading did not make Josef Goebbels a nice man, and we study similar subjects.
Last night I dreamt I was on 125th and Lenox, Harlem, New York. I had gotten off the 2 train and there stood Henry Dumas, by a turnstile, smoking a cigarette. It was cold and cloudy, every exhaled breath took on the silhouette of a ghost, but my mind had remembered to wear a long black pea coat. Suddenly, I found myself on the rooftop of a housing complex, staring into the eyes of an old black man; he had a reddish beard and thick-rimmed glasses. He handed me a stone tablet. I could not tell if it was God or Malcolm X, and there was no point in asking. It didn’t seem to make a difference.
**Name calling peaked before the Common Era. A prime example of this is doomed-yet-defiant, and certainly exaggerated upon, philosopher Socrates referring to himself as Athens’ “gadfly,” a ubiquitous annoyance that Athenians should have learned to not co-exist with, but revere and examine on a deeper level to better their own lives, in Plato’s Apology. Instead, he was wrongfully sentenced to death. The single story perpetuated by the Athenian court alleged that Socrates was impious and was corrupting the young men of Athens. What truly depresses me about Socrates is that the execution, in which our gadfly was forced to drink hemlock, was reportedly difficult to watch. He was an older gentleman, slightly out of shape and ungroomed; I can only assume that there was a lot of screaming and convulsing. On the bright side, if you ever find yourself in New York City, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) specifically, you can replace the images of Socrates dying a pathetic death with Jacques Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece The Death of Socrates (1787). Created in the years leading up to The French Revolution, David’s piece features a defiant Socrates, moving a crowd like no one else before hip-hop came around, moments before drinking court-sanctioned hemlock. I suggest that David’s painting replace our imagination’s depiction of the death of Socrates because of how romanticized and heroic fifth Avenue Socrates is. Almost everyone in the painting, which includes friends, foes, friends-turned-foes, and foes-turned-bitter foes, seems like they are choking on regret- which leads me to wonder: is it the death of Socrates or critical thinking and discourse that David is depicting?
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Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Bartleby. August 2011. Web. 12 Dec 2017.
Hinsey, Ellen. “The White Fire of Time.” Wesleyan, 2002.
Morrison, Toni. “Toni Morrison-Nobel Lecture.” Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 12 Dec 2017.
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