Here and now

by Yule Heibel on October 11, 2003

I finished Sputnik Sweetheart a few days ago, and should really read some of Haruki Murakami’s other novels (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, eg.). Anyone else read Sputnik? It’s beautifully written, a compelling story with an odd, inconclusive ending, a kind of portrait of the artist as a young woman. She goes missing because she learned something about the connectedness of the body, love, and dreams. The story’s narrator, a complement to the artist whom he loves, begins — at the end, where else? — to figure out how to bring her back to him through the dream world. In the last scene he is staring at his hands, recognizing them. A classic dream technique: if you can become conscious of your hands in your dreams, you are starting to learn how to guide your own dreams.

Last night we watched the remake of The Italian Job on DVD. A group of crooks are double-crossed by one of their own after an Italian heist that netted $35mil. in gold ingots. The gang is left for dead by Steve-the double-crosser, who takes the gold to Hollywood to live a simple-minded life of venal pleasure. Steve has little imagination, notes Charlie, the brainy leader of the band. In the end, the thief-heroes manage to steal the gold back, and Steve is handed over to a Ukranian mob leader whose cousin Steve had killed. At this point the movie reminded me of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. What was it? Steve (he of little imagination) tries to bribe the Ukranian: Don’t shoot me/ Don’t kill me, I’ll give you money. And the Ukranian replies that he has no intention of shooting him since he has some tools in his workshop that he’s eager to try out on him. In other words, Steve is to be tortured to death slowly.

We live in these bodies, which are bounded by physical laws. The dream is one way of bending the law; torture is another. Think about it. Is this the fascination with torture — that it puts the control over the point of death into the hands of another who vicariously lives out a dream-like defiance of physical law? In those moments of torture the bounds or walls hideously disappear, and a vast arena stretches out before one. It’s horrifying, and it’s endless — until, of course, death can no longer be prevented. Is this why people have invented the idea of Hell — and Heaven, too — to vicariously dream of escaping the bounds of their physical selves, an “escape” that can lead to horror or (delusional) bliss?

I don’t believe in Heaven or in Hell. I think torture is an extreme form of bullying that reaches into the deepest recesses of our psychologies. I consider the martyrdoms of saints (not their actual good works) to be histories of sado-masochism. And I think that the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy of the Bedroom has more to do with the psychology of a Catholic-raised boy brought up under impossible strictures than with philosophy.

It might be that something happens to you when you have children, too: you begin to see in your children these sentient creatures who revel in their bodies and their unselfconsciousness. They seem in a way infinite, and this reflects back on you, the parent: you are now finite, very finite. You can either rage at this — the mental loop that was playing the infinity myth in your head is broken, and you can reconstruct it through psychosis — or you can begin to think differently (more gently?) about finiteness (your own). Many people don’t need to have children to understand this, there are so many means to the end of our physical decay anyway. But with our without children, you might end up raging against the purveyors and marketers and administrators of infinity, because you can see that they are stealing the future of those who just arrived in this world. Infinity is a product up for sale.

I really can’t stand strategists who lay claim to infinities of spiritual existence, who peddle Heaven and Hell, as salvation, as consumerism, as war. They are wannabe torturers of our souls. We should perhaps learn to see our own hands instead.

{ 1 comment }

Anonymous October 16, 2003 at 12:40 pm

wind-up bird was excellent. happy reading!

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