Monday, February 27, 2012

Stranger than Kindness

You wake up in the middle of the night. And the word 'kindness' is in your head. It's not like you are very good at remembering your dreams, so why wake up with a word? Let alone a word like that?
So you lay there thinking about it, turning it over almost as if it were an image from some lost place in your unconscious, tasting the sound of it quietly in a whisper that won't wake your partner.
Your imagination is often more violent, sexual, angry or surreal. As if everything you suffer and which frustrates you finds some somnambulant catharsis in that boiling ocean of abstract visions and intense emotions we call a dream-life, thoughts given a sardonic narrative in your daylight hours that would shame Quentin Tarantino, thoughts let loose beyond the reach of even David Lynch in your sleeping ones.
Your friends talk about this violence as an emotional and fantastic condition in all their lives. This rage that snaps and crackles and pops in the mind's eye; they see it in themselves and others, laugh about it, acknowledge its presence.
We want to hurt people, they say to you, punish them, slap them around, beat some sense into them, even just hit them because it's just what you want to do and somehow it feels good to imagine it even if you would never really do it.
Consciously they don't believe in the capital punishment yet they fantasize murder. Politically they are of the Left or small 'l' liberal persuasion yet they dream of crushing all who are in their way. They oppose war and stand for peace - but they dream of private revenge.
How did we get so angry they ask?
You try to fathom it as they sit round and talk about road rage, strange and sick crimes from Belgium to Baghdad, irrational arguments that seemed to come out of nowhere. They talk about Eminem songs and the film Fight Club ("a bit passé" someone says) and the constant pull of a sport like boxing as well as the way modern cultural criticism has become so cruel and witless and nasty in the newspapers these days.
You all try to draw some sense from this, as if there's a thread that unites such feelings into something that can be analyzed, responded too, possibly changed. Maybe it's to do with this 'time of terror' says one friend, but this anger has been burning well before September 11 ever came along. Perhaps it's something about the inequities of society says another, the gross disjunction between the poor and the rich, but that's as old as the hills too. We've always been violent insists another, it's in our primal nature, which may well be true, but if that was once natural why do we all feel so sick and ill-at-ease about it now? We've lost touch with our morals and passions and we use irony to mask it till we turn cruel someone says - but is irony a mask or a brake - or the lid on a boiling pot? It's more about the crisis of materialism in a capitalist society says another, the absence of any spiritual succor and the intuited desperation and panic this engenders. Do you know that Saul Bellow line about modern entertainment, "the ecstasies of destruction"? Have you seen Into the Wild? Have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and recognized the survivalist doctrine that underlines it? The connections and speculations roll on like a mad telegram from the frontlines of pop culture.

In an essay from 1996 entitled "Perchance to Dream" you know that Jonathan Franzen wrote of how "privacy is exactly what the American Century has tended toward. First there was mass suburbanization, then the perfection of at-home entertainment, and finally the creation of virtual communities whose most striking feature is that interaction within them is entirely optional - terminable the instant the experience ceases to gratify the user."
As the conversation coheres around this finer theme of atomization and loneliness, it's vaguely agreed that rage sets in when we no longer truly connect, and so it is that angry feelings flow sociologically too, from the disenfranchised towards the relatively better off, from the intelligent towards the glib and stupid, from the stupid and oppressed and beaten back towards the superior and the condescending, from the average towards the different.
It is some conversation.
And it is all yours, all in your head, imagined as a dialogue between people you know and people you don't. This one night laying in bed. Play acting the drama of what is wrong with your world.
Are you still dreaming now you wonder?
Are you sick or is the society that spawned you ill? You want to hold your lover or your child or your parents in your arms and know the nature of softness and something like forgiveness, though you are unsure what there is to forgive. Let them know you are there - for them, with them.
There are days of course when you do generous-spirited things. Days when you hope a mere look from your eyes might send of rays of warmth over another troubled soul. When compassion lets you be a little better than you feel you actually are. In a funny way it as if you need to let go of the world, and by letting go you somehow release these bad feelings as well. You know it's not a feeling you can stay high on, but it is there as another option to foul cursing, a foot on the accelerator, a fist, a gun, an American Bad Dream.
Is it about some form of tightness, you think, that finally closes around you. Yes, you have become tight, and even closed. Like that Paul Kelly song where he sings it so fatal and so sweet:"I've been careless, I've lost my tenderness, I've taken bad care of this."
The word leaves you. Hovers close above you in the darkness like a being. A car passes by. And the night goes on. You don't have an answer. But you let it go and the word travels through the streets with that car, an angel in a slipstream, visiting people in their beds in the darkness, while you dream and finally sleep, a thing of wishes and forgiveness in the black, black world.

- Mark Mordue

* First published ABC Online, the Drum Unleashed, 9th January 2009