I was sitting in the Fresh Meadows public library one afternoon, this was probably almost fifty years ago, turning the pages of a book by Russian writer Maxim Gorky. I recall reading a very short piece, maybe half a page long, where a shell-shocked soldier sees the blown up body of one of his comrades, hanging from the dark branches of a dead tree.
The corpse’s glistening organs have spilled out, festooning the branches, and the first birds were arriving. The light catches the entrails as the soft breeze makes them sway. The shell-shocked soldier, who narrates the anecdote, takes this in and immediately bursts out in uncontrollable laughter, he laughs until he can’t stand, throws himself on the ground and continues laughing his ass off.
I mention this beautifully drawn anecdote by Maxim Gorky, which I read many years ago, to illustrate that the most beautiful writing may be used to evoke the most terrible horrors. In fact, the more beautifully you can describe an atrocity, the more forcefully the and poignantly yhe horror of it hits you.
Beautiful writing at the moment, it seems to me almost every day, needs to be marshaled to illuminate and clarify the horrors we are up against. To mobilize readers to get involved in standing against atrocity, and the enraged irrationality that always accompanies and justifies atrocities.
The Department of Defense, years back now, did a study that concluded the disruption of populations as a result of global warming making areas uninhabitable was the biggest defense threat we face as a nation. Around the equator it would soon become so hot and water starved that people living on the land would have to migrate north. Island nations and coastal areas, including many of our largest cities, would be under water, former inhabitants of these places on the move by the tens of millions.
Picture any zombie movie you’ve ever seen and then imagine tens of millions of real life homeless refugees, climate refugees, moving en masse in search of food. It would not take long for cannibalism to take hold among these hungry hoards. Then the wealthy nations would have to “cleanse” the world of these cannibals, for the sake of the rest of the delicious population.
That scenario, by itself, should be enough to get every person of conscience on the earth to join an energetic search for solutions. Sadly, we are not that kind of wise ape, homo sapiens.
We read the most beautifully written accounts of the greatest joys we can imagine, and that is a good thing from time to time, to reconnect with the miraculous side of being alive. On the other side of the scale, the ticking time bomb of the earth’s greediest, sacrificing millions of lives, daily, for the sake of greater acquisition and perpetual hoarding by the few, the entitled, ain’t no unlikely hypothetical employed by right-wing defenders of torture. It’s as real as the soldier’s guts, swaying gently, and hilariously, from those branches as the birds get ready for a good meal.