Volume 28, Number 1


War is a deep-fat fryer for the immersion of bodies—properly crisped, they live again as extras in film-clips, commercials, immolations of fantasy-otherness. Genocide slides into myth the way death engenders apotheosis. Moldy lard lingering through odor, the foul memory of yesterday’s hamburger, grease-bucket nostalgia in the dumpster behind Wendy’s.

If one person dies it is a tragedy molded from the particulars of specific details; if millions die, it is mere statistical notation—more than a handful of corpses is too much to be contained within the modest basket of personalized sympathies—quantity breeds confusion, but a new generation of condolence cards shows real potential.

As for me, I promise never to boil a fellow human in oil. I will fight no more wars forever, as Chief Joseph once said in front of General Howard—a scene continuously reenacted so as to confirm us in the generous role of sympathetic vanquishers, the good Romans: James Whitmore in a Union General’s suit, saluting his defeated opponent. Heroism emerging, always after the fact, like leaking egg white from the splintering shell of victory’s one-sided memory.

Bombs have names; orphans culled from parturition within wombs of primate uranium fission: Little Boy, Fat Man, Super-bad-ass-orphan-maker. All grown from infancy as tiny lads, plutonium babies first dropped as colicky infants over Hiroshima, Nagasaki, ancient paper-cities from board games awkwardly propped like horned-animal trophy heads along the ramparts at Hanford. History is a museum—Teddy Roosevelt waving a rifle, digging his boots into the back of a dead rhino; Edwin Teller encased in clear plastic diorama at Disney World.

Civilization is what it means to be alive now, in this cooling reactor container of smashed puppies; its combined nutrient suspension implicitly assenting to war; the necessity of killing a few people—remotely, of course, by the hundreds, thousands, millions, etc.… History being a collusion of massed et ceteras, lining up in formations of Praetorian guardsmen.

The math makes sense: statistical reductionism displaced onto the art of part-time meat-pulping, mass measured in pounds and carbonized mannequin-pieces, underwear burned right off them, ready for shipment as accessories, doll-parts, infomercial hosts and hostesses—concentrations of fleshy lineages on strategic maps and graphs.

But no matter, here is my assertion:

I am a little monster, not a big monster. My beginnings are shrouded in ambiguity.

If millions have to burn to assure “Victory” then who can truly bear the consequences of that word without also exponentializing the microbial seed of monstrousness with which we have all been at least marginally endowed?

Can I, perhaps, renounce my citizenship, as one individual member of a tremendous and unfathomably vast technical monstrosity called a nation? Can I renounce my citizenship in the world, in humanity?

Can I renounce my own molecules, my borrowed atoms, the splintered traces of tormented existence from the shadows of the Higgs Field, the expanding universe, the Big Bang?

Only dissipation over time is possible; how did we ever stumble into this, from what humble beginnings, from what singularity?

“Civilization” is short hand for “necessity,” where hypothetical-scenario becomes reasonable hypothesis, a buffer between action and result, action and feeling, action and consciousness, equaling consensus.

Generals and politicians are hoodwinking monsters of chicanery and bloviating action.

I am a specter of inaction; a ghost, a variegated and prolonged helix of thought; an emanation;

A Talmudic vowel drifting into the void;

not of the body; not of society;

not of the world.

—J. Zachary Rothstein