Sunday, April 29, 2012

Regretting v. Remembering

I was reading Faulkner's The Mansion yesterday, and was impressed by an uncle who tells his nephew who's just apologized not to be sorry. “Just remember it," the uncle says. "Dont ever waste time regretting errors. Just dont forget them” (231). The novel delves into, amongst other things, the difference between shame & sorrow, something I've been thinking about ever since the shootings in Tucson last week.

I don't think anyone--probably not even Jared Loughner--understands yet why he killed 6 people and wounded 14. Mental illness appears to be the most likely factor. So the sane should know that if random violence is going to happen, we should avoid casual threats and apologize if we carelessly make one in a thoughtless moment.

I keep thinking about one of Loughner's victims living under physical threat for months. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, expressed concern about violent rhetoric back in March. Now that her concerns have proven valid, a discussion about how we talk seems appropriate. Gun safety also appears to be something we need to talk about: if Loughner's 30-round clip had been smaller, the people who overwhelmed him when he had to reload could have stopped him sooner, perhaps saving lives and at least reducing the number of wounded. At least these three areas--mental health, public discourse & gun safety--appeared to be appropriate topics to discuss after the massacre.  

Unfortunately, that was not my experience. When I posted the interview of Giffords expressing concern about the "Take Back the 20" webpage that put her district in crosshairs, a couple of my friends said there was no connection. Not that they saw no connection, but that there was no connection. Their not seeing is a measure of their refusal to recognize the visual rhetoric of Take Back the 20. It's a literary failure: first, by the website designers who failed to recognize the associations of their design until after the shooting when they removed the image; second, the defenders of Take Back the 20's failure to recognize the tacit acknowledgement of guilt in the removal of the website by its designers after an actual gun-sight was pointed at Giffords and the other victims. 

My point was not that the Take Back the 20 caused Loughner to shoot (If his poetry is representative, his obsessions swing incoherently from linguistics to the gold standard); the point was that it was unseemly for the Tea Party to keep the metaphorical crosshairs on Giffords for months and then offer no apology when someone literally did what they'd suggested. When Spencer Giffords, the congresswoman's father, was quoted as saying the "whole Tea Party" was his daughter's enemy, all Palin had to say was, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it literally." Her apology would have meant more than almost any other words. Instead, she issued a "condolence" that lasted about 29 seconds before shoe-horning in a long political screed that I'm certain brought Spencer Giffords no solace.

Perhaps Jon Stewart said it most succinctly on The Daily Show when he said, "It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn't resemble how we talk to each other on t.v. Let's at least make troubled individuals easier to spot."

Ability to understand figurative language might not only represent intelligence, it might be a measure of sanity. The Greek word logos includes as definitions both "word" and "rational discourse." In a video attributed to Loughner he makes an incoherent but specifically "political" argument. Although Loughner took a poetry class in college, there's little to show he thought figuratively. One of the most pathetic passages in his video is a syllogism: 
All humans are in need of sleep.
Jared Loughner is a human.
Jared Loughner is in need of sleep.
Sadly, we know from phone messages left by Loughner that he was awake in the early hours on the day of the shooting. His line "I'm a sleepwalker who turns off the alarm clock," appears at odds with the above syllogism as Loughner claims to sleep while in motion. His hallucination of sleep, our real horror.

In Faulkner's The Mansion, the uncle comes to regret his part in a murder that he cannot forget. We're not going to forget Tucson, even though Fox News and the mainstream media have been working overtime this week to deny-forget-delete months of gun-toting campaign rhetoric. It isn't to argue that SarahPac's graphics or Tweets by Palin caused Loughner to shoot: it's that Palin & Co. metaphorically agreed with what Loughner literally did until he did it and then none of them was sorry. They purged the tweets and graphics, tried to disassociate themselves from their actions. No one can make them regret. No one can make them remember. But poets can make it difficult for them to forget. 

"A word is dead,/when it is said/some say," Emily Dickinson wrote. "I say it just/begins to live/that day."