The Work of Mourning
It is hard to think of what to say on the theme of Stolen Land, Stolen Culture, Stolen Time when the country is still reeling from the bombings in Boston. At times like this, grief is natural. When something is irretrievably taken without permission, what eventually comes is mourning, if we let it come.
As Derrida writes in The Work of Mourning:
“[T]he world [is] suspended by some unique tear… reflecting disappearance itself: the world, the whole world, the world itself, for death takes from us not only some particular life within the world, some moment that belongs to us, but, each time, without limit, someone through whom the world, and first of all our own world, will have opened up….” (p. 107)
When anyone dies violently, whether in Boston, Oakland, Afghanistan, or any other place in the world, we lose the opportunity to know the world through another person. That opportunity is taken from us.
The particular circumstances of these deaths in Boston and our communal responses will be told and retold by media and politicians, repeated over and over as symbols of national victimhood, resilience, and resistance. This spin takes human suffering and removes it from mourning, attaches grief to the cause of nationalism. It takes a universal human experience—pain, suffering—and particularizes it, draws boundaries around it, saying this is our suffering. Yet we do not yet know who the they is against which we are closing ranks. And, even if we do eventually know who they are, what then? Is our grief automatically a reason for retaliation?
Like September 11, 2001, perhaps April 15, 2013 will become justification for more scapegoating, or new draconian laws that make way for a stronger security state, for increased militarization. This will make it more possible to suspect the humanity of others, and to forget that all human beings suffer, for countless reasons. This does not begin to address the reasons why someone would want to commit violence.
As it turns out, something else happened on April 15 that we can perhaps layer into our reflections. The poet William Wordsworth, while on a walk with his sister Dorothy, came upon a field of daffodils on April 15, 1802. The poem captures a moment of pure joy and stillness of mind, one that the poet returns to later when feeling sad. Perhaps we, too, can continually turn our minds to peace as we watch where the country goes after Boston.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
— William Wordsworth