Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and they say Nothing. It’s nothing. Just sad dreams. Or something like that…Swing low in your weep ship, with your tears scans and your sob probes, and you would mark them. Women-and they can be wives, lovers, gaunt muses, fat nurses, obsessions, devourers, exes, nemeses-will wake and turn to these men and ask, with female need-to-know, “What is it?” And the men say, “Nothing. No it isn’t anything really. Just sad dreams.”
Just sad dreams. Yeah: oh, sure. Just sad dreams. Or something like that.
Richard Tull was crying in his sleep. The woman beside him, his wife, Gina, woke and turned. She moved up on him from behind and laid hands on his pale and straining shoulders. There was a professionalism in her blinks and frowns and whispers: like the person at the poolside, trained in his first aid; like the figure surning in on the blood-smeared macadam, a striding Christ of mouth-to-mouth. She was a woman. She knew so much about tears than he did. She didn’t know about Swift’s juvenilia, or Wordsworth’s senilia, or how Cressida had variously fared at the hands of Boccaccio, of Chaucer, of Robert Henryson, of Shakespeare; she didn’t know Proust. But she knew tears. Gina had tears cold.
“What is it?” she said.
Richard raised a bent arm to his brow. The sniff he gave was complicated, orchestral. And when he sighed you could hear the distant seagulls falling through his lungs.
“Nothing. It isn’t anything. Just bad dreams.”
Or something like that.
After a while she too sighed and turned over, away from him.
There in the night their bed had the towelly smell of marriage.
Martin Amis, The Information.
On 28 April 2004 the CBS television network broadcast photographs taken by American soldiers at the Baghdad Correctional Facility (Abu Ghraib). They showed Iraqi prisioners stripped and piled up to form human pyramids. Prisioners were naked and hooded. Many had clearly been tortured. Some photographs showed men forced to simulate fellatio. The perpetrators were not just young American men, but female soldiers as well. A photograph of Private Lynndie England holding a naked man on a leash was to become the most iconic image of the war in Iraq and of the decadence of American womanhood.
Soon afterwards evidence of sexual abuse and other forms of torture carried out by American women as well as men began appearing. Nori Samir Gunbar Al-Yasseri, for instance, was one of the many prisoners who gave a sworn statement about his treatment. ‘As soon as we arrived,’ he recalled,
they put sandbags over our heads and they kept beating us and called us bad names. After they removed the sandbags they stripped us naked as a newborn baby. Then they ordered us to hold our penises and stroke it… They started to take photographs as if it was a porn movie. And they treated us like animals not humans. They kept doing this for a long time. No one showed us mercy. Nothing but cursing and beating… He (Speacialist Charles Graner) and the two short female soldiers and the black soldier… When we were naked he order us to stroke, acting like we’re masturbating and when we start to do what he would bring another inmate and sit him down on his knees in front of the penis and take photos which looked like this inmate was putting his penis in his mouth. Before that, I felt that someone was playing with my penis with a pen…3 men ansd 2 women.
Joanna Bourke, Rape. A History from 1860 to the Present.
‘Hatred is holy’, said Zola, who fought the enemies of Dreyfus not just from love of justice, but because he enjoyed fighting, and believed that he did not truly exist unless he was being attacked. So he rejoiced that he had made ‘pride and hate my two companions… I have felt younger and more courageous after each one of my revolts against the platitudes of my time… If I am worth anything today, it is because I stand alone and because I know how to hate.’ The more the two sides hated each other, the more they had in common, but that was ignored.
Anthropologists have found tribes which never fight, and which praise timidity, but they are not models to imitate, for they are obsessed by the fear of violence. Tribes have also been found which fights all the time, but which have to sustain their aggression by drugs or other stimuli; even cannibals are frightened by their own ferocity, and paradoxically drink the blood of their victims to calm themselves down, to liberate themselves from the feeling that they have become tigers.
Working onself up into a rage was once almost a form of art: ‘Sweeter by far than the honeycomb is wrath,’ said Homer. Divine fury used to be admired as heroic. In the last couple of centuries anger has lost its prestige; not that it is diminishing, but people are beginning to be ashamed of their anger. Nevertheless, an Australian enquiry- the only one of its kind- found that anger was experienced five times more frequently than sympathy.
So there has been little progress in the art of confronting enemies. Once an enemy is identified, propaganda now multiplies proofs of his depravity to reinforce the hostility, on the assumption that people find it gratifying to have their opinions confirmed. For example, John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State during the Cold War, when confronted with any new information about the URSS, systematically ignored anything that challenged his judgement of his opponent as an implacable and dishonest enemy. There is a firmly established tradition which encourages enemies to blind themselves to each other’s point of view. On this basis, war can continue for ever. And what helps it to continue is that private individuals are prisoners of attitudes of mind which make them seek out enemies, just like nations.
If you believed that there are people who despise you or wish you harm, if you have simmering inside you not just a fear of them, but a loathing and a disgust at the very sight of them, if you are convinced that they and you are totally incompatible, then it may be that your deepest roots stretch back into ancient Persia, and that you are an unwitting disciple of the prophet Zarathustra, who lived in the tenth century BC. His recommendations on how to react to enemies are still widely followed, particularly in the West, even if he is remembered only because his priests, the Magi, visited the Infant Jesus. Until Zarathustra had the idea that there was only one true god, and that all other gods were really wicked and hateful demons, enemies were different from what the have become. It used to be silly to imagine that one had implacable enemies, when what happened was believed to depend on whims of a large number of gods and ancestor spirits, and one’s no need to hate those who harmed one, because magic and sacrifice and prayer were more practical ways of dealing with them. the most ancient divinities were thought of as having the power to be either helpful or nasty, and much depended on how one treated them. Zarathustra replaced that with the belief that life was a perpetual battle, that every individual was surrounded by enemies ruled over by Satan-the arch-enemy who hated one irrespective of what one did, just for being human.
Zarathustra put all the blame for the opposition which his prophesying aroused on Satan. Only wickedness could explain that opposition, he thought. Satan refused to understand him, told lies about him: Satan was The Lie. That is how the all-purpose scapegoat was born, and nothing has paralysed intelligence more than the search for scapegoats. There was no need to probe the motives or the difficulties of on’s enemies, once one learnt to spot Satan in them, and so to hate them. Several great religions took up the idea that it was a duty to fight Satan, who hid behind the people one disagreed with. Cardinal Newman wrote, ‘One must learn to hate before one can learn to love.’ Zarathustra explained how to find the right object for one’s hatred, whom to blame for every misfortune. In other respects, he was a prophet of generous instincts, whose ideal was that people should be peaceful and neighbourly; but he could not understand those who rejected his ideas; he could not understand disagreement.
Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity.
These are the ranks of the obsessive, the dissatisfied, the distorted, the strange: drug addicts, fetichists, compulsive cleaners, collectors of cats or snow globes or Caravaggios. Maybe everyone has something like this, large or small, pathological or merely unusual: something that serves, in the pattern of its acquisition or loss, as the measure of how well we’re doing. Money, lovers, calories, applause, miles run, roses grown, volumes of Trollope read and reshelved: something to think about, so we don’t have to think about anything else. I have mine: I think about sleep.
I think about sleep all the time-more often than I think about love or work, more often than I think about money or death. I’m a conoisseur of sleep, it’s my only area of expertise. I think about it the way a river-boat captain thinks about the river; I know all its swells and shallows, where it forks, where it rushes, where the bottom is high.
I cover sleep. I collect it, husband it, save and spend it, count it, sort it, weight it, and count it again. I can’t tell you how much I earned last year, or how many words I have wrote, but I know how many hours I spent in bed and how well I slumbered. I have measured out my life with coffe and sleeping pills. I feel guilty if I’ve slept too much, and when I’ve slept too little I can’t wait to make up the difference. I live my days by how much I’ve slept the night before, by when I’ll nap, by the quality of my exhaustion or alertness.
I am an insomniac. According to one study, the are forty million Americans like me. According to another there are sixty million. Sixty million! Eighty million! Why not more? Why not all of us? No one would know; there isn’t fellowship here. You can drink in a bar and sober up in the basement of a chuch, but everyone sleeps (or lies awake) in solitude. To paraphrase Conrad: we dream as we die-alone.
Jim Lewis, Notes from The Land of Nod. GRANTA 88.
I really don’t see the point of reading in straight lines. We don’t think like that and we don’t live like that. Our mental processes are closer to a maze than a motorway, every turning yields another turning, not symmetrical, not obvious. Not chaos either. A sophisticated mathematical equation made harder to unravel because X and Y have different values on different days.
Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit.