Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Infant Physicality of Naomi Klein, or I'm Crazy

This evening found me feeling hollow-eyed and melancholy for two different reasons.

First, I started reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This is a book that you probably ought to read if you want to be a smarter, better person. If you want to be a happier person, though, you probably oughtn't read it, despite the fact that one would like to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that ignorance breeds misery while enlightenment breeds happiness. I, personally, did not read it for awhile (it came out a year or so ago), preferring to pretend I had read it when really I had only read the excerpt in Harper's. The thing is, the excerpt in Harper's made me cry (it was mostly Klein's description of this that did it). If just a few piddling pages did that, I thought, it would probably be bad for my not-famous-for-being-stable emotional health to read a whole entire book filled with similar material. It was finally thrust upon me, though, by the convergence of there being nothing left in the house for me to read and my husband happening to bring it home from a recent bookstore haul.

So I started it on the train this morning and was coasting through the introduction happily, filled with pleasantly righteous anger at Milton Friedman. Then I got to the first chapter, which is about torture. A Canadian psychiatrist received U.S. government funding to study the effects of various horrendous things like sensory deprivation, extreme electroshock treatment, extreme chemical shock therapy, etc. on hordes of his patients to see how much it would take to totally dismantle their personalities. This, of course, is really really really bad, and makes for horrifying reading. I was OK, though, until I got to the part when one of the patient's sisters described to her what she was like after the treatment: "You would urinate on the living-room floor and suck your thumb and talk baby talk and you would demand the bottle of my baby."

Abruptly, my mind reeled. I snapped the book shut, and I almost stopped breathing. I saw my own eyes wide with shock in the black train window, my shoulders tense, my hands gripping the book. I thought I might vomit, then I thought I might cry.

This was actually the second time in the past few weeks that baby imagery in a book crawled under my skin. I was reading a psuedo-noir by Benjamin Black/John Banville (Christine Falls, which maybe I'll tell you about some other time, but meanwhile here's the short version: shit) in which (SPOILER ALERT!) a baby dies. It was nighttime when I read the scene, and I was home alone with the sleeping baby, and my husband wasn't answering his phone, and I thought I would die of horrible, sinking, airless terror and grief. Nearly shaking with fear, I sat up late that night, unable to sleep until my husband came home.

That episode, of course, was entirely comprehensible. I read of a dead baby; I feared the death of my own baby; I flipped. Less clear, though, is why I had the identical reaction this morning on the train when I read of adults being tortured back into babyhood (as Klein puts it, the individual equivalent of being bombed back into the stone age). It could have been, I suppose, that I am so familiar with the baby state now that the very idea of an adult reverting to that state just sort of grossed me out. But it felt bigger than that, and deeper. It was more, I think, the imagistic, conceptual linking of adult evil and the infant body. In both that scene in Christine Falls and that moment in The Shock Doctrine, the effects of all the evil of the world are suddenly represented in the vividly evoked physicality of an infant, a physicality that, at this moment, I know as well as I know my own. It was an unwelcome association, and it sat in the pit of my stomach for hours.

The second problem I was having was (as always) my writing. Having burst onto the stage of my own mind as a writer in April, I am constantly now worried that maybe I was just faking it. As I have already complained about to you, the past few days have found me essentially unwilling to write a word, dragging myself to the computer and reluctantly posting what I myself judge to be boring meaningless trifles. (Ha! Get it? Let's do it again. Trifles. That was a different one! Whoo!) Staring at the computer screen today, I thought, Who am I kidding? And then, Well, that's the end of this whole blog thing. I guess a couple of months was a good run. And then, Don't be such a defeatist depressive idiot! And then, But that's who I am. That and a bad writer and a fraud. And so on.

So I was, as I said, distinctly hollow-eyed and moody by this evening, when I set out on a walk to the bakery with the baby, the dog, and my husband. I wanted to tell my husband what I was feeling, but I couldn't quite shape it into words.

Finally, after some consideration, I started, "Mmmph."
"I don't feel so good."
"What's wrong?"
"I don't know." He waited patiently. "My heart feels empty inside."
"Really? Why?"
"Well," I stared into the middle distance tragically, "I think it's my writing. And that thing I read this morning."
"Oh, Monkey," he sighed, "don't worry. It's just because YOU'RE CRAZY."
And there wasn't much more to be said after that.

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