Greed and fear exposed themselves
without shame and suppressed
all tender feeling. We all had to
recognize during those weeks that
the scales we had used for weighing
were no longer accurate. Those
nearest to us or those whom we
called friends either kept complete
silence or evaded their duty with a
few shabby words about the hard
times that made it impossible for
them to help.
Hans Erich Nossack, The End: Hamburg 1943
It wasn’t white folks - that
much she could tell - so it must be colored
ones. And then she knew. Her friends
and neighbors were angry at
her because she had overstepped,
given too much, offended them
Toni Morrison, Beloved (Baby
bombs have come and gone, and, in an instant, home in Hamburg
disappears. Two people, a man and a woman, crawling from under their
makeshift shelter, begin walking in disbelief, in search of their
street, their home.
is the midst and the rubble. At some point, the two people stop and
look up “spellbound.” In the middle of total chaos,
there’s a woman cleaning a window of the only house intact.
Maybe it’s one incidence of “madness,” the man
thinks, as the couple continue walking. But soon, their nudging each
other as they look on—rubble everywhere, but here are children
raking the front yard of their home.
then, one afternoon, thinking they have seen it all, the two find
themselves in a suburb that has been “completely undestroyed.”
When the two look up, they see people, on their balconies, drinking
image, described in the late German novelist Hans Erich Nossack’s
The End: Hamburg, 1943
of him and his wife coming upon people drinking coffee on their
balconies, doesn’t escape W.G. Sebald’s attention 50
years later. In On the Natural History of Destruction,
Sebald recognizes the necessity for a principled witness who, in
turn, asks of contemporaries and future generations to imagine a
world, visible, one second, and, in the next, all destroyed.
to fragments. Unusable.
your eyes.” Sebald does, we do, too, because this is what
happens to people after we’re
made to no longer able to recognize the rubble around us. We start in
this moment, accessing the surroundings, acknowledging in the end,
that we, too, have seen people sitting on balconies.
we have seen these people before.
in 1944 in Wertach im Allgšu,
Germany, Sebald thinks he’s
reading a “movie”
scene. But he’s not planning to turn away. Already in
search of those unflinching witnesses who try to find the language to
convey the horror, Sebald, the younger man, starts to feel as
alienated as the older man must have felt in that moment when he’s
confronted, writes Sebald,“by a lack of moral sensitivity
bordering on inhumanity.”
People think it’s a matter of mourning for lost things or
middle-class comforts. That’s not it at all.
No, that’s not it at all.
How about telling it at “dusk,” as “a fairy tale”?
Sebald: No fairy tale necessary…
do not expect,” Sebald responds, “an insect colony to be
transfixed with grief at the destruction of a neighboring anthill,
but you do assume a certain degree of empathy in human nature, and to
that extent there is indeed something alarmingly absurd and shocking
about continuing to drink coffee in the normal way on Hamburg
balconies at the end of July 1943.”
the US, no fairy tale should be necessary, but we live in a culture
indulging in the prequels and sequels of featuring superheroes…
see elephants. Emphatic. They’ve been captured on film,
standing around a deceased calf or adult. A herd of elephants
mourning the loss of a calf. Even when a herd encounters the remains
of a dead elephant—an elephant not of their herd, but a fellow
elephant, nonetheless, a member of their species, nonetheless—the
herd stops, encircle the remains, and in doing so, each member of the
herd acknowledges a connection to and empathy for the one succumbed,
most likely, to some form of violence.
Americans have a tradition to call upon to in times of crisis. And
when have we not been in crisis? When has the catastrophe come to an
end? Only the lost feel free and carry on “in the normal way,”
as if all aboard the ship have been saved. They aren’t even
aware of being covered in the debris of the rubble…
April 25, 2018, on Twitter, one of the most influential rappers,
Kanye West, sends a selfie of himself sporting a MAGA cap, and,
declaring, unabashedly, his support for Trump, says Trump’s his
“brother.” The rapper follows with a release of songs,
defending his support for Trump. What has Trump done with his racist
utterances but encourage the continuation of indifference toward the
experiences of Blacks in America. In the meantime, the Black Lives
Matter Movement is just a bunch of whiners!
the same day, Ben Carson, the HUD Secretary, also, in his way,
declared his support for Trump by announcing a proposal to triple the
rent of low-income, federally subsidized renters, along with
imposing, according to a Washington Post report,
“work requirements.” Triple the rent! And where and what
kind of jobs are we talking about? But Carson’s not asking
Trump’s his “brother”
at your expense! This is white supremacy looks like too! Embracing
ignorance isn’t free. There are consequences for recklessly
indulging in ignorance and cruelty. And indifference is
cruel. It has proven deadly in the face of greed and fear. The
indifference of a Kanye West and a Ben Carson, shouldn’t be
taken lightly. Nossack recalls how the “fend for yourself”
mindset was, at one time, just a fairy tale to scare children.
2018, the West’s and the Carson’s are overstepping…
the nightmare: On a balcony in Washington, DC, sits the Leader of the
“free world”, flanked by his brothers, Kanye West and Ben
Carson. All is well for these guys, drinking coffee “in the
what brand of coffee might that be?