Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Humanity in the Abstract

Both works peruse comparably horrific themes and although Candide may do so with more breadth, both Voltaire and Kasaipwalova adopt a similar tone. It is one of simple innocence, construed as sarcastic by the reader but, at its most superficial it is innocent, trusting. Neither work allows its protagonist to take into account their context and their own history. In a sense, ironically, the bigoted, and inhumane institutions that dictated the situations of these characters, be it war, greed, sexism, nationalism or any of the like in Candide or racism in “Betel Nut is Bad Magic for Airplanes” are not taken into account by the characters. That which occurs, occurs in a vacuum, each writer insists that his characters are unaware of their larger historical context in order to remain simple, innocent, essentially unable to see the forest from the trees. “Betel Nut…”’s narrator sees the large policeman and is scared by his menacing stature, not all that he represents. Candide blindly trusts anybody who speaks to him, be he a Dutch pirate or a deviant friar.

On one hand, this simplification could be read as just that, a simplification, in fact an over simplification, i.e., bad people are bad. Even more offensively it could be read as a condescension, that those oppressed by the greed and vice of humanity are hardly aware of the larger forces at work of which their oppressors are merely an extension. However, I think Voltaire and Kasaipwalova both seek to boil the institutions down to their bare, very concrete roots and, in doing so, bring forth the humanity, in all of its menacing ugliness, from them. A policeman threatening an innocent bystander is, Kasaipwalova seems to suggest, ultimately, a policeman; s/he is an abstract concept no more! S/he is somebody at his/her job, trying to do his/her job and when s/he is oppressing another, notions of larger institutions grinding the vulnerable into dust for their own greedy ends, do not occur to the oppressed. Moreover, what runs the risk of being lost, when these institutions are too deeply considered, is the humanity. Yes, there is a systemic violence aimed at addressing specific social groups, one can note readily note that in the police shootings that have peppered the news for decades and the systems in place are important to break down. But one cannot forget, there is a gun pulling the trigger, there is human being on the other side of the unlawful death, and that cannot be lost in the larger examination of these societal issues.

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