In 1985, Neil Postman's book
Amusing Ourselves To Death was published. His thesis, in brief,
is that television and the media culture have replaced thoughtfulness
with entertainment. We are being converted from a critically minded
inquisitive population enjoying informed discourse to a nation of
Yesterday, May 26, 2010, the
Yahoo! news headline was "BP plans a 'Top Kill.'" Prior
to going to my home page I had been reading Henry Miller's The
Air-Conditioned Nightmare (first published in 1945). Passages
such as this:
"This world which is
in the making fills me with dread. I have seen it germinate; I can read it like a blue-print. It is not a world I want to live
in. It is a world suited for monomaniacs [BP, my insert] obsessed
with the idea of progress -- but a false progress, a progress which
stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men
and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard
I go from a passage like the
above to the headline. "Kill?" "Top Kill?" Is BP
hunting terrorists now, I wonder. Battered with too many Jason
Bourne movies, living in the surround sound of Jack Bauer on
"24 Hours," I am titillated to explore what is the nature of this
"Top Kill." I click on the link. No, it's not Osama
Bin Laden. It's an oil leak. BP's very own oil leak.
The weapon of choice is mud. "The company will shoot high-pressure
mud into the well, hoping the pressure of mud coming in will eventually
overcome the pressure of oil shooting out."
I am struck by the language.
What BP is intent upon "killing" is the very "lifeblood" of
our civilization. Oil's roots, hydrogen and carbon, are the
basis of all earthly life. Carbon fuels currently empower our
civilization. Using terminology of execution to describe a strategy
for containing a 'livelihood leak' is peculiar indeed. What concerns
is the language, the ecology of the language. Are we not able
to catch the semantic overtones of "shooting mud?" Mud slinging?
Mud in the face? Mud being slung in the face of the BP executives?
Language usage describing this
contamination event is very revealing. Is a language contamination
also operative? Is language being endangered? As "the
limitations in our language is the limitations in our world,"
we have a lot to be wary of. A lot to protect. When we speak
of 'killing' that which sustains us are we not revealing something
very perverse about ourselves? To be sustained by that which hazards
our health and our air, to that which has the capacity to devastate
wetlands and wildlife, to that which when corrupted (leaks) corrupts,
-- is this not corruptible?
Alternatively, one could have
used expressions such as "get control of" the leak, "contain,"
"redirect," "repair," "regulate," "salvage," "stop,"
"reverse," ... but "Kill?" And a "Top Kill" at that.
"Kill" is also used to
express annihilating time. "It killed time." "It killed
the weekend." What bizarre commentary this is. A nation
obsessed with longevity hell bent on "killing time?" Wow,
we really beat the shit out of "Time."
I want to suggest a Language
Leak. Here's Henry Miller:
me what it is that man can build, to protect himself, which other men
cannot destroy? What are we trying to defend? Only what
is old, useless, dead, indefensible. Every defense is a provocation
to assault. Why not surrender? Why not give -- give all?"
(from The Air-Conditioned Nightmare)
We won't surrender because
we're in peak conditioning. We're in the Oil-Conditioned Nightmare
-- enslaved to our cars, our blackberries, our cell phones, our kindles,
our powerbooks & computers, our itunes and apps, our televisions
& treadmills. We're a nation of Reactivity rather than
and Reflection. A nation assaulting our environment. As
the wetlands are being overcome with suffocating ooze, so our mental
capacities are being smothered, shut down, diminished. Our interior
landscape is vanishing. We're experiencing a perpetual leak,
a prolonged erosion of our life sources, our domain of external and
internal habitat. We buy and sell, we kill and defend, we update
and install, we click and click ... our horizons are shrinking -- it
is the Time of Shrivellization.
Let this Leakage be a wake-up call, a last ditch alert -- if it's
not too late already -- to look to new methods to nurture and fuel,
to provide, to sustain ourselves. Let us seek out the subtle and
the tenebrous, the non-palpable and invisible, the slight and the
Let us seek to use language more richly, with more consideration, with
more tenderness, with more understanding, with more -- embrace.