A "breathtaking" day
April 11, 2003
9, 2003, the New New Yorker lands on my doorstep,
missing the ever present puddle. The front cover shows an image
of a soldier shooting directly at the viewer. He's shooting with
a video camera, though the camera lens and body is structured much
like a gun. Looking down at the brown and green tones of the cover,
all I could repeat was a word I had just heard from a news reporter
on the telly: "Breathtaking".
That is the word of the day it seems. "Breathtaking"
that a group of Iraqis toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in a
square in Baghdad. "Breathtaking" that we saw jubilant
masses on CNN welcoming the new day. "Breathtaking" that
the only footage of civilian blood spilled during the war appeared
on Arab television. "Breathtaking" that the only voice
of horror in the midst of ground warfare shown on the campus of
Baghdad University was the muted voice of a South Asian Brit. How
does a university represent a non-civilian target, I wondered? But
let me move on from there….
What's more breathtaking really, is the turn of events.
How we have gone from the cowboy's narrative of "Operation
Iraqi Liberation" (spelling OIL) to the news story "Operation
Iraqi Freedom" which spells nothing, but serves as a good cover
up for the narrative of an occupation that will keep oil dollar-bound.
Since the arrival of coalition troops to the vicinity
of Karbala, I've been thinking about the narratives we spin. The
most fundamental narrative of the nation (by which I of course mean
Iran) in the past two centuries, at least, has been spun on the
basis of the carnage of Imam Husayn and his family-- a carnage that
took place on the plains of Karbala over a thousand years ago.
In popular Iranian culture the repetition of narratives
such as this and poems, too, seem to keep us alert in some ways.
How many times do we hear the same old Saadi poem, the repeated
Rumi poem, and the Forough poem recur? How many times do we go to
see the same ta'ziyeh performance every year on the same day and
always enter the theatre or the square at the most exciting moment
of the performance, namely the slaughter of some innocent we call
Having been conditioned in this way, that is, to
see narratives as having fixed, knowable, predictable outcomes,
may not be altogether to our advantage, however comforting that
may be. For as Gary Saul Morson seems to imply an event might be
fixed and knowable -- Shirin declares her love to Musa, or Kasra
gets a garage for his new car -- but any event -- even the event
of the declaration of love -- can have a multitude of outcomes.
(He might look down, cough, and have a heart attack. Or a mine may
go off and separate them for life… She might sniffle and wipe
her nose on her sleeve and he may be revolted forever.)
In fact, as Morson says, we need narratives because
there is no goal, no predictable end, no single outcome. We need
stories because things don't always fit. The unconscious slip to
call the war by the acronym's OIL, fit but all too well. But did
its narrative match up with the events it was to describe?
Event 1: "When the US marines enter Basra, they
will be met as liberators."
Event 2:"The war will be short and swift."
Event 3: "The regime will be our target. The war will not target
Event 4: You get the drift….
For each of you, the stars have configured two events
this month. Each event may unfold in a variety of unpredictable,
unfixable ways and be given several meanings. No two narrative developments
from the two events may converge, or they may make sense and converge
immediately. Time will move slowly this month, so take time before
deciding what story you tell yourself in relation to each event.
"Your family will visit and there will be a pantry and a cricket."
"Friends will throw you a party. And you'll find that Jasmine
is not for you."
"You'll be asked to drive a Hummer. And you'll keep dialing
an unforgettable number."
"A deep wrinkle will appear on you. And you'll find that you
need more led for a favorite pencil."
"Flights to Hawaii will be overbooked and printed retractions
will be overlooked."
"A silver object catches your eye. Your eye will reject a finger."
"A box of oranges will arrive in the mail. And the cartoon
figure will run with a nail."
"You'll come across a body of water and the soap you bought
will suddenly lather."
"Your hips will fall open in a pretzel pose and you'll find
the carton you once chose."
"You'll meet a woman named Susan and you'll have an unforgettable
meal at G. Jorgan"
"A baby will come to you and maybe the access code will fail
"In Maimi you will thrive and your tulips will open five."
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