I find I cannot help but think of this famous, chilling line from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. (A novel which I greatly admire.) Specifically, its connotations of being overwhelmed to the point of a sort of semi-dumb stupor, robbed of all eloquence or power to elaborate, by the sheer horrificness of something. It is like one’s very soul is gasping for air, having been punched in the gut by the world being so heinously unlike how it should be.
When the news broke several days ago about the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, I… found I just couldn’t bring myself to read about it in depth. The news sites I frequent had already divulged enough in their blunt, formal headlinese: Dozens Dead. Shooter Live-streamed Killing Spree. Racist Manifesto Discovered. Those kind of summations, alone, sufficed to give me a sense of how unbelievably awful this tragedy was, how especially twisted and monstrous the plan behind it was, how stomach-turningly sick its perpetrator was. And I could not will myself to seek out and absorb any further details. For even the outline of the story was so dire, so depressing. Such a large number of innocent people attacked in such a nightmarishly brutal and callous way. I believe that the current count stands at fifty killed, fifty injured. (And the youngest victim was just… two years old.) Good god. But, of course, it doesn’t even end there. One ought to spare a thought for their families too. Who must be going through nigh-unbearable grief and sorrow.
It occurs to me that words cannot properly capture or convey the sheer evilness of such a thing. And there would be an absurdity in even trying to make them do so. Nor does the mind fare much better. It reflexively recoils in disgust and fear and abhorrence, failing to grapple with the true extent of the crime’s hideousness. This limitation is, perhaps, a small mercy. Even if the universe should have cared more about alloting merciful treatful to the victims instead.
In point of fact, I usually do click on these sort of news stories and, unpleasant though it is, make myself read about what happened. Half because I think it’s important to stay apprised of what the fuck is going on in the world; half because of – I’ll be totally candid here – an irrepressible morbid curiosity. That’s why this choice not to was significant. I’m not quite sure why I made it. I guess I just finally felt like I could imbibe no more of the horror. It might be that it was just a gradual wearing down of the mental fortitude needed to read such things and not let them destroy your day, or even a few days in a row, with vicarious sadness. As there is undoubtedly no shortage of these grisly stories to perpetuate that chipping-away effect. Just today, it’s being reported that there was an attack in the Netherlands, where multiple people were shot whilst riding a tram. And it seems that, at the very least, several times a month one wakes up to find just such a story dominating the news. “Oh look,” you say to yourself, “some unbelievably vicious act of unbelievably idiotic violence has claimed yet more lives.” This grim internal-monologue remark has become a continual presence in modern life. It is the only thing which springs to mind anymore. And its matter-of-factness is jarring, yes. But remember that that’s born from the self-reproaching apathy of compassion-fatigue.Continue reading