The Taser's Edge

On the importance of keeping history complicated and confusing

I think that it’s the transition’s fault.  Classes ended (Divinity School career ended!), and a bit of a break before work began.  So I’ve gotten out of the groove, and I’ve already heard some complaints about it.  Actually, even as I write this, Holly is mocking my non-blogging ways.

In this past week, I have read No Bars to Manhood by Fr. Daniel Berrigan.  He wrote it from his prison cell after going to jail for his participation in the Catonsville Nine, an anti-war protest involving homemade napalm mixed with draft cards, perpetrated by radical Catholics:

Something really works on my heart at about 20 seconds into that video, when they all do the sign of the cross.  I’ll assume that it twists some of my regular readers’ hearts, minds, and stomachs in a more unpleasant way as the protesters begin to say the Our Father together a few seconds later.  And what does it mean?  What is the faithful Christian witness to Vietnam?

And is it possible to even talk about that question when, decades later, people my age and younger have grown up knowing the right answer about Vietnam, even though we lack any details of the complexity of the situation?  I’m relatively incredibly well-informed about politics and history, but I have to admit I know little more than a basic outline of Vietnam.  And it at least seems to be the case that the general population knows little about Vietnam or Iraq, but feels very comfortable likening them to each other.

For the record, my concern is that we must push ourselves to retain the complexity of history, that we work to notice the way that we often simplify history, and that we notice that there is real damage done when we oversimplify the story of our past.  It is a problem that most Americans can sum up the history of US-Vietnamese relations in a brief and blah sentence: “We went in, we lost, and we shouldn’t have been there.”  It is a problem despite the fact that that statement is basically true.  (Side note: This is the reason why I loved Timothy Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name.  The book has nothing to do with Vietnam.  Instead, in it Tyson complicates and complicates and complicates most lay understandings of civil rights in the US, forcing us to see that if a problem is real, then its solution will not be simple.)

I need to do a fuller review of No Bars to Manhood, however, because it is very interesting how Berrigan speaks of himself as suffering in prison in continuity with the martyrs of the Christian faith.  The book as a whole is a better historical document than a theological treatise, and I would like to have heard more from him on the particular point of what Christian martyrdom looks like in an American (and global) society of violence.  And as for that reference–“an American (and global) society of violence”–you can blame or thank Duke and Daniel Berrigan.  Because now I believe in it.

And now I’ll let Daniel (an award-winning poet as well as a still active activist) finish this post:

Albums Worth Injury, Volume A

This afternoon after church, I decided to go vinyl shopping.  Instead of Nice Price Books, I headed for the nearby Books Do Furnish a Room.  (The reason?  All used book stores are hurting, but Books Do Furnish a Room seems worse off than any of them.)  There I picked up four Albums Worth Injury, albums so good that I would trade my own physical well-being to be able to listen to them.

1. Combat Rock by The Clash

Tracks you almost certainly know and which you very certainly should like: “Rock the Casbah”, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (and M.I.A. fans will note the opening of “Straight to Hell” from its being sampled throughout her “Paper Planes”)

Injury worth sustaining: Fall from an 18 ft. ladder onto your left ankle.

2. After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Songs you will like if you let yourself welcome the Whiny Crooner: Multitudes.

Injury worth sustaining:  Not one but three toenails lost when a door is opened across your bare foot.

3. Band on the Run by Paul McCartney

Reason some rabid Beatles fans I know and love do not know and love this album: Unknown, but it’s definitely not a good reason.

Injury worth sustaining: Falling down four flights of stairs in an old apartment building while wearing ancient and heavy rollerskates, resulting in a broken arm and leg, as well as a neck injury.

4. Blue by Joni Mitchell

Injury worth sustaining: Being trapped in an elevator shaft filled with so many snakes that you suffocate, and then slowly being crushed into a snake-and-you puree by the descending elevator, thereafter being drained into a human shaped ice cube tray, resuscitated by a mad scientist/vivisectionist, forced to do his evil bidding, which requires all your new snake faculties, including smelling in the dark with your snakey tongue, until you are chopped to bits by a garden hoe wielded by a burly Eastern Rite Catholic priest shouting about your hideous unnatural form, brought back to life by the tears of a child who finds your pieces in the garden and truly loves you, but then eaten by a hawk, which is eaten by a carnivorous feral pig, which is eaten by a badger, which is eaten by a hippo, which is hit by a truck, stuffed with you inside it, mounted, and then destroyed in a tragic fire, after which the smoke of your body smells real bad.

Conclusion: You should listen to this album.  You should listen to all of these albums.

N.B.: All injuries worth sustaining are subject to future revision.


Bonus: I also picked up a couple books (as it were a bookstore, after all).

1. No Bars to Manhood by Daniel Berrigan, S.J.–Radical sixties priest’s book written from his prison cell.

2. On the Geneology of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche–I think you’ve probably heard of it, or at least the author.  The title accurately explains Nietzsche’s project in the work.