Fatal Flowers

In his essay The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin describes the human condition following the First World War: “A generation . . . now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.” Since then, everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Nightly on television we see both the unimaginable horror and the terrible beauty of the images of war. We have words for wounds, for wounding, for the wounded — atrocious words; but these words lie silent as their blood soaks onto the pages of dictionaries and into the streets, and we hear instead embattled euphemisms, the cynical lexicon of invaders. Only the words are real — screened both for and from our sight — only the torn and gaping flesh, the flowing blood, convulsing viscera, the lurid shine of exposed bone, the charred flesh, the bleeding stumps, the mash of brains — only the fire and the blood are real. We gape. We gape. But the very screen that presents sight to us, for our delectation or despair, screens them from us — an intervention that renders us all dys-placed.

How can these wounds be delivered from behind the glazed facade of the television, from the gloss and spin of the media? How can they be rescued from the deceits to which they are subject — from the lies that have been told about them, told on their behalf? How can they be made material, carnal, fleshly, and be broken, bruised, bloody, and burned? How can they give utterance to their pain? And how, in a quest for poetic truth, to illuminate the beauty — dazzling, formidable, sombre — of the flower in the wound?

The rhetoric of the wound is persuasive; flowers speak with complex and beguiling voices; stone is implacable. So why stone? What else can be a cloud? A flower? A wound? If you look at the sky obsessively enough it may become many things. When it becomes a celestial garden, clouds are transformed into flowers. Clouds are ephemeral. Flowers are transient. Their transformation into stone offers a potent paradox. Now flesh has become stone — stone which has been cut, abraded, fractured, bruised, burnt. Now, even the stones are bleeding.

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