From Rob McClure Smith, author of October’s The Violence, a piece of writing that simply cannot be introduced:
I was thinking of how to promote The Violence. What about a blog entry engaging the ‘aesthetics of violence’ or even the ‘violence of aesthetics’?
I stare at a blank screen musing on plagiarism and re-visionary violence, the postmodern epicene’s assault on pretexts, the difficult provocations of the conceptual. I ponder how to integrate notions of ‘unoriginal genius’ (as advanced by the brilliant Marjorie Perloff) and, thinking these deep thoughts, get interrupted by my teenage son.
“Is it ever normal to cough up blood?” he inquires, laconically.
“No,” I tell him, annoyed. “You probably have an ulcer. This is because you live on goddamn chicken wings. We’ll get you a doctor’s appointment.”
“Make it for two weeks,” he says, and leaves, bouncing a basketball meaningfully.
Next day he has the cough. Day after we’re in the Emergency Room. The hospital keeps him overnight as a precaution, symptoms of pneumonia. Next morning, he’s moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Just as a precaution. This is very inconvenient for me: I need to be getting metaphysical about the aesthetics of violence.
In the ICU I tell my wife about a new story idea. “Couple visit son in the ICU. Due to stress, man commences flirting with nurse. Due to stress, woman gets furious at him. It’s called ICU. Get it? ICU?”
“This is fiction?” she says.
The helicopter airlifts him to a second hospital, where a grim doctor informs me that my son’s heart has failed and that he is likely not going to make it through the night.
This I do not accept.
“Thanks for being so frank,” I say, with a hint of sarcasm.
“I don’t sugarcoat,’ he tells me.
When the breathing tube is inserted my son’s heart stops dead.
Hearts stop beating. Happens every day. They revive him. Doctors do that. Alarms alarm and they come running to bring us back to life, like Christ with Lazarus that time. Now, resurrection is an everyday miracle. He’s breathing again on a ventilator, but this case looks hopeless.
The other son arrives and I have to tell him his brother is dying. This is more difficult than I imagine. He cannot believe it. In the chill fluorescent-drenched waiting area we don’t know what to say, not believing it together.
“He seemed fine two weeks ago.”
“I know it,” I say. “Remember we had that mini-golf game and he missed the short putt and got so pissed he broke the head of his club?”
“That was me.”
“He was really impossible too though.”
We are using the past tense, and so stop. At the best of times, both of us find it difficult to express emotion before others. This is not the best of times. Tonight our voices break to the rhythm of our shaking heads. All this is surreal, including the conversations.
“Well, he gave us a lot of weird memories for sure.”
“God, he could be a pain.”
I sleep at the hospital to be awakened at 3.00am by a call.
“He’s going this time. You should get over here and say goodbye.”
I don’t go. I say, “Call me if he gets worse. I’ll be there in time.”
I lie for hours staring at cracks in the ceiling, waiting for a call that never comes.
Next morning, he still breathes. Nurses perform a frenzied dance around his unconscious form, waltzing with such grace between the pumping machines and blinking monitors and bags of fluid suspended. They stabilize him enough to fly to a third city where others like them will implant the device keeps his heart beating day to day.
All I can do is watch. And so I write. I write this, I suppose, from the heart.
I love these nurses, who look so young and fragile and work twelve-hour shifts in a blur of continual motion, exuding such compassion.
(I think of my students of the same age who spend their time online engaged in tumblr slacktivism with their simplistic notions of social justice and endless whining about privilege, a whining only the truly privileged can indulge. I forgive my students: they are young and foolish and will learn and their hearts are in the right place.)
I love also these doctors, who rip open breastbones reasonably and shove small mechanical objects within chest cavities and stick needles in flesh and pound a body back to life with fists and knives and cold steel instruments.
(I think of academics and their tortured syntax and petty rivalries and their use of words like epicene and how once, at a conference, I watched as Marjorie Perloff was incredibly ungracious to an elderly man. I forgive my colleagues: they become old and foolish and never learn and, at heart, I live as one of them.)
But I am so happy to be in this small room tonight amid the humming machinery, safe and enveloped by these good Iowa folks who work hard and love strong and heal well and live without a trace of hipster irony. Who do not sugarcoat.
And I truly believe they are beautiful.
I saw this before in the death of my parents and chose to ignore it because the truth was too palpable. It was this: that the will to live is the greatest violence of all.
And in this way I got my fucking blog entry about the aesthetics of violence after all.