Again, yet again. Another massacre in France. This time with a truck.
Next time perhaps with a boat or a bookstall or a suitcase. . . . As Elaine Scarry observed about torture, the use of everyday objects is designed to make all of reality terrifying, with nothing that can be trusted. And something like that may be happening in the collective consciousness. The politics of too many nations already is marked by too many symptoms of ethical dysfunction, and so one form of violence can resonate with all the others. Even as the routines of containment also become more visible, more professionalized, and so obviously part of the system that is the real target of the attack.
Which may be why the photographers are on to something when they capture the strange, unreal, or uncanny aspect of the disaster. These are not photos of emotional drama. They could be from Invasion of the Body Snatchers or an updated Twilight Zone or any other sci fi movie. Instead of the lifeworld being torn apart, its technocratic control system is revealed. Instead of bodies torn apart, technicians in protective clothing and corpses under wraps, waiting to be tagged.
And yet, there is nothing wrong with these photos, or with the conduct of the police and other first responders. We live in both lifeworld and system, and we need both human connection and technologies for living together as citizens in modern cities rather than as clans in small scale tyrannies. Nonetheless the images are showing something important.
The world seems to be pitching into another reality, one that is more unreal than real, both present and still to come, and defined primarily by separation and violence, and by madness and helplessness.
A world in which everything appears as if it could be in a movie–and the wrong movie. Out of order, disjointed, and not for creative expression or bold endeavors, but for what? Killing, and cleaning up after the slaughter.
As violence becomes familiar, the world becomes strange, even to itself. Action is legible, behavior is disciplined, everything is handled with skill and often with care–and yet, it’s not right. The mood is wrong, the atmosphere stained, and something is odd about the light. These things are not easy to say, and harder to explain, but you can feel them. And now they can be seen.
Photographs by Eric Gaillard/Reuters.