Unspeakable Archeology of Horror

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s as if one were an archeologist digging through layers of evil, uncovering a particular atrocity, only to discover, scratching at the earth, deeper levels of depravity.

Gaza. Discoveries, unearthed. One, the images of emaciated children, points to an obvious association. At this writing, there are close to 35,000 confirmed deaths, 40% children, thousands of bodies unaccounted for, buried under the rubble. The actual count could be vastly greater.

US/Israeli barbarity: 2.4 million people uprooted, 50% of the physical landscape obliterated, government buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, total demolition of infrastructure, raw sewage and resultant diseases, thousands of people living in tents, makeshift dwellings, plastic sheeting, thousands more with no shelter whatsoever, forced starvation and blockade of essentials such as fuel, medicine, and water, a poisoned environment caused by residue from US/Israeli weapons and the burning of plastics and other toxic materials for want of fuel, state-of-the-art weapons technology tested on a virtually defenseless population, later to be marketed in the international arms trade, the use of AI to compile target lists, drones broadcasting sounds of crying children that shoot people when they venture out to investigate, desperately hungry people slaughtered while lined up for food, thousands of children missing limbs, more thousands missing parents, cemeteries bulldozed, the ruination of universities, schools, libraries, museums, targeted assassinations of cultural leaders, teachers, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, patients, discoveries of mass graves, assassinations of UN workers and cutting of funds to UNRWA, the well-documented racism of the state and its soldiers, UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions continually vetoed by the benefactor nation, the unutterable psychological damage visited upon an entire population, the certain legacy of blood-hatred in generations to come, and so much more. The terrible events of October 7 have unleashed a retaliatory savagery on the part of Israel and its US enabler so disproportionate as to seem surreal, defying normal human understanding. The cabalistic utterance, “Gaza,” has pulled aside the curtain, revealing the true psychopathy.

In a post-literate world, the adage of a picture worth a thousand words has become one more victim of the saturation bombing of images to which its citizens—netizens—are subjected. The deluge and accessibility of visual information, especially of death and destruction, leaves us mute and numb. Words, the symbols of emotion, fail us. The ability of AI to manipulate content adds another sinister dimension. “Reality,” always a slippery concept, becomes even more elusive and contentious.

There remain cases, however, by reason of sheer volume and variety of sources, as in the Gazan genocide, where the ceaseless inundation of images creates general agreement. The reality can hardly be doubted. In their volume, accessibility, and unspeakable horror, images from Gaza batter their way into the collective awareness. They will persist, indelibly, forever.

The word “unspeakable” takes on a certain flavor in the current context. The dictionary gives two meanings: one, something unutterably horrible; two (a), something that may not be spoken because of social pressure or convention, or (b), difficulty of enunciation, as in some foreign words or expressions. A majority of Western countries, most notably, Germany, have politically supported Israel’s “unspeakable” slaughter of Palestinians. Obviously, it is the well-deserved burden of guilt from its “unspeakable” Nazi history that accounts for (as well as money from military sales) the German government’s backing of the US/Zionist death machine. Admirably, thousands of German youths are demonstrating their support of Palestine, risking arrest and bodily harm in response not only to the US/Israeli genocide against Palestinians, but in confrontation with their own country’s bloodthirsty past. For these youths, “never again” carries a double significance and responsibility. Aware of the horror of muteness, which is to say, the avoidance of speaking obvious truths because of social pressure, or retaliation from authority, these courageous young people, in Germany and elsewhere in the West, especially now on US campuses, are destroying the barriers of what is deemed “unspeakable,” exposing the charge that criticisms of Israel are “antisemitic” as the scurrilous, self-serving garbage it is. They insist on forcefully manifesting their outrage at those in authority, as well as the indifference of so many.

A different take on the word “unspeakable” comes from our metastasizing inarticulacy, a kind of cultural aphasia, the result of an epochal shift from a generally literate culture to its digital opposite.

If words are, at base, the symbols of emotion, they are also the tools of analysis. We use words to decipher and express the welter of feelings that ultimately determines our behavior. From words come dialogue, from dialogue, a clearer understanding of underlying causes and pathologies. The corrupt and wicked—in large, those who rule us—grasp the effectiveness of the new media to manipulate and render us emotionally constipated, incoherent, and isolate. The resulting mix of frustration, anxiety, and rage is a boon to the pharmaceutical/therapeutic industries, the prison/industrial complex, and the corporate/military masters that rule a tribalized, fiercely-divided citizenry. In our furious, zombified state, “unspeakable” takes on a deeper, functional significance. The literal inability to articulate our feelings—to think—robs us of knowing who we are and where we stand in the world, and cripples our ability to create the necessary alliances needed to imagine and implement a coherent way forward.

Richard Ward divides his time between New Mexico and Ecuador. His novel about the early 70s, Over and Under, can be seen here. He can be reached at: r.ward47@gmail.com.