Swans Commentary » swans.com November 5, 2007  



The Fire Next Time


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - November 5, 2007)   Fire, we understand on some subliminal level, is part of Lucifer's arsenal. It is he and his diabolical stalwarts who see to it that evil people will roast in hell, sizzling in brimstone for eternity. When conniving mortals sink to using fire as a tool for human destruction, they are patently "doing the devil's work" No one is more despised than the itinerant arsonist who, casually leaving ruin and destruction in his wake, incinerates private property causing arbitrary deaths among the innocent and laying the countryside to waste. When conventional murderers wish to cleanse themselves of the vestiges of their crimes, they always resort to fire. It is the flaming torch that terrifies the Frankenstein monster, that haunts the sleeping Dracula in his sealed coffin, that finally puts an end to the lives of martyrs such as Joan of Arc and Giordano Bruno and, from time immemorial, has been used to scourge the evil out of Luciferian witches wherever, in their secret covens, they may be found.

Because untamed fires appear to be selective -- burning one man's home, sparing another -- it is inevitable that the ruin should be interpreted as moral judgments. The man whose house has burned to the ground reviews his sins and wonders whether the All-Seeing-One has decided to wreak retribution. The man who has escaped the fiery furnace may convince himself that regular attendance at church services and the few contributions he has made to worthy causes have spared both his life and safeguarded his property. No matter how acutely the meteorological pundits describe the cause of the havoc, it doesn't entirely eliminate the impression that some metaphysical power has been at work. The belief in luck is nothing more than a disguised belief in divine intervention. (Why is it that men kneel to the ground when shooting craps or invoke one deity or another before asking to be "hit" by the card that will achieve Blackjack?) The tendency to apply preternatural causes to terrestrial effects is deeply rooted in the human psyche and Nature's more devastating manifestations stoke up Man's most primitive archetypal fears.

Consider what occurs in the hearts and minds of people who, after some twenty or thirty years, lose their home and all their possessions. The impulse to "start again" is almost tantamount to a man who has stopped breathing giving himself CPR. Of course, the impulse arises naturally in such circumstances, but can one start again? One can always build a new home, assuming the wherewithal is available -- but that may take one or two years. And even if the new home is an exact replica, can it possibly ease the trauma of having lost everything that one had accumulated over several decades? The tangible objects and the domicile in which they were acquired were more than the sum of their parts. It was a conglomeration of all the emotions that made that man what he was, and their banishment -- at one stroke -- is like the withdrawal of oxygen. It is not only his home and his belongings that have been lost, it is the psychological creation of perhaps half a man's life and all the impulses, emotions, memories, and minutiae that constituted that cumulative personality which has suffered a devastating blow. I have spoken to several people whose homes have been razed in devastating fires and they all agree, it is a sensate loss from which one can never recover entirely recover. They speak of it like a loss of limbs or the dysfunction of vital organs. Not only is it never forgotten, it hangs like a pall over the ubiquitous present threatening an unpredictable future.

I am putting to one side the financial losses that devastating fires impose; those go without saying. But the psychic damage requires a stupendous act of regeneration -- not only to rebuild -- but to develop the shattered will to even contemplate facing a future in which great chunks of oneself have been blown away. Certainly, fire victims need medical and financial assistance, but greater than these, they need to develop the ability to stare down the terrible grimace of some chastising god who, in their eyes, has brutally crippled their being.

The most fearful aspect of wildfires is the strident announcement from authorities that "Evacuation is Mandatory." Within a cruelly-curdling space of time, one is expected to fit the whole of one's past life into the trunk of a car and thereby salvage all that is precious. But what if a thousand or so books in one's library are "precious"? Or fifty stacks of vinyl records? Or two dozen rare paintings which have hung for so long in the same place they have been soldered to the wall? Can one really discriminate between objects which have grown to be extensions of one's own being, mainstays of one's daily life? Most people insure that old photograph albums are given precedence because they represent a past which is in danger of being devoured by the present. That makes sense, I suppose: to give tangible memories a pride-of-place. But what of the objects that contain one's formative ideas, cherished sensations, profoundest insights? Must these be sacrificed to the flames? It is a cruel version of Sophie's Choice -- which is to say -- no choice at all. Perhaps it makes the most sense simply to save your own skin and let all tangible objects be swallowed into Nature's gorge. Given these pressures, everyone will act differently, according to their own sense of priorities -- but what is interesting is that they are obliged to identify those priorities and then act upon them in a matter of minutes. But whoever said the firestorm released by Lucifer was lenient or accommodating? We know that the panic which throttles us when we are obliged to choose our priorities is simply another aspect of his deviltry. He wouldn't be materializing Dante's Inferno if he weren't a fallen angel.

For those who escape the wrath of the flames, there is an interminable fear that they have been given only a temporary reprieve. Mother Nature, being the vindictive and heartless bitch she is, is surely planning an even more terrible calamity in the future. And since that vixen is maddeningly incommunicado, there is no point in soliciting her good will or enjoining the gods to protect oneself against her wrath. The sign on the charred portal of her Dark Tower always reads: "Moved. No forwarding address available."

As the smoke clears, one is left with wrenching anxieties about the way our received experiences correlate with our deepest fears and how remorseless and unstoppable powers will continue to tyrannize our helpless lives.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/cmarow89.html
Published November 5, 2007