This Troublesome Piece of Luggage – Chapters 5 and 6 of “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”

First Bigfoot has died, and now the Commandant. Now that the local police force is beginning to take the cases seriously, there are some ambiguities arising as each person attempts to perceive the case according to their own information and desires.

Janina, our narrator, is convinced that both of the murders reveal a vengeful collusion between animals. Dizzy and Janina both saw deer tracks along the snow near the Commandant’s dead body, but by the time the police arrive, the snow has melted. They did not see what Dizzy and Janina saw. Meanwhile, the coroner has finished working on Bigfoot, and concludes that he choked on a bone. Both Oddball and Janina agree on that obvious point, but while the impact of the bone is assured, their opinions on the intent of Bigfoot choking is quite different. They discuss the autopsy report as Oddball fixes a gutter, and Oddball believes in the possibility of accident to such a degree that he implores Janina to “keep her Theory to herself.”

Throughout chapters five and six, we are privy to another type of imagination. This is one that allows “trivia and banalities” as the sixth chapter is titled. On the one hand, the kind of imagination that Janina calls for is an attempt to achieve escape velocity of the wretchedness of living. We have already heard about how she feels of her own life, as tedious and unrewarding as it is, but now that we see the Ailments (capitalization hers) that she lives with, we feel as though she earns that philosophy. She does too: “sometimes I think that only the sick are the ones who are truly healthy.”

Both Dizzy and Janina suffer from their own health concerns. We are introduced to Dizzy in chapter five, who with Janina’s assistance translates poetry by Blake into Polish. It is a pastime that receives consternation by people who hear it, but as we make our way to the middle of the novel, it is really quite beautiful. The two spend their time attempting to bring that understanding from Blake into Polish in a way that captures the strangeness of Blake. The imagination that Janina sees in those of the Czech Republic perhaps, people who do not compete for things or attempt to better one another. It is simply in the application of minds to create wonderful new ideas.

More and more I am considering (especially since I have read chapter seven, which I will write on next time) that Tokarczuk is applying a thesis to this novel. Rather than the novel exist on its own as full of contradictions and strange ambiguities, she is laying out a philosophy for living that she desires us to see rightly. I know that Tokarczuk has had recent squabbles with her fellow citizens in Poland, and although I know little of the particulars of her ongoing struggle, her arguments easily carry over into universal human behavior. For Janina, our disconnection with our bodies, where the cerebellum does not quite match the brain, means that we suffer unduly. We must use tools to discover our being. We are no angels of God, in fact that angels he did create are probably “laughing at us.” No, instead we are beings with bodies like luggage, and we carry those around with us to our detriment.

And for much of human existence, we have been living in what Blake has called “endless night.”

If those who have Ailments are the ones who can see rightly, we must have a contrast in the Postman who brings a summons to Janina to be interviewed again on the murder scene of the Commandant. The Postman luxuriates in local gossip, and lays it on Janina thick. The Commandant was murdered likely for his economic ties (even though there was money on his person when he died), and the rich live in ways only the Postman could only dream about. She writes it off with a Blake platitude about rich and poor, but still we know the kind of person the Postman is, and know that he will not stop, may never stop. Their imaginations, and conspiracy theories, are the kind that are designed to alleviate what they take to be a failed existence. The Postman reminds me of all the crime documentaries I have seen where people from all corners of the Earth attack anyone the police suspect, regardless of their guilt or not. Despite not having any ties to the case, they message, they send letters, and say the most appalling things when they call the parents of the missing child on the phone. Who are these people? Where did these people come from? And why did they feel it necessary to come out of their holes to verbalizing such hateful things?

Like an impotent man who can’t experience pleasure himself, but will do all he can to ruin it for others. Cold irony is Urizen’s basic weapon. The armaments of impotence. At the same time the ironists always have a world outlook that they proclaim triumphantly, though if one starts badgering and questioning them about the details, it turns out to consist of nothing but trivia and banalities.

And now that we have the internet, and the social media we use as a platform, the ability for people to anonymously say the most terrible things has no ceiling. It continues virtually unabated. It is the madness of crowds on the internet, all the time.

If our early chapters have outlined our protagonist, we now have our enemy.

Early in chapter five, Janina wakes up to gunshots in the forest. When she investigates, she finds men hunting, shooting recklessly at every movement, it seems, without any regard for life, or survival, or in using the animals to eat.

Janina attacks them, saying that she is going to contact the police. We are stunned to find that it is the police.

Janina attacks them, this time with force.

The police defend themselves with the law, suggesting it is within their right to hunt out in the woods.

Rationalization is the culprit here, in the same way that Hannah Arendt wrote of totalitarianism, where the truly evil thing that exists in the world is the indifference that “the law” allows.

Perhaps Janina really is a madwoman, but as she sits in her “ivory tower” and translates Blake with Dizzy, we compare her life to the police. Is she harming anyone with her life? No. But the police, who are charged with protecting the innocent, are only willing to stretch their jurisdiction to the human, an animal called nothing better than luggage.

It is entirely human to rationalize the most harrowing of acts, while ignoring the beautiful things that are around us.

Especially in the American consciousness, where every second of our lives has been tied to work, where productivity gurus have encouraged us to squeeze every ounce of our life into “getting more done,” we seem to be hopeless victims of the latter.

And as COVID-19 infects our families for the sake of a Thanksgiving meal, we may be leaving ourselves open for the former.

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