Eyes Lacking – Chapters 9 and 10 of “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”

At the beginning of chapter nine, Janina comes upon a dentist in town as spring arrives. The dentist had his license revoked not because of his dwindling eyesight, but because of his alcohol abuse. The dentist looks into the mouth of a reluctant patient and yells, “What the fuck” over what must be some abscess. “We’ll pull it out” ends up being his prognosis. The patient drinks a full tumbler of vodka as an anesthetic, and holds on in terror.

Later Janina chances upon some bat sightings, wondering what it is like to be a bat, channeling Thomas Nagel’s famous essay on the contrast between the hard problem and soft problem of being. Simply put, we can continue to register the inner workings of the brain with fMRI machines, but what is it like to actually experience the sensation of eating vanilla? Or, like the bat, of using sonar for sight? To some degree, we have an ability to organize our surroundings with sound, and our body has a vestibular system which works with our ears. Yet the bat has something else entirely, something far more sophisticated for seeing in the darker corners of the world.

She recalls a flashback with Innerd, as he comes out from a river with goggles over his eyes and a “shotgun” with a scope. Janina believes this to be a man who has done little but satisfy his own urges and predilections his entire life, and his wealth enables him to do so. To some extent, Innerd is allowed to see only what he wants to see, which may be the entire purpose of wealth. To see only what you choose.

Janina hopes one day to write a memoir for herself, and her horror writer acquaintance recommends writing whatever comes to her head, opposing Innerd’s willingness to censor. But she balks. She would only want to choose those things that are positive and pleasing to her own psyche.

She is visited by a man she has spotted with a backpack in the woods. Borys is his name, and he has been doing research on the Cucujus beetle, as it is growing endangered. Log burnings and lumber industry has unwittingly forced the beetle into early retirement. Fascinated, Janina concludes that every death, no matter of what kind, should be made public. The ones we don’t know see are that much more terrible for their invisibility.

Dizzy and Janina disagree on how best to approach the recent deaths. Dizzy confronts her on her theory of animal revenge, calling it a crackpot theory. Janina responds, “People must be told what to think, otherwise someone else will do it for them.”

To some degree, we all rely on information from another source. Like the horror writer says of her fear of the outside world, the universe is too vast of a place to learn everything. So, out of a degree of sanity, we lean on each other’s knowledge. If there’s anything to learn so far from the rejection of experts in the United States in our history, it is that our individualism runs into this requirement of expertise, and we would rather choose fanaticism than evidence.

But descend far down enough into the mouths of a dental patient, far enough to where he cannot see. Or go far enough into the dense forest and look down, deep enough to where you can see the bugs crawl, and the world continues to reveal itself as a mystery. We only have eyes for survival, and various telescopes and microscopes are required to come to grips on what we stand on, and what we are enveloped in.

Such a notion, that we exist as a speck hurtling through space, as so small that even God may not have the eyes for his own creation, is a terrifying one. Perhaps you are like Harold Bloom and you believe God to be in exile. Or, like Christopher Hitchens, you are comfortable believing that God does not exist. Live long enough, and the routine and indifferent injustices performed on people, plants, and animals becomes difficult enough to bear for too long.

What, exactly, are we doing here? If not for the prevention of suffering among all sentient beings, what else then? We seem to have gathered plenty of tools for measuring what we consider to be the heavenly bodies like that of GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT. However, we have little in the way of intellectual tools for perceiving the torture of homework performed in the evening by a child, one who has little awareness if a job worthy of dignity will actually exist in the year 2050 for him or her to apply for.

If a cranky old lady on the Polish/Czech border can see what we cannot, what does that say about the “civilization” we built for ourselves? This book makes me consider Buddhism. Each of these chapters highlights the Four Noble Truths. Those with Ailments like Janina understand change in their own suffering. No character can escape the change of their own bodies, a willingness from our person to accept no static identity. Our constant desires push us further into destroying our surroundings. And we cannot even see what we are destroying. We lack true reality.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is informing us of just how much other life has to be sacrificed in order for us to live in our banal way as we do right now. It is happening all the time, and all around us, and the only reason we have not collapsed into despair is because we lack the eyes to see it.

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