Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fourth World (Jane Hirshfield)

Fourth World

The line that struck me from this one most was "A man dies over and over again on the news." (My book version says "man" but the earlier, Cortland Review version I've linked to says "woman" - interesting that she changed it before republishing. My guess is because using "woman" there made that more of the focus of the sentence, hinted at something a bit darker there, whereas "man" is more generic.)

There's an interesting implication here - that we are not merely watching someone who has died once, but that the act of watching means that the person dies, that each time we watch, the death happens once more. It's not a causal connection - the act of watching doesn't cause the person's death - but some other sort of connection. Similar to the way observation of a quantum event changes something fundamental about what is being observed.

I've been working on a science fiction piece about a person who relives the same day over and over again (kind of like the movie Groundhog Day), and one of the things he wrestles with is that if he doesn't stop someone dying every single time he goes around, is he morally culpable for their death and suffering? Even if they go back to not being dead when morning rolls around, even if they don't remember any of that pain - does it still matter? And I sometimes think the same about what we see on the news - there are things that only become news by virtue of being aired as news. Once a news organization decides that this thing is something that counts as news, something people should care about, then suddenly people start caring about it. We've seen this in particular with runs on banks, where the news stations go on about urging people not to panic, which is what causes people to panic.

And then there's the phrase "the fourth world" - in one sense it's like "third world" in representing a particular type of human population: non-industrial, stateless, poor. I think that's a fairly accepted usage. But I also wonder if we could categorize human populations in terms of how much they are recorded. For most of us, the modern first world would still be the first world, with driver's license photographs and closed circuit TV and so on. If we extrapolate that down to "fourth world" level, though, would we find people who do not even create drawings of themselves? People for whom being physically present is the only representation they have? I suspect things wouldn't go that far, for even in tribal civilizations they can refer to someone who isn't present, they have drawings. But I wonder what it would be like to live in a world like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment