The Living Dead: The Life And Death Of An Identity

(The post was inspired by and appears after this poem written by Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate)

from “Experiencing Death” via NYT

I had imagined being there beneath sunlight with the procession of martyrs using just the one thin bone to uphold a true conviction And yet, the heavenly void will not plate the sacrificed in gold A pack of wolves well-fed full of corpses celebrate in the warm noon air aflood with joy

Faraway place I’ve exiled my life to this place without sun to flee the era of Christ’s birth I cannot face the blinding vision on the cross From a wisp of smoke to a little heap of ash I’ve drained the drink of the martyrs, sense spring’s about to break into the brocade-brilliance of myriad flowers

Deep in the night, empty road I’m biking home I stop at a cigarette stand A car follows me, crashes over my bicycle some enormous brutes seize me I’m handcuffed eyes covered mouth gagged thrown into a prison van heading nowhere

A blink, a trembling instant passes to a flash of awareness: I’m still alive On Central Television News my name’s changed to “arrested black hand” though those nameless white bones of the dead still stand in the forgetting I lift up high up the self-invented lie tell everyone how I’ve experienced death so that “black hand” becomes a hero’s medal of honor

Even if I know death’s a mysterious unknown being alive, there’s no way to experience death and once dead cannot experience death again yet I’m still hovering within death a hovering in drowning Countless nights behind iron-barred windows and the graves beneath starlight have exposed my nightmares

Besides a lie I own nothing

We are an identity driven culture. America, the land of the free and the home of the individual.

In America, Identity is so important, we strive to imbue everything with an identity. Companies and corporations, neighborhoods and national parks. Because, why wouldn’t these entities have an identity? Why wouldn’t we make more cogent the innate personalities they manifest?

Identity is the secret American Ideal that exists between the lines. When we talk about freedom and privacy, of course we mean from things like tyranny and slavery, but in the context of most conversations we have on the subject all we mean is Identity. Freedom to be who we are without any infringement on that right. And we do believe it a God given right (if you are in to that type of thing).

This may be why the poem above, an excerpt Liu Xiaobo’s “Experiencing Death,” seems so incisive. An account of Xiaobo’s experience having his Identity viciously and publicly murdered. Falsely. An experience that ultimately lead to his being awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. But an award he can’t even receive in person.

It’s all very meta, to be sure, can your identity be murdered and your person still live on? It’s a question you might be asked in some undergraduate philosophy class essay examination. I suppose we have American precedents (presidents) we could call on, but in almost all of those cases the murder was at least partially based on fact and the person had a voice to speak out against the accusations.

A silent front row seat to watch your own murder, even if metaphysical, is the stuff American nightmares are made of (and British tabloids). Even if global redemption is achieved via a Nobel Peace Prize, is the recipient— and their maimed identity— restored? Elevated? Or is it just an effigy we create to ward off our own fears of such a harrowing experience? To keep our own identities safe from the people who would want to harm them.

Post by Joey Camire Photo via Toon Pool