The call was insistent. Mr. Kanu! Mr. Kanu, are you here? There was no reply. Next. Mrs. Jacobs! Mrs. Jacobs, are you here? There was a reply. She stood up, went to the podium and quietly stood there waiting her turn to speak unlistening. Not guilty she said. A bench trial or a jury trial? I am not guilty she said. I do not need a trial. The Judge smiled, that is a little beside the point, ma’am.
Man after man, woman after woman. If a courtroom of the guilty and innocent uttering a single statement of their guilt or innocence—‘not guilty,’ ‘guilty’—is an allegory about the futility of justice in modern America where post-modern assumptions of morality make legal niceties Kafka-esque anachronisms, then it’s because you think a courtroom of the guilty and innocent uttering a single statement of their guilt or innocence—‘not guilty,’ ‘guilty’—is an allegory about the futility of justice in modern America where post-modern assumptions of morality make most legal niceties Kafka-esque anachronisms.
The problem with most observations is that they are mirrors. We can look inside the observer but never see the reality the observer sees. In the words of Paul, through a glass darkly. What a cliché, fit for the best collection of post-modern clutter, but I think it’s helpful to consider that this has nothing to do with post-modernism unless I—or you, dear reader—are already making assumptions about post-modern clutter. So the circle becomes full and the shape of this thinking makes writing, for me, sometimes unbearable. I want to describe the world but instead I use other people and experiences as sock puppets. It is not so much crude as it is egotistical.
If there was one way I could write, I would choose to say what people don’t want to hear in a way they wish they’d could. Have you ever considered that you are merely the extra in millions of people’s lives?
So let us learn a little about myself. I read Camus. The co-existence of self and world generates absurdity: “the Absurd is not in man (if such a metaphor could have a meaning) nor in the world, but in their presence together. For the moment it is the only bond uniting me” (The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. O’Brien, Vintage edition, p. 30); “There can be no absurd outside the human mind… But there can be no absurd outside this world either” (ibid., pp. 30-31).
Conversely, Kierkegaard is not concerned with an incomprehensible universe. Quite the contrary. In Christian Discourses he writes that the proper natural response to our encounter with the grandeur of creation is astonishment and adoration of God, not perplexity and offense. Further, he carefully distinguishes this from our response to God’s mercy and forgiveness of our sins, which is what, for him, generates the possibility of either offense or faith.
Am I, the observer of the courtroom, viewing the incomprehensible or an astonishing nature? Both? Perhaps it is cynicism: The hope that someday you’ll have known better all along. After some days in court, I can only imagine fiction sitting at my desk dismayed and outdone by fact. I do not know where that companionship puts me. Am I astonished, am I bewildered? Some days it is nothing. I cannot look beyond the day. If there is any meaning I do not realize it and if I do I do not understand it. It is a curious mix of apathy and ignorance—I do not care that I do not know.
More people are moved in, more people are moved out. Some call it the cattle call. Others call them the room meat—the silent, waiting bodies in the backrows waiting for their misdemeanor plea. Such is the novelty of arraignment.
Perhaps the only reason I write is to understand myself. If observations are mirrors, maybe the reason I like to make them is because I like looking into myself. Not at myself but in. That is a comforting thought.