Cindy Sheehan and the politics of depletion

May 31, 2007

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

[…]

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every [sic] since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives.

– Cindy Sheehan, “Good Riddance Attention Whore”

A farewell without strategy – no “going out on top.” Instead, a farewell from the last moment in which it could be heard; a farewell which announces its speaker’s abjection in its timing and its content; a farewell from the thinnest slice of proper place, before its speaker sinks into the the marginality of the everyday. (It’s fitting that Sheehan’s farewell also contains the announcement that she will sell Camp Casey.) A farewell that announces, too, the speaker’s change of phase: from an engine that sets agendas and pulls others along the iron road of progress, the speaker of this farewell has been smelted into liquid, made subject by that process to consumption by other engines.

Notice the link here between liquid, meaning, and consumption: the “lifeblood drained out,” but “indeed […] for nothing” – consumed, let’s say, like gasoline by an idling car. Liquid is the baseline matter to be sublimated into meaning through consumption by a worthy engine, be that a just state or the correction of an erring one. A sacrifice can be made meaningful after the fact and if certain events happen, no matter what the circumstances of that sacrifice were.

This engine of meaning has to therefore be cut off chronologically from its future and past: its engineering is imputed to the nature of the liquid itself, while the by-products of its sublimation are overlooked. After all, it is the sacrifice which contains meaning (as oil contains potential energy) waiting dormant for justice. Outrage at the meaninglessness of the sacrifice is discounted as a container for the same passive genius that sacrifice contains as it waits for accommodating inventions. Petroleum provides the picture as well of the versatility of this conception of meaning as being realized under any number of different circumstances. Just as oil can be made into plastics, lubricants, gasoline, fertilizers, and any number of other products, a sacrifice can be meaningful if it undergoes any of several different processes of shaping. Sacrifice takes the shape of a dam: it constrains some energies such that others (human settlement, to continue with this example) can develop. These latter developments are meaning.

Meaning comes from a skillful depletion, a drying up of the riverbed just enough to prevent disaster. Can we wonder, then, why the possibility of global warming is up for argument? Or why its detractors suggest that the alternative to absolute resource depletion is a life spent shivering in a dark cave, away from history, light, and all the meanings of modern life? If meaning through resource depletion depends on the excised end, it should be no wonder that the prospect of civilization’s end caused by environmental collapse is dismissed with so little thought – the end is so imbricated in this notion of meaning that it’s hardly seen.

Cindy Sheehan seems to know now that her sad conclusion was inevitable. “This is an end,” her farewell seems to say, “but it’s not the end.” Her life now exists almost purely of the salvageable remnant of her quest for meaning, of her depletion. Invisible, she has become liquid too; having no home base, she is subject to other flows and the systems that, like pipes, organize them. Maybe her hope is to seep from some unnoticed hole and dissipate asymptotally, figuring in direct proportion to her obscurity the notion of meaning that she has discovered through her years as an engine.

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