MTC Cronin [Australia]
The Drowning Man & The Watcher
(or, How to Give Hope)
(A Micro-Essay On
Judgement & Justice
Instability & Buoyancy
Undecidability & Groundlessness…)
In the smallest hour of the day, the hour so unnoticed that it was permitted to go on and on, a man, a formidable man, was walking along the riverbank. This is a lesson in seeing, in avoiding tripping over the actions of others, in attending first to the blackness in one’s own soul, an attention for which there will never be enough time. Could the strolling man swim? He had long ago misplaced all his trophies. It can honestly be said that he was at a stage in his life when such things were of no regard to him. He is running through his mind the phrase ‘the bit above the neck’ which he had read in an article by the feminist legal academic, Ngaire Naffine, when indeed he saw that very thing. It was as if his thought had been hunted down in its abyss and dragged across what could not be seen of the day before being slapped onto the surface of the river which was now mightily disturbed by its appearance. Its solidity! Indeed, he thought, indeed, though it must be admitted that he did not really admit the reality to himself. He was, after all, deep in thought, and the head which gaped and bobbled on the water like a ball pushed this way and that by the salivary nose of an excited dog was simply that, a head. He didn’t think about swimming or what the law might or might not expect him to do. He watched the head although judging on appearances he might have presumed a body. Certainly, the head was attached to a great thrashing thing that kept pushing a scream up into the mouth where it could escape and there, unlike most escapees, try to draw some attention to itself. The thinking man may have deduced that this was a matter of life and death but deep thought, like autopoiesis, seeks to remake our perceptions of the social world. A certain clearness of vision can be a stumbling block. Take the ‘waking up in the morning’ metaphor: our man had in fact arisen a brighter, bubblier character when several hours ago he’d bounced out of bed. This was the end result of many disappointments and vicissitudes of life which yesterday had come to a head (disregard the pun and the plausibility of premonition!) causing the man to consciously ‘uplift’ himself, a task requiring massive willpower but which also had the unexpected consequence of protecting him from any feelings he might have in the future. He had become more of a man of action, it could be put – but notably a man of his own action. This safeguard meant compassion was reduced to a minimum – like a small plan which could be folded and pocketed – while the immune system was strengthened promising longer life. An accompanying happiness operated to remove the uniqueness of the situation he presently found himself witness to. The circumstance now presented itself as something quite able to be presented. Something that had been there a long time and was simply still there. Concomitant with this, and providing the paradox necessary for all things natural, it appeared to disappear as something that had never really been and was/is thus always nothing. ‘It was less a case of dying off than of failing to be born’ i so to speak, although this line was spoken in the context of smallpox. Still ‘[a] sentence is never not in a context. We are never not in a situation… A sentence that seems to need no interpretation is already the product of one.’ii And so the man on the riverbank said ‘He appears to be going under’ and kept on walking. (What was seen becomes ‘neither head nor neck’, iii unspoken, ‘sliding between photographic fidelity and fantasy, between iconicity and arbitrariness’, a ‘curious affair of embodiment and fragmentation’? iv) Kept on walking… And what does the law say about going to the aid of someone who is drowning? Where does the law stand on Samaritans and non-Samaritans? Under the Common Law one who sees another drowning is under no obligation to rescue that person. Talk about decontextualization! This is consistent with the general Common Law rule which requires a special legal relationship to be present before the Common Law imposes a duty. This special legal relationship can be contractual, such as employer-employee, biological, i.e. parent-child, or involuntary such as a tort-feasor's relationship with the victim. Safe if you walk away and don’t get involved (for involvement contains a sting for the brave: if you do get involved you must follow the rules!). Further, it’s possible to sail away from whole sinking ships full of drowning people with no greater consequences than bleeding-heart public gossip and a bit of letters-to-the-newspaper wrist slapping. (Even governments can do it and are well-advised never to get involved with what might drag them down.) Judgment : The strolling man does not need to lift a finger, let alone jump into the soup. He is not ‘in the wrong’. And so documents without errors are murderers of what comes after. ‘We’re groggy, but let the guilt go. / Feel the motions of tenderness / around you, the buoyancy.’ v A certain Bishop, Most Revered and Founding Chair, is reminded of a story about a person walking alongside a river who sees someone drowning: ‘The person jumps in, pulls the victim out, and begins artificial respiration. While this is going on, another person calls for help; the rescuer jumps into the water again and pulls the new victim out. This process repeats itself several times until the rescuer gets up and walks away from the scene. A bystander approaches and asks in surprise where he is going, to which, the rescuer replies: "I am going upstream to find out who’s pushing all these people in and see if I can stop it!"’ vi Viva system! As for the unlucky fellow in the water: ‘It was only when the last person had gone, had left me, that I had hope, such terrible hope…’
i A Sutherland in Henry Reynolds, Dispossession – Black Australians and White Invaders, Allen & Unwin, St Leonard’s, 1989, p11 (speaking of smallpox).
ii Stanley Fish, ‘Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes Without Saying, and Other Special Cases’ in Is There a Text in This Class?, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1980, p284.
iii Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, A Particular History of the Senses, Routledge, New York, London, 1993, p17.
v Jelaluddin Rumi, ‘Buoyancy’, The Essential Rumi, (versions by Coleman Barks), HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1995, p105.
vi Saint John's Abbey and University Collegeville, Minnesota 56321 USA, Web - www.csbsju.edu/isti email - email@example.com , Bishop John Kinney welcomes ISTI conference participants : the most reverend John F Kinney is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Saint Cloud Diocese, Minnesota, and founding chair of the United States National Catholic Conference of Bishops' (nccb) committee on clergy sexual abuse. His welcoming address to the participants of the isti national conference in collegeville on 13, 14, 15 june, is printed in its entirety .
Copyright ©2007 by MTC Cronin