NOTES ON FORM:
Horror is the wracking contradiction between material and the categories of abstraction, undergone by a subject, impelled by a confrontation with the horrible. Horror is the moment in which the incompatibility of material and categories roars, creeps, or seeps, not into view, but against view. Such that materials – such as a pile of flesh, the recognition that you are in fact eating the pile of flesh that was your husband, an endless plateau, awaking in the grave – and categories – such as the body, free will, nature, finitude – collide like trains. This is not an illumination but a darkness that demands the recalibration of categories and which threatens, forever, to lack the possibility of doing so. ‡
Horrible means simply that which might provoke such a confrontation: not mute material, but material already scarred with abstraction. I cannot speak, for instance, of a coal mine without speaking of property.
And horrifying designates the process and moment in which the horrible indexes, impinges, stamps, and splatters itself upon mind and matter, which provides the occasion or excuse for the conceptual autophagy called horror.
Why draw this distinction? Simple: because there is a near infinite amount that is horrible. But to limit its scope somewhat, even terrestially, even to the narrower field of what frequently poses itself to us, we can say only that even if, as a counterfactual, the world was not horrible as such, it is nevertheless constituted of, and fundamentally structured by, far more of that which is horrible than that which is not.
One might include, for instance, the general scope of human history. To limit it to the vagaries of “our era”: the entire order of war, mass starvation, sickness, repression, racism, misogyny, alienation, and production. In other words, what people mean by capitalism, even if the most horrible thing is what remains forever obscure to us: the relations between categories and materials called capital. (Contradictory relations between categories and materials: the felt horror of the human <–> the diffuse horrible of economy.)
The point, however, is that unfathomably horrible as they are, they are only rarely or locally horrifying: they only rarely get noticed, only rarely produce an instance of horror. We know that people set fire to themselves rather than continue to live. We know this happens sometimes as an act of revenge, a final act of sabotage, against a state in which one lives, which ruins the body of the existence that was not ruined, for that would mean it might have been otherwise, but which was cursed to accept a non-life until it either burns itself or starts burning police stations. And we know how rarely the latter happens.
Their hands were tied. No state could send in an army, a bomber, even a unit of snipers. Even if they took out De Groot, couldn’t someone else let loose the attack, and wouldn’t they likely do so, in retaliation? And, from what she said, impossible as it seemed, might not the thing itself be capable of deploying? Might it be sentient? The Futurists didn’t have access to that technology, but perhaps it wasn’t something they built, but something they discovered under Venice. Something they trained. Or worse, something they worshiped. Perhaps it was the true leader of the island, and De Groot was – oh God, they thought – merely its “manager”… What could possibly be done against that?
The United States, economically, philosophically, politically, sexually, comedically, ecologically, and culturally hobbled as it had been for the past two decades, still had one trick up its sleeve. A one-eyed jack in the hole. It hated to have to do it, but there was only one option left: it was time to send in Snake Plissken.
Because, they reasoned, he just may be crazy enough to work. If the unclear but present danger was the possibility of detection, even the best spies would be found out. The current crop of them were, on the whole, too healthy seeming, too trained-looking. With extensive combat and infiltration experience, indeed, but too few bore the sort of profound psychological and physiological hardening that could not be mimicked and which alone would allow them to go unnoticed. They were, in short, too sane.
Plissken, however, was most certainly not. He was a tough, cranky, and unpredictable bastard even back in his prime. But that was decades ago, and the years had not been kind. He dropped off the radar periodically, with the sort of total exile that only a truly trained man is capable of doing. Surfaced occasionally: a brief stint as a guidance counselor, a longer period as a purebred husky breeder followed by, in an act of seeming repentance, a year single-handedly “liberating” puppies from pet shops and planting a bomb in the hotel where the judges of the Westminster Dog Show were staying. His acts earned the respect of several green anarchist groups, although they openly admitted that none of them had ever met him, with the exception of a chance encounter in Duluth in which he threatened a teenager with a broken bottle and explained that “white folks should not have dreadlocks, for fuck’s sake” before using the bottle to give an impromptu haircut.
Arrested on numerous occasions: bank robbery, impersonating a doctor, impersonating an ambulance driver, armed bank robbery, insurance fraud, assaulting an officer, impersonating a cruise ship captain, tax evasion, destruction of currency, inciting a riot, shoplifting, possession of unlicensed firearms, possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine, possession of mescaline, public urination, public intoxication, theft of a Jet Ski, impersonating of a police officer. He bounced in and out of jail, largely freeing himself when he got bored lifting weights. Achieved brief television and internet fame when he auditioned for American Idol but merely vomited copiously in place of a song, earning the respect of experimental musicians and the general public. Became a regular fixture at karaoke bars. Lived on and off with the disowned daughter of an ex-president.
On all counts, he was liability. He was now 81 years old, senile, and with a limp. Moreover, if his nihilism during prior campaigns carried itself as a showman’s affect, it had now blossomed into a rather terrifying and steely incoherence. But it was these same characteristics that made him the only man for the job. He would be nearly invisible on that dark, bloody island. He made sense there. How could a reasonable man endure what, in seeing only of it a 26 second video, had traumatized much of the globe? And frankly, how much worse could he make the situation?
He wasn’t hard to find, having just been arrested for setting fire to a pharmacy in Stockton, California before remembering that he had forgotten to rob it and hence ran back in. When the police arrived, he was just exiting with a pharmacist under each arm, bottles of pills down his pants, and flames licking up his back. He put down the pharmacists, chugged a bottle of pills, yelled “To the commune, dick-licks!”, and bit a sizable chunk of flesh out of an officer’s left buttock before he was wrestled to the ground.
They didn’t bother negotiating with him and flew him, well and thoroughly restrained, to an outpost on Murano, the island just off Venice. Reports of his briefing are still classified, although one man present leaked a number of the details: his restless distraction, his insistence on calling everyone by their first names, and his manic oscillation between reverie and paltry imitation of the wise-cracking, weary agent he used to be.
(A particular anecdote told by the source corroborates this. Snake responded to his injection with a delayed toxin, which would destroy his brain unless given the antidote at the completion of his mission, by crying out, Oh, come on! You cat fuckers! Gimme another hit!, before regaining his composure and growling, I think you bastards would have learned your lesson by now. Good thing I’m willing to teach you. The eyewitness also revealed that Snake had been lied to, the injection containing merely a saline solution. When questioned further about this, the source said that he overheard the doctor telling the colonel that, what’s the point of giving him the real thing? There isn’t much brain left to destroy. He’s mad. Frankly, I don’t know if the threat would even sink in.)
He was given details of the mission, equipped, given the details again, and set off to save the free world.