This is a bad time to talk about “disappearance.” There are too many kinds. The abrupt disappearance of a father, mother, or child, killed for no good reason by a stranger is painful beyond language. Also beyond language, but less vividly remembered, is the disappearance of your family, kin, and tribe.
You can only start discussing “disappearance” in the context of history. Otherwise, adopt, soothe, send flowers and money. History is an uninterrupted chain of horrors that will never end until humans end. Russians killing civilians in Ukraine is a painful reminder of how the Ukrainians used to kill Jews, and how Ukrainians and Jews were killed by Germans and by Russians. Is there a statute of limitations on the endless mirroring slaughter?
Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” pronouncement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a malignant notion. It put us to sleep and it threw a flimsy cover over the ongoing slaughters everywhere outside Europe. The war in Yugoslavia should have woken us up, as should have the wars waged by the United States and Russia in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Moldova, Georgia, and Chechnya. There was more and bloodier history after the “end of history” than there was in the proxy wars between the US, the USSR in Korea, Vietnam, and Central America. And let’s not forget that Yugoslavia was in Europe.
So why did historians buy Fukuyama’s sleeping pill? Fukuyama’s sleeping pill was in fact a poison pill. It delivered waking amnesia as well as sleep. In the speeding of time thanks to technology and automatic story-telling we have become more, not less, murderous.
The invention of “nations” in the past two centuries made slaughter the rule, not the exception. Nae Ionescu, a Romanian fascist who helped shape Nazi ideology, said that “people become a nation when they have the ability to make war.” He was right. Institutionalizing hate is a more effective way to kill people. Technology takes care of how to do it better—and it also takes care of forgetting.
The only tragic “disappearance” that can use art for some sort of help, is memory. If we can teach our unteachable selves to remember, we might teach ourselves to feel. Empathic memory must be learned by identifying with the disappeared. Imagine what your family would feel if you died from a bullet fired in the name of a vendetta, a nation, or an ideology. Their feeling would be beyond words and images. Any art should then be about identifying with the dead person your dear ones mourn.
Art should be good enough to make everyone cry. The only memory that can empathize resides in tears. And the only art that will teach that will be made by people who imagine themselves dead. Create from the beyond! Write as if you’re dead.