Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?  The body suffers fear and terror even without the cognition of the threat of an approaching dark — it knows suffering in a different way, purposelessly, as if it is implicit in life itself. In a recent blog post, a writer named “Weber” describes a visit that she made to a child in the final stages of Tay-Sachs disease:
Emily has already mentioned that Ronan has seizures. With medication, the seizures are fewer, but they still happen. He has what Emily calls “screamy seizures,” where the fear center of his brain is being triggered and he cries out. This did happen while I was sitting in the backseat of the car with him – he shrieked and his little arms and legs went stiff. It lasted only maybe half a minute, and he seemed to go back into his peaceful state.
What it is that a boy with a developmental age of only six months or so can be afraid of may be something that maturity smothers with the blankets of time and habit, but that the body reacts to it so violently is evidence that it is experienced; once experienced, never lost. It may be that fear and terror require no trigger, but emerge innately, from whatever kind of character a young child may be said to possess.
The honest acknowledgement of this terror requires in part that we might enter imaginatively into it; compassion and empathy for the other (as well as tenderness and pity) are impossible without that imaginative project. This imagination, compassion, and empathy also take the form of art — to recapture it in necessarily abstract form and contemplate the fear and terror that we may have experienced so young, so unformed. The acknowledgement has its effects: it renders irony, parody, so-called satire, the blase laugh of the trendsetter, grossly insulting to those who recognize it. But an art without this acknowledgement is pale entertainment and can’t partake of the mourning which lies at the center of writing and drama. It is this responsibility which should lay heaviest on the artist; but it is this responsibility that so many self-styled artists repudiate in the interest of being well-liked and safe.
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act II. [↩]