Page 41 - WTP VOl. IX #1
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 His flight, as depicted by Blake, is also from the grave he has dug for his brother, from his attempt to hide the body of Abel. The nightmare he must live now is memory, history. The earth, the painting suggests, is hard, unaccommodating. Digging that grave must have been backbreaking labor. (Speak- ing figuratively—and of course we are, here, and have been all along, speaking figuratively—the dig- ging must have taken a long, long time.) When Abel is at last placed in that hole, what then? Does the grave become a scar? A numb place where a broth- er had been? An ache that will turn Cain’s attention away, from time to time, from the requirements of his troubled life?
How many times must Cain relive this moment be- fore he can learn to abide? How many times will he throw down the shovel, leave his work, take flight from the uncomprehending faces of his loved ones? “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” The darkness gathering, the shadows of the mountains moving and sliding over one another, the rumbling of thunder—can this nightmare, repeated forever, be his fate? In what direction might he turn to wake? It is one thing to be marked by trauma, another to be defined by it.
Oh, Cain, my brother, I would tackle you if I could; I would throw my body at yours, head first, and drive my shoulder into your thigh just above the knee
so your own weight would take you down. I would tackle you as I would tackle a burning child and try to dowse the fire, to cover you and smother the flames.
I have fled my own actions in horror. I have feared my own mind. I have cried out in my sudden understand- ing of my nature. I know.
You will attempt to forget. For a time the prospect of that forgetting, while you are digging the grave into which you will consign what you cannot bear, will provide relief.
But then the voice. Just as you are about to carry out the burial, that voice of fire.
Blake’s painting is an illumination of the nightmarish vision of a storyteller who is removed from the story. Unlike the “Vision of Eliphaz” Blake includes no frame around this fearful dream. There is no before or after except for the implied parentheses around this moment. The painting itself leaves an indelible mark; it has left such a mark on me. It is an image from which I want to—but cannot—flee.
4. The Missing Verse
Many scholars have remarked that there are words missing from the text, that there seems to be a miss- ing verse in the story. I bring this up here at the risk of sounding like one of those TV voice-overs promis- ing Biblical Mysteries Revealed! — “Could it be that this missing verse holds the key to the future of man- kind?” But it’s true that many manuscripts, through- out centuries of copying, acknowledge this idea by leaving a space there.
Most English versions of the tale, derived from Greek translations, read, “And Cain spoke to his brother Abel.” The Hebrew original, however, translated more accurately, reads “And Cain said to Abel, his brother,” — but not, strangely, what he said.
One could read the missing words as a Biblical “meta” communication, an instance of narrative aphasia like a hole in the paper, a smudge, an el- lipsis, in which the counterfactual is contained as well as the unknown: not only do we not know what transpired between these two characters, but the silence, the blankness, the failure of that exchange, represents the portal to an alternate history, a life on earth shaped differently, a tale that now can never be told, a version only glimpsed via yearning. Otherwise we might be celebrating the story as the first and foundational instance of successful diplo- macy, and not the birth of the mute fratricidal rage we know as history.
In fact, in that gap, in those absent words, is the ab- sence of language itself. Had Cain been able to speak of his envy and how it made him suffer, he might well have found, with his brother, the first real peace, not merely the absence of conflict, but its resolution, which here, now, far from paradise, is a thing much more to be desired.
Of the many things the painting stirs in me, including
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