The sarin used in the Tokyo gas attack is the same deadly nerve poison recently used in Syria [links to fascinating article about the history of sarin, first developed in Germany in 1938].
After reading about the latest mass shooting in my country yesterday, this section of Haruki Murakami's Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (1998) came to my mind. He's talking about how we make sense of jumbled time-space experience by turning it into narrative, or "story":
"Humans can't live very long without some sense of a continuing story. Such stories go beyond the limited rational system (or the systematic rationality) with which you surround yourself; they are crucial keys to sharing time-experience with others.
"Now, a narrative is a story, not logic, nor ethics, nor philosophy. It is a dream you keep having, whether you realize it or not. Just as surely as you breathe, you go on ceaselessly dreaming your story.
"And in these stories you wear two faces. You are simultaneously subject and object. You are the whole and you are a part. You are real and you are shadow. "Storyteller" and at the same time "character." It is through such multilayering of roles in our stories that we heal the loneliness of being an isolated individual in the world."
Murakami goes on to say that people who lack a healthy self-identity, "a proper ego to create a personal narrative," latch onto stories other than their own.
They might adopt the narrative of a "master storyteller ... capable of anticipating the modd of the times," such as a cult leader, in the case of the gas attacks in the Tokyo subway in 1995.
...Or, they might adopt the story that gun ownership is a patriotic right.
What kind of narrative do we look for, he asks, if we are adopting some other story?
"If needn't be anything particularly fancy, nothing complicated, or refined. ... In fact, rather, the sketchier and simpler the better. Junk, a leftover rehash will do. Anyway, most people are tired of complex, multilayered scenarios––they are a potential letdown.
"So then, what about you? (I'm using the second person, but of course that includes me.)
"Haven't you offered up some part of your Self to someone (or something), and taken on a "narrative" in return? Haven't we entrusted some part of our personality to some greater System or Order? And if so, has not that System at some stage demanded of us some kind of "insanity"?
Is the narrative you now possess really and truly your own?"
_________________Of course my narrative is not wholly my own. That's not necessary, or even possible--my very self-identity, for instance, includes the name that my parents gave me.
But I'm a big fan of checks-and-balances, in personal as well as political life, and trying to see my (our) own story as if from the outside is a good practice.
For me, that's one of the things art can help with--both helping the ego work properly to create a story AND checking the ego by reminding it that it is not the Creator of Everything.
Even photography, which for me is more passive than writing, helps me see how I impose meaning on complexity, how I make sense of time-experience.
Like, it feels useful to ask myself what this photograph portrays:
a mess of garbage? the tragedy of decay? reassurance of the cyclical nature of life? beauty in chaos?
My mother always said I have a fundamentally merry nature, and even her suicide didn't ultimately erode that. So, yeah, I find this photo of compost hopeful: I keep dreaming that in a healthy working system, things die and decay, but life wants to live, and, with or without us, it continues.