Art can be found in the most unexpected of places, and in the midst of this mind-numbing quarantine, I have come across an old memory. This memory was of something I have seen years ago and thought so very little of it.
There are many concepts and ideas we are familiar with, those truths that we had no reason to investigate further. I find nightmares to be perfect catalysts for further inquiry. We are wired to respond to urgency, we take panic for granted, we assume good can only burst forth from good itself, not evil.
This duality of seeing the world as stated is, of course, flawed. Many of us are familiar with the concept of grey areas, especially intellectuals of this day and age thrive in this greyness, almost building a comfort zone in it.
Returning to the memory, and the nightmare;
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.
Advancements of our modern world have always been terrifying to me, not necessarily in a “bad” way. In this case however, I woke up with bated breath, with a sudden urge to scream for my loved ones. An animalistic experience, fight or flight, in its purest form. The frightening aspect of this whole ordeal was the sudden realization of the crossroads.
There is no border between animals and humans, there is only a grey area, where we created the vaguest term of all philosophical canon; civilisation.
The nightmare in question was centred around a theme of total annihilation, indescribable carnage, deafening screams cut by the sharpest silence. Until the only thing I could hear was my thoughts, which screamed “Live!”
My thoughts raced to make sense of what happened, which led me to the infamous interview of one Doctor Robert J. Oppenheimer. This was my long lost memory, a video of a long gone man from a long gone era, shown to me by my father during my adolescence. I watched this interview a dozen times in a matter of hours. I knew of its existence; I knew of its history, but I never bothered to make sense of it. As a student of history, all I saw when looking at that particular video was “Historical Evidence of the 1st degree.”
I see art as the mirror an “individual” holds against society for the benefit of advancing the collective human civilisation, not only as a tool to express oneself. It captures emotion that stands on the threads of humanity itself, both providing and asking for context of the past, evaluating the present, foreseeing the future and most importantly, pretending to be omnitemporal.
The art that I found in Doctor Oppenheimer’s interview is bizarre. It is a magnum opus that does not require an artist. My reasoning behind this, is that it depicts a pivotal point in our collective history. One sentence, created twelve hundred years ago, being uttered by an utterly broken man seventy-five years ago. It is so vast in meaning, but so specific in its wording that it feels as if it were written for that exact occasion.
दिवि सूर्यसहस्रस्य भवेद्युगपदुत्थिता यदि भाः सदृशी सा स्याद्भासस्तस्य महात्मनः ॥११– १२॥
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one.
It is maybe impossible today to find a soul who does not know about the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as it is nearly impossible to conceive the sheer destructive power of the atomic bomb.
In the video, Oppenheimer seems inhuman. It is an eerie scene, the light hits his face directly, obscuring many of his features by pure light. His eyes are like black beads, never looking up. His lower lip trembles slightly when he mentions those who were silent. Before that, the corner of his lip curves ever so slightly, when he mentions those who laughed. What makes this “art” in my opinion is that I recognise this face. We all do.
It is the face of the unknown, after every nightmare, after every tragic loss, we create that same feeling. Dread, despair, horror, disgust.
He tries to hide his face in plain sight, in blinding light. He scratches his nose to cover his eyes. Finally, he escapes to his intellectuality as a defence mechanism, referencing an obscure text from a bygone age. The most fascinating part to me is the end of this sequence, where he realises that the defence mechanism has not only failed but shoved him into acceptance. We can see he looks up for a split second when he starts that sentence that demolished all hope for a peaceful humanity from Bhagavad Gita:
कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो लोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्त:
Now I am become death, the (destroyer) of worlds.
He bows his head even further, and remarks “I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
What creates this inexplicable sensation is that Oppenheimer dances on the grey area of civilisation. He is afraid and ashamed but cannot help but feel powerful beyond belief. He is going through so many emotions where he is prevented from showing any “true” emotion.
As I said, context is pivotal for art, and we have many truths that we do not investigate. One of these concepts is the wording of this weapon. “Atomic Bomb”. A name devoid of soul and devoid of consequences. That exactly is why we need the nightmare, to internalize the costs of our actions. Therefore, I will present you with the wording of Emperor Hirohito regarding this weapon, from his acceptation speech of the Terms of Surrender.
The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable.
Oppenheimer has created the collective nightmare of humanity, a cruel bomb. The blank state of his visage is captivating, he communicates all his feelings without showing a single one.
He questions his humanity.
As art should make us question our humanity.