American Fire: Still Spreading, Still Inextinguishable

By Joe Scarry, from Scarry Thoughts

The New York Times ran an obituary of Harun Farocki the other day.

Was it a coincidence that I had just been talking about his provocative film, Inextinguishable Fire, which is about napalm? Perhaps not; I find myself talking about that film a lot.

As we work day after day to try to get Americans to recognize some responsibility for the injury done to others in their name — by drones, for instance, or by various warplanes made by Chicago’s star corporate citizen, Boeing — I frequently think about Farocki’s film.

First, there is the famous recognition that being made to look at the injury one is doing is something that one will almost certainly feel a desire to resist.

 

How can we show you the injuries caused by napalm?

 

If we show you pictures of napalm burns, you’ll close your eyes.
 
First you’ll close your eyes to the pictures.
 
Then you’ll close your eyes to the memory.
 
Then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.
 
Then you’ll close your eyes to the entire context.
 
If we show you someone with napalm burns, we will hurt your feelings.
 
If we hurt your feelings, you will feel like we’d tried napalm on you.
 
We can give you only a hint of how napalm works . . . .

(Translation from the German, reproduced from “Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire” by Ben Davis on ArtNetNews)

This feels so familiar to me from the work we do throughout the country, trying to get people to  confront such phenomena as drone assassinations.

The other part of Inextinguishable Fire that feels so familiar to me is the “interviews” with “employees” of Dow Chemical.

“Because of the intensified division of labor,” the narrator explains, “many technicians and scientists can no longer recognize the contribution they have made to weapons of destruction.”

“Our department extracts lareic, oleic, and naptha acids . . . . ” “I’m a chemist. What should I do? If I develop a substance, it can be good for humanity . . . .”

“Besides napalm, Dow Chemical produces 800 other products . . . .”

Does this sound familiar to you?

I invite you to watch Inextinguishable Fire for yourself. I hope that I won’t hurt your feelings.

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