Five metaphors on healing

1- Rebirth


“Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer


“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame;

how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)


For most of its history, humanity has grappled with two certainties: That life is suffering, and that innocence once lost can never be regained. Yet both scripture and myths reverberate with a tantalizing alternatives of death and rebirth, sacrifice and resurrection: variations on the phoenix in which the burning of the old and the emergence of the new from its ashes give us a chance to break the cycle of fate, either in the form of a blank slate or a return to roots — a continuity of the self after getting rid of wounds, impurities and sins. Pain is the price to be paid for redemption.


2- Amputation and cauterization


“One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene. Amputation is swift but time may prove that amputation was not necessary — or one may delay the amputation too long. Gangrene is slow, but it is impossible to be sure that one is reading one’s symptoms right. The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison.”

-James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955)


The body, not the soul, is the locus of pain. Homo sapiens are but rational animals. Modern medicine with its rationalism, terminology, methods and machinery is able to cure all pain. Medicine originated there, in surgery. In acts of precise violence. A precision that might dictate the removal of an entire diseased organ, not because the organ is disposable but because it is not essential. As long as you are alive and in possession of your mental faculties, you’re fit. Who among us has not dreamt of a decisive delivery from pain? And if the pain lingers after surgery, fear not for these are ghost pains, mere delusions caused by your nervous system. Just be rational about it. If it worries you that your imagination and your mind are one and the same, there’s psychiatry for that. Trust the experts and relax. Amputate, then cauterize, and before that anesthetize. And after the deed is done, the painkillers, rehabilitation therapy and patience will see you through. Life will go on.


3- Recycling


“We are building the new order out of the bricks the old order has left us.”

-Vladimir Lenin

“His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

-Walter Benjamin


Suffering is not sacrifice and the body is not a machine. The pain is not yours alone; every individual belongs to a social class and these classes emerge as history marches on. You can become an agent of history, instead of its victim. Make of your pain a revolution, your suffering is resistance. Destroy the sources of pain, and with the ruins of the old we shall build the new as an act of collective agency. This is inevitable, for history follows a logic as deterministic as the laws of the material universe. You just have to recognize the right moment when it comes, and pick the right faction.


4- Haunting


“Capitalist societies can always heave a sigh of relief and say to themselves: communism is finished since the collapse of the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century and not only is it finished, but it did not take place, it was only a ghost. They do no more than disavow the undeniable itself. A ghost never dies, it remains always to come and to come-back.”

-Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (1993)


They will not eject you from history as long as you can still speak, they will not banish you to the past, as long as you can still listen. But which present do you inhabit?

Haunt the dreams of your comrades, and the nightmares of your enemies; live in a future that never came — be a specter, a memory, and a herald. Remind them that the current state was not inevitable until it came to be. Do not occupy yourself with the question of why this very possible future failed, leave the victorious to grope for answers. Be the question, and do not heed your impotence. A ghost has no need for material presence or action, you merely need to shimmer.


5- Regeneration


“For salamanders, regeneration after injury, such as the loss of a limb, involves regrowth of structure and restoration of function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd topographical productions at the site of former injury. The regrown limb can be monstrous, duplicated, potent. We have all been injured, profoundly. We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender.”

-Donna Harroway


There can be no return to paradise lost, for we were not born innocent; there can be no resurrection for we are not holy, and our sacrifices were not consciously made. No surgery can cure us and no medicine, for the decision to amputate is not ours, and no clinical research was conducted to explain away our ailments. There will be no rebuilding as the land itself can no longer withstand any more clearing, or digging. Let us postpone the wandering of our souls till after death, for each one of us is haunted by comrades who departed, and it would not do to leave them desolate before their time.

If we are to be treated like animals with no agency, so be it. But we shall bypass cattle and livestock, ignore pets and domesticates. We shall look to the lizards, starfish and earthworms — those beings that can regenerate after any injury, no matter how grave. We shall accept that regenerated organs may not be identical to what was lost. They could appear to be mutilated, but look closer and you will see the beauty in monstrosity, for only the monstrous can hold both the history of dreams and hopes, and the reality of defeat and pain together. The monstrous need not forget their old injuries in order to lose their fear of acquiring new ones.

Alaa Abd El Fattah 
Alaa Abd El-Fattah is webmaster of Panorama, but is better known as an Egyptian blogger, software developer, and political activist. He is known for co-founding along with his wife Manal Hassan of the Egyptian blog aggregator "Manalaa" and "Omraneya", the first Arab blog aggregators that did not restrict inclusion based on the content of the blog.

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