Wednesday, August 8

process victims

I read the following phrase in one of my proofs several weeks ago, concerning a building that had caught fire and burned down:
"a victim of faulty wiring and wooden construction"
since I was only playing proofreader and not comprehensive editor at the time, I kept my puzzlement and questions to myself and saved them for this blogpost. the worrying idea spawned by this (perhaps less-than-accurate) phrase spirals around this question: how can you be a victim of the way you were built and the context you are standing in?

okay, I'm personifying a building. maybe our author was too. the word victim doesn't always imply a human... but.... it does imply some intent, right? and even the fire, since it was an accident, cannot have been intentionally victimizing its setting. these things... these words. they mess with your head if you think about them too much. the etymology of the word victim is tied up with sacrifice and pain.
late 15c., "living creature killed and offered as a sacrifice to a deity or supernatural power," from L. victima "person or animal killed as a sacrifice." Perhaps distantly connected to O.E. wig "idol," Goth. weihs "holy," Ger. weihen "consecrate" (cf. Weihnachten "Christmas") on notion of "a consecrated animal." Sense of "person who is hurt, tortured, or killed by another" is first recorded 1650s; meaning "person oppressed by some power or situation" is from 1718. Weaker sense of "person taken advantage of" is recorded from 1781.
freund Kolby informed me yesterday, interestingly, that the German word for victim is das Opfer. it can also mean offering, sacrifice, or casualty. there's also a long list of other kinds of victims. das Brandopfer, Verbrechensopfer, Unfallopfer, and so on. who controls these kinds of situations? these victim-victimizer relationships? the offerer, the torturer, the fire, the criminal, the forces of nature or gnarled hands of fate. never the victim. unless we find ourselves with a willing victim? or does willingness ruin the whole connotation? would not a willing victim pose an oxymoron?

I could mess with definitions for hours. so what? rambling thoughts. qualities and causes and chance and control. at the top of that list of German victim-words is this one: Opfer der Verhältnisse. a victim of circumstances.

so maybe you can be a victim of the way you were made. the faulty wiring you were fitted with or the wooden construction that is what you are.

but if we start saying that, then we may as well say we are victims of all the awesome things that happen, too. I might be a victim of my fabulous curly hair, or a victim of this brilliant sunny afternoon. and then our connotations will get really, really twisted. which is not necessarily a bad thing... but I'm just saying... maybe let's be careful with our usage. words are powerful things, you know?

a few weeks ago my dad, whose perspective on life I greatly value, gave me a bit of his usual off-the-cuff fatherly advice. something he seemed to have been thinking about in the face of recent days' happenings. he said 'you can't count on life ever functioning efficiently.' logical and efficient are not adjectives that apply to life as a whole. life is a process. and maybe we should realize that the process, however convoluted, is more valuable than the outcome. this thought reminded me, with a very vivid and immediate spark, of rube goldberg machines.

when I was a kid, I had of course not heard of Rube Goldberg at all. but my siblings and I would sometimes scavenge bits of wood from dad's workshop, turn our bikes on their backs, set up tracks for  marbles or tennis balls, and build little machines. they never really accomplished anything (other than entertaining a few kids for a while), so I suppose you couldn't call them rube goldberg machines. and maybe life is similarly pointless. we don't really know...

inspired by my dad's words the other week, I'm going to declare that life is like a rube goldberg machine. perhaps it's a bit like this one:

Melvin the Mini Machine from HEYHEYHEY.

you are one piece of the game at a time. in the middle. maybe someone out there can see all the pieces, how they fit together, but you can't. you just don't get to.

and this crooked little corner of the process of your life is the only forever you get. right now, wherever you are and all the stuff you're made of. the rest of forever will be just the same... one tiny moment in the middle of everything else beyond it, behind it, beneath it, and before it.

enjoy it. I'm going to continue playing etymologist-nerd here and tell you that one meaning of the verb enjoy might be something like 'put joy into' or 'give joy.' that sounds right.

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