When Paul Auster was 14, a boy just inches away from him was struck by lightning and killed. “It’s something I’ve never got over,” he tells me. He was at summer camp: “there we were, nearly 20 of us caught in an electric storm in the woods. Someone said we should get to a clearing, and to get there we had to crawl, single file, under a barbed wire fence. As the boy immediately in front of me was going under, lightning struck the fence. I was closer to him than you are to me now; my head was right near his feet.”
Auster didn’t realise the boy had died instantly. “So I dragged him into the clearing. And for an hour, as we were pounded by intense rain, and attacked by lightning spears, I was holding on to the boy’s tongue so he didn’t swallow it”. Two or three other kids nearby had also been struck and were moaning; “it was like a war scene. Little by little, the boy’s face was turning blue; his eyes were half open, half shut, the whites were showing.” It took Auster a little while to absorb that, had the strike occurred just a few seconds later, it would have been him. “I’ve always been haunted by what happened, the utter randomness of it,” he says. “I think it was the most important day of my life.”
The Sound of Music hasn’t tarnished over time; it was always dated, always reviled by the learned. Rumor has it that Pauline Kael was fired from McCall’s for her withering review of it (“the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”) and that Joan Didion was fired from Vogue for hers, which described it as “more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people … Just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind.”
Though research has not done much for profanity, the opposite is not true. Neurologists have learned a great deal about the brain from studying how brain-damaged people use swearwords—notably, that they do use them, heavily, even when they have lost all other speech. What this suggests is that profanity is encoded in the brain separately from most other language. While neutral words are processed in the cerebral cortex, the late-developing region that separates us from other animals, profanity seems to originate in the more primitive limbic system, which lies embedded below the cortex and controls emotions. As a result, we care about swearwords differently. Hearing them, people may sweat (this can be measured by a polygraph), and, tellingly, bilingual people sweat more when the taboo word is in their first language.
If what you want is calm
to be restored you are still the enemy
you have not thought thru clearly
what that means