Friday, January 9, 2009

Something I Was Thinking About Several Months Ago But Am Not Posting Until Now, And Only Out Of Boredom

"Hell is the place we don't know we're in."

In Don DeLillo's The Names, one of the characters considers this quote, wondering "Is hell a lack of awareness? Once you know you're there, is this your escape?"

At first this seemed to be a terrifying paradox. But if you don't know you're in hell, how bad can it be? And when you do suddenly realize that you've been living in hell, that precise moment is the one in which you are released, so you never gain the ability to reflect on what your punishment in hell means or repent for your wrong-doings. At that point you're now free, and didn't recognize your punishment as such while it was occurring. So really, how much of a motivating force can hell be? The only way you can perceive it is through memory! If, when recollecting, things didn't seem that bad, then the knowledge that you had been in hell isn't likely to drastically alter your moral choices or influence the future course of your life. And presumably, if after that point you were to continue on in a manner that warrants your return in hell, you'd once again simply not realize you were there. It also isn't enough to deter evil behavior for those who have yet to visit, because who would care about the consequences of their actions if they're not going to be aware of their punishment while it's occurring?

Perhaps DeLillo's characters are experiencing some sort of Projection bias: they encounter people in situations or states-of-mind that surely would feel like hell to them, and mistakenly assume that the ignorance of those involved must be part of the tragic package.

Photo by Patrick Doheny.

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