Two weeks ago, one of the fellows I commute with into the city told a strange story. He had ocassionally mentioned that a certain man he worked with as a heavy mechanic was very morose as well as being a chronic alcoholic. On this particular day, though, the police had come to his shop and had arrested the man for a murder committed a full 25 years earlier in Ontario.
As Trevor told the story I was overwhelmed by the strange and disturbing sensation that I was that man; that I, too, had committed a heinous and as yet undiscovered murder in the past; that I, too, was a fugitive and a hunted man hiding behind a false identity. The feeling that I was guilty of a murder was so strong that I began to doubt my own memory, and even my sanity. I truly felt I had committed a grotesque crime; that I had covered it up; and that I was now a fugitive in constant dread of being discovered.
In acute anxiety I ransacked my memory. Had I, in fact, committed a murder and covered it up so successfully that I had even forgotten it? What could possibly have caused this reaction? Why this anxiety? Why this sense of guilt?
Since then, also, my dreams have been accusing dreams. “Murderer!” they shout. I am Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. I am the fratricidal Cain from the Old Testament. And I have no idea why my “conscience” and my dreams now accuse me of a grotesque act of criminality and homicide. I have even become a fugitive in and from my dreams.
I know that I have committed a murder in my dreams. Why “I” did so I do not know. I may have committed even more murders in my dreams than I can recall. In the one instance that I can recall of having murdered in my dreams, I woke up in utter horror at what my dreaming self had done. I openly asked myself: “I have killed in my dreams. Am I, then, a murderer?” I was filled with self-loathing at the thought that my dreaming self was a murderer — a veritable Jack The Ripper or Ted Bundy.
No one really knows what it means to be “aghast” until they face something like that. Most people today are only “aghast” perhaps because they happen to clumsily spill some tea or coffee on the neighbour’s rug. At least I now know what “aghast” truly means.
It might be no accident that this personal reaction to Trevor’s story coincides with recent posts on universal history and to the notion of claiming all of human history in the planetary era as belonging to our own human autobiography. Perhaps my reaction and my dreams are, in effect, stating — “you human ‘global soul’ — can you claim Cain, too, as belonging to your autobiography and to your universal history? Can you take into yourself, then, as part of the totality and whole of human experience, a Jack the Ripper, a Ted Bundy, and a fratricide like Cain?”
Fair question, dreaming self. For are we not all spiritually descended from the murderer Cain? Are we not all, for that reason, called fugitives upon the earth? And yet, besides Cain and Abel, there was yet the third brother, Seth, who simply and strangely disappeared from the narrative. Who or what was Seth and why did he simply disappear?
What was the meaning of that?
“Verily, a polluted stream is man. One must actually be a sea to take in a polluted stream without becoming impure. Behold, I teach you the superman: he is this sea, in him can your great contempt go under.” (Nietzsche). That also is a vision of universal history. And perhaps the mysterious “Seth” of Genesis was this then unintelligible option for mankind besides Cain and Abel, that had to await his time.