10: 6 At the Point of Death

Season 10:, Episode 6: Extremis

Doctor: Memories are so much worse in the dark.

Darkness is often associated with sin, hatred, fear, and danger. This use of darkness is a common trope in music, movies, books, tv shows. It also has societal manifestations-in which dark or black people including kids are regarded as dangerous threats to be eliminated by the state. And at first, this episode of Doctor Who seems to continue with the, “darkness is bad troupe.” The Doctor is blind-a condition that he thinks may be permanent. He does whatever he can to act as if he can see-relying on technology and Nardole to be his eyes. Being blind has plunged the Doctor into a physical world of darkness. But this physical darkness pales in comparison to the darkness that continues to reside in the Doctor. In fact his physical darkness, makes the internal darkness that much more clearer.

The Doctor is a pro at distraction. He finds ways to distract himself-albeit momentarily from all he has experienced in his thousands of years. And part of that distraction involves being able to see the wonders of the physical world and the universe. He still gets excited when he encounters something new, despite all he has already witnessed during his travels. But with that gone, hiding becomes that much more difficult for the Doctor.

Darkness-both physical and metaphorical forms are described in terms of hiding. People fear physical darkness because of what they may find in the dark alley or in that dark house. But of course, what they fear is the fact that they will have to confront whatever awaits them. The light serves as a warning about dangers ahead. You hopefully use the light to navigate treacherous paths. But in the darkness you are vulnerable. In the darkness you have to face whatever it is that scares you. I think that is the real threat that darkness presents.

FIGURE: Greetings, sinner. Only in darkness are we revealed. 

I am both attracted to and repelled by the darker aspects of life and the world. My research constantly forces me to face the ugliness of those in power. Simplistic notions such as patriotism and democracy often give way to the excesses of nationalism and governments’ obsession with national security and power. What is often betrayed as patriotism is nothing more than an excuse to espouse nationalistic and xenophobic narratives. And democracy often gives way to national security concerns where even the US justifies the use of torture and the abandonment of the judiciary in the fight against terrorism. Authoritarian governments have justified the oppression of their people through the narrow lens of national-security.

Many government figures in the US and abroad want to forget about the past or given token recollections for past damages. This is seen most explicitly by how governments deal with the issue of “enforced disappearances” or people who have been abducted and imprisoned by the state, or authorized representatives (such as paramilitary groups) or political organizations that are not involved with the state but are actively fighting against it (such as guerilla groups). It is in essence a form of extrajudicial detainment and the entity responsible for the abductions often refuses to provide the location of the kidnapped or denies having them. This is seen particularly in authoritarian governments (though the US also participated in enforced disappearances to a limited extent via CIA black sites and in military prisons abroad. )While non-state actors also kidnap people-since power rests in the state, the state is able to do harm to a broader section of society for a longer period of time.  Many countries, even those who have transitioned to democracy, often struggle with acknowledging the past. They often want to move ahead with the future while leaving thousands of family members and friends wondering   if there is any possibility of their loved one returning or if they will ever be able to provide their beloved child, son, daughter, spouse, or friend with a proper burial. (For some examples see Argentina under Pinochet or modern day Egypt under SiSi.)

FIGURE: Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

Many citizens also want to forget about the period where enforced disappearances were a daily threat. It is as if by ignoring the darkness they can make sure that it never occurs again. But of course that isn’t true. Evil doesn’t go away just because you ignore its existence. And this brings me to the part of me that is repelled by the darkness. More specifically my own darkness. On my blog I am pretty open about my emotions and my struggles, but in my everyday life, I often do whatever I can to ignore the darkness within myself and I suppress my emotions. I am disgusted by political violence but I will confront it and study it and advocate against it with all my might, but when it comes to focusing on my own personal life and emotions-I will run the other way but I can never run quite far enough. And while my research sometimes provides a distraction, it just as often also fuels the despair I feel. In an attempt to not feel at all, I end up feeling too much.

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Despair. Hopelessness. I go through phases where those emotions are not quite as intense. They remain stuffed in the background like white noise-always there but simply a minor irritant. (Yes I know some people find white noise relaxing. Not me). Other times, despair and hopelessness have me trapped. And I ask, why do I keep going? Why am I still here? It feels cruel. The Monks in this episode of Doctor Who have basically created an alternative reality that is pure hell. The intelligent people know that the world they are in are fake and they seek to escape it by “committing suicide” but then they become trapped in another fake hell-hole.  I don’t personally believe in a physical hell so if I kill myself I’m not worried about burning in hell. But I’m not sure that death would provide much of an escape. At best (or at worst?) it would simply transfer the hell to other people. So I ask God to “turn me off.” (If I die as a result of actions not of my doing, that somehow seems less selfish and cruel to others than killing myself.)

DOCTOR: I don’t believe much. I’m not sure I believe anything. But right now, belief is all I am. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

But yet when I do manage to confront my own darkness and not just the darkness in the world, I find that I can’t give up. I can’t give up on God, on me, or on the other people in the world who are fighting to make a better world.  A lot of times, I’m not sure what I believe-do I believe in a loving God or not? Do I believe that there is good in the world or not? Do I believe in hope or not? And intellectually, I’m not sure I believe in any of those things or as the Doctor said, “I’m not sure I believe in anything.” Yet here I am. And when I do get the courage to face my own darkness in conjunction with the shit going on in the world I find that deep within my soul, I do believe…in goodness, in compassion.  And I only recognize that when I run into the darkness rather than away from it.

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3 thoughts on “10: 6 At the Point of Death

  1. The Doctor found the darkness distressing. If someone amazing as him would, how can we not? That would require us to be blind to the suffering in and around us. It’s a dark world. Hope may be gone. Nothing left to hang onto. But these are the times that prove who we are. Or who we choose to become. Though each of us is just a wee part of humanity, our little bursts of light surely make a difference when combined. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I look forward to notices of a new post — always a bright spot!

  2. If we let culture’s cartesian approach to darkness define it and (mis)guide us we lose out. The bible tells us ‘darkness and light are alike to thee’ and the Doctor refers to it as ‘deep, lovely dark.’ Don’t be afraid to go in there; God is already there, and where there is God, there is love.
    I like your thoughts about distraction. In ‘Mr God, this is Anna’ she says ‘you can see further in the dark.’ – not distracted by glamour or clamour or fake ‘everything’s fine’ frenzy.
    If you are already thinking about these things, you are already strong enough to overcome them, though sometimes you might end up feeling ‘too much.’ And at a global level we together are strong enough to overcome them, one tiny light at a time. If we let them make us believe we are powerless to change anything they win by default. you and I aren’t going to let them!

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