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“… I felt an icy fear; it seemed to me that in front of my eyes, the great secret of Gogol emerged from the earth. Yes, the person was really like that: formalist, narrow, stiff, like some prelate of death celebrating a funereal liturgy in the middle of candelabras and torches, ordering genuflections and proffering here and there some ‘mots’ from his great repertory, empty and insane. I couldn’t help but pronounce the word idiot. For he was truly inflexible and obstinate, as rigid as he was limited in his reasoning. “I write like that, dot the i and its done.” Magnificent. But what does this mean? The idiot widens his eyes, without understanding. He has these magnificent “mots”. Like nobody else. And besides, he is conscious of this fact; and this delighted him to the point of madness and made him arrogant with an insane pride.
-Ugh. Get out of here, Satan.
But the mannequin winks its cold and glassy eye. It doesn’t understand that behind the words there has to be something, that behind the words there has to be, among other things, a reality, a fire or flood, terror or joy. He absolutely does not understand, and continues to put the finishing touches to his own, while distributing that last cup of cold and repugnant tea to his admirers, , who he imagines in his little head to be the heads of some office constrained to intone praises for the director… what am I saying, for the author of Dead souls.
-Ugh, get out of here Satan!! Cursed witch with a blackspotted soul, icy cadaver, glassy, transparent, … empty.
-Out of here, you polluted thing!
His decrepit face laughs in the tomb.
-But I don’t exist, I never existed. If there is nothing but an appearance.
-Cursed werewolf! Out of here! The cross of Jesus will protect us! How, if not, to be protected from you?
With faith, the heart whispers. For whosever has kept a grain of faith, of faith in the soul, in the earth, in the future of man, for this person Gogol in truth never existed.
Never on earth has a man, or rather the simulacrum of a man, been more terrible.
And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
2Sa 12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
2Sa 12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
2Sa 12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
2Sa 12:5 And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
2Sa 12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
2Sa 12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
2Sa 12:8 And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
2Sa 12:9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
2Sa 12:10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.
“I also learned that, in spite of all this evidence, the words carcinogen and environment rarely appeared in the pamphlets on cancer in my doctors’ offices and waiting rooms. Nor were these words used much in conversations I had with my various health-care providers, who were interested instead in my family medical history. I was happy enough to provide it. There is a lot of cancer in my family. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age forty-four. I have uncles with colon cancer, prostate cancer, stromal cancer. My aunt died of the same kind of bladder cancer—transitional cell carcinoma—that I had.
But here’s the punch line to my family story: I am adopted. I’m not related to my family by chromosomes. So I began to ask hard questions about the presumption that what runs in families must necessarily run in genes. I began to ask, what else do families have in common? Such as, say, drinking water wells. And when I looked at the literature on cancer among adult adoptees, I learned that, in fact, the chance of an adopted person dying of cancer is closely related to whether or not her adoptive parents had died of cancer and far less related to whether or not her biological parents had met such a fate. But you would never know that based on the questions asked on medical intake forms.
So thirty years ago, as a college undergraduate, I made a bet. I bet that my cancer diagnosis had something to do with the environment in which I lived as a child. And I think I was right about this.
As I learned years later, while researching my book Living Downstream, the county where I grew up, along the east bluff of the Illinois River, has statistically elevated cancer rates. Three dozen different industries line the river valley there, and farmers practice chemically intensive agriculture along its floodplains. Hazardous waste is imported from as far away as New Jersey, and the drinking water wells contain traces of both farm chemicals and industrial chemicals, including those with demonstrable links to . . . bladder cancer.
TWENTY YEARS AGO, in the fall of 1988, when I was a graduate student in biology at the University of Michigan, I made another bet. I was working as an opinion writer at the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper there. My editor and I laid bets as to which system would collapse first—economy or ecology. I said ecology. I think I was wrong. I think we were both wrong. They seem to be crumbling simultaneously.
“As part of my work, I visit a lot of college campuses. Lately, I’ve been asking students to engage in a thought exercise: Imagine that ecological metrics were as familiar to us as economic ones. Imagine ecological equivalents to the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P that reported to us every day—in newspapers, on radio, on websites, on the crawl at the bottom of TV screens, on oversized tickers in Times Square—data about the various sectors of our ecological system and how they are faring. What are the atmospheric parts per million of carbon dioxide today? Has the extinction rate become inflationary? What is the exchange rate between sea ice and fresh water? What is the national deficit of topsoil?”