Here I am in a ghost-town, an old mining camp at 10,000 feet, snow on the peaks. It’s called “Gothic,” about an hour and a half up the road north of Gunnison, CO. It was taken over in the 30s by alpine biological researchers. Flying in you could see the smoke from the fires. As fate would have it I was reading W E Sebald on the firestorms incinerating German cities, and German forgetfulness of them. He is precise and painfully truthful about failures of language to hold up its end of the bargain when it comes to dealing with the most calamitous experience. Linguistic amnesia is a function not just of our wish to turn away from the unbearable but a function of the utter uselessness of inherited speech to bear up under the palpably unbearable.
I’m used to thinking of the failure of ordinary language to bear up to the taste of blue cheese, or to wrap itself around the pain of a kidney stone. Somehow I can live with linguistic failures here. But I can’t be indifferent to the haunting, terrible, and otherworldly demonic incapacities of language and response that Sebald chronicles in On the Natural History of Destruction.