In Nick Flynn’s memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb, he introduces the Buddhist concept of “monkey mind,” the restless, bewildered, unsettled mind. It is also the structure he adapts for the book. Like a monkey swings from one branch to the next, Flynn’s memoir swings from one story fragment to another. It is a book about torture and impending parenthood; about reading and relationships. These seemingly disparate pieces echo and resonate with one another when juxtaposed (with great care and craft). The pages reveal a mind responding to all that he is reading, witnessing and feeling. ( Flynn quotes Fanny Howe: “Bewilderement is a way of entering the day ”)
What I am drawn to in narratives is the intersection of the personal and the political. How does violence on a global level, or an intimate level, affect our lives, and how do we reconcile and respond to these injustices?
Flynn received an award from PEN for his first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, the same night Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith won a sister award from PEN. Flynn did not know then that Harris’ book advocates torture, and what bewilders him even more was that Harris was given an award by a human rights organization for it.
Later, Flynn has the opportunity to go to Istanbul and meet with an Abu Ghraib ex-detainee, “Amir.” “Now if asked, I’ll sometimes say, I went to Istanbul to bear witness, though at the time I was somewhat bewildered as to my role,” Flynn writes.
One of the parts of the book I found most interesting is Flynn’s anyalysis of Standard Operating Procedures, the film and book project by Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch. There is further corresponence between Flynn and Gourevitch on his website here. Flynn’s main criticisms are that Morris and Gourevitch take the story of the torturers at their word, and refer to the victims by the often times derogotary nicknames the military police gave them and not by their real names or dignified aliases. And in one particular controversial passage, it seems Gourevitch suggests that the pictures look worse than things really were. Flynn writes to Gourevitch: Continue reading