To Jamestown Jane (first letter)

Dear Jane,
What was your real name?  You sort of comfort me, whoever you were/are, or at least my thoughts of you do.  This isn’t the right bunch of words, but I haven’t found better ones yet and need to keep writing.  I pretend you’ve never stopped pondering the meaning of existence (since that desperate winter of 1609).  You tell me not to worry about lowering the bar, that there is no bar to raise, that none of us obtain the dignity or grace demanded by the hysterical desires within us as we die.  You assure me that we’re all disasters.
Do we reflect the civilizations that bind us?   Do you?  Have all human endeavours reiterated an entropically collapsing totality, an accumulating, universal breakdown, a constantly expanding Starving Time?  What was Jamestown?  Is there a difference between an imperial outpost and a migrant prison, a colony and a disease?  How does a fourteen year old girl decide what to do in relation to these questions?  Did you ever get the chance?
Do we persist as individuals — do individuals recur — as a form of contestation, a resistance to fate?  Does fate exist?  The colonists who ate the flesh from your face had no butchering skills.  At least they waited until you were dead.  The strikes to your skull are hesitant, made with many reservations (not enough, however, to prevent your brain from being extracted before it started to rot).  What are any of us capable of under extreme duress? When survival trumps whatever we take for morality, do we perceive an acquiescence, our submission perhaps, to an indifferent order?
Do we refuse our own being in trying to survive?  Do we become the living dead, animated dopplegangers of that excavated basement dump, a jumbled mess of animal parts, your fragmentary remains and other settlement waste?  When are we not equivalent, collectively and individually, to the Powhatan Confederacy, containing foreign threats at the edge of our fragile machinations, our known worlds, waiting out the danger while already, unwittingly, doomed.
Yes.  You assure me we’re all disasters, and that perhaps, if one is able to acknowledge this, an ethics will be revealed in relation to survival, a sense of right and wrong preceding ourselves.

 

Montaigne understood this in considering cannibalism:

I am not sorry that we should here take notice of the barbarous horror of so cruel an action, but that, seeing so clearly into their faults, we should be so blind to our own.  I conceive there is more barbarity in eating a man alive, than when he is dead; in tearing a body limb from limb by racks and torments, that is yet in perfect sense; in roasting it by degrees; in causing it to be bitten and worried by dogs and swine (as we have not only read, but lately seen, not amongst inveterate and mortal enemies, but among neighbours and fellow-citizens, and, which is worse, under colour of piety and religion), than to roast and eat him after he is dead.
You remind me that our agency as moral beings, alone and together, resides in the ability to honestly distinguish necessity from choice, to never allow one to pass for the other.  You must’ve thought about this a great deal before you died.
I’ll write again soon,
jeremy