Monthly Archives: September 2011

Death by misadventure

Invisibility is, if nothing else, the precursor to (and perhaps the opposite of) classification.

Almost 20 years ago when I was a younger man (I’m not sure if I’m old but my students keep getting younger) my father died when he was hit by a car while crossing the road to get to work. I faced the unenviable task of viewing and identifying his body at the hospital – all by myself.

The simple question: Do you recognize this man. My response: That’s my father (okay, it might not have been quite that way since I was in somewhat of a state of shock).

To me it was clear. He died because he got his by a car.

To the coroner who examined his body following the accident the official cause of his death was one simple word: torsion.

I asked what that meant and they said that he died not exclusively by being hit by a car but because his body was twisted violently by the transfer of force (inertia?) from the forward motion of the car as it supposedly slowed down to avoid the situation. 

Medically he died because he was twisted to death. I’m not sure why it was necessary for that one word to be used to classify the circumstances of his death but I’m told that the specific circumstances as classified by a medical examiner could mean the difference between degrees of insurance settlement – torsion, it turns out, was legitimate where other simpler explanations might have been less so.

It seems bizarre to me but to an extent we all need classification systems to make sense of the world. But the context of all systems of classification is a state of invisibility. Classification, it must be remembered, is the result of transformation. One must transform information from it’s ecological place, affix meaning to it, and identify it as fixed and immutable. But that information still resides in a system of invisibility in which it can be reinterpreted by another system of classification.

In the end, this explains why one person’s misadventure is another person’s noble deeds. While at the same time, it does not preclude the possibility that taken in the context of invisibility it is not an either/or question but a both/and until and unless classification is imposed and order stands in place of fluidity.