Speaking the Unspeakable

From The New York Times:

WHILE THEY SLEPT by Kathryn Harrison:

Pinskyjump190 The violations that destroy human lives, or maim them, seem to demand telling. Possibly we seek such stories as ways to understand our smaller, more ordinary losses and griefs. Mythology and literature (and their descendant, the Freudian talking cure) manifest a profound hunger for narrating what is called, paradoxically, the unspeakable. Raped, her tongue torn out, Philomela becomes the nightingale, singing the perpetrator’s guilt. When Oedipus appears with bleeding eye-sockets, the tragic chorus simultaneously narrates and says it cannot speak; it looks while saying it must look away:

What madness came upon you, what daemon
Leaped on your life with heavier
Punishment than a mortal man can bear?
No: I cannot even
Look at you, poor ruined one.
And I would speak, question, ponder,
If I were able. No.
You make me shudder.

In the “Inferno” of Dante, Count Ugolino, forced to cannibalize his children’s corpses, is led to narrate the horror by Dante’s offer to retell the story up in the world above. Genesis 19 not only tells the story of incest between Lot and his daughters, but proceeds to name their offspring: Moab and Ben-ammi, and the Moabites and Ammonites descended from them. Abel’s blood “cries out” with its story, and the fratricide Cain is marked.

“Therapeutic” is too mild and cool a word for the telling that rises from such drastic extremes as incest, parricide, fratricide: something like “reconstructive” — as in post-traumatic facial surgery — might be more accurate for such narrative. An eerie, immediate impulse in the direction of storytelling characterizes the thoughts of the terrified 16-year-old Jody Gilley in her upstairs bedroom one night in Medford, Ore., in 1984. Jody is aware that her brother Billy has just clubbed their parents and their younger sister to death with an aluminum baseball bat (though the 11-year-old sister is still breathing).

More here.