Spreading fear and mayhem in the visual arts.

Le train de la mort

Posted in Interna by Suzanne on January 18th, 2006 | BBC Wikipedia

Cover illustration for Charles Selby's London by Night, 1886 - via Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories

"Voulez-vous que je vous dise pourquoi vous n'avez pas peur de la mort ?

Chacun de vous pense qu'elle tombera sur le voisin."

(Jean-Paul Sartre, extrait de "Le diable et le bon dieu")

Today at around 1:45 PM the IC 255 „Verdi“ from Basel SBB to Milano Centrale suddenly crashed into something and lumbered on for half a mile before the train conductor pulled the emergency brake just outside the village of Reiden.

Just like every Wednesday, I was sitting in the front carriage of that train, returning from my seminar on women in Renaissance France.

The train stopped so abruptly that most of us were thrown out of our seats and I was pretty certain that the train would derail sooner or later. Just as I was attempting to find the emergency handle to open the window the train came to a halt.

As it soon turned out the crash that we in the front carriage heard and felt was in fact caused by someone who plunged onto the railway track.

The train crew immediately locked the doors and asked us to stay in our seats and wait for further instructions.

What followed then were undoubtedly some of the most agonizing, irritating and disillusioning 60 minutes in my life as a homo sapiens sapiens with a 1489 gramm brain.

So let us gather the facts again: Our train ran over a person who - by mistake or by intention, no-one knows - threw him-/ herself onto the rails. IC 255 „Verdi“ then crushed his/her bones and spread his/her guts out over half a mile in the picturesque scenery of Reiden before someone obviously decided to pull the brakes and call the ambulance and the police.

For some very obscure reason, however, whenever something unexpected occurs, human beings prefer to discard the facts and analyse the situation as they please. It's indeed a strange phenomenon that a whole carriage of trapped (and by nature not particularly inventive) train passengers (me excluded) can suddenly develop a huge imagination and excitement about the possible causes and circumstances of an accident. So apart from mine, not a single mouth remained shut.

Those who didn't grab their mobile phones and breathlessly chatted to their wives, lovers, secretaries, grannies and hamsters, indulged themselves in trivial psychology and abstruse conspiracy theories. After less than half an hour, the private life of the (hypothetically) suicidal victim was fully dissected and analysed.

It's incredible what people assume to know about other people's problems.

Amongst others, my all-knowing fellow passengers decided unanimously that¹ "suicide is always a totally irrational act of sheer panic", and underlined that "his suicide won't solve anything - it will only create more problems for everyone involved", and, most creatively put, that "he would definitely regret what he did if he was still alive". You must have had at least 7 (unsuccessful) lobotomies in your life to come up with such comical cognitive nonsense.

Meanwhile, under my cosy kitty-eared hood that covered my face in darkness, my iPod was playing "ShiTe" by ohGr, which never made more sense.

I pondered whether I should join the discussion by throwing in Kant's categorical imperative, a couple of quotes from Hannah Arendt's "Vita Activa" or J.-P. Sartre's "L'étre et le néant". In fact, I was even thinking of presenting an accurate calculation of the impact a Swiss IC 255 train has on 80kg of manmeat when it approaches with a speed of 197 km/h or tell them that the police forces in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden have a special team to scrape off bodies from roads and rails, but I decided that it's safer for everyone to pretend I'm asleep. Finally, after almost an hour, the train continued its journey, the voices faded away and I was left with utter contempt for the blatant arrogance and ignorance of my co-passengers towards the life of someone they've never even met.

They didn't want/seem to understand what really happened: A person just died in front of our eyes.

Who are we to speculate on other people's state of mind?
Who are we to arrogate that we will ever understand what drives a person to take such extreme measures?
Who are we to condemn others who had enough of this world and no longer want to be part of it?

With an almost unworldly patience, I've long been trying to shut my eyes and ears and tolerate the intolerance of my fellow men, but it's days like today that set my faith in the intellectual and emotional evolution of mankind back to zero.

"Il faut un double soleil pour éclairer le fond de la bêtise humaine."

(Jean-Paul Sartre, extrait de "Nekrassov")


¹ The following 3 quotes are original statements from my co-passengers on today's 13:04 IC 255 „Verdi“ from Basel SBB to Milano Centrale.

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23 comments to " Le train de la mort "

  1. Gravatar

    anaglyph says:

    It seems to me that we are being anaesthetized by constant exposure to extreme circumstances via the ubiquity of the media, particularly television. We are living in an environment that causes most people to view reality in a divorced and removed fashion. If they have no experience with death, with despair, with acute anxiety and fear, then the world becomes a drama that really doesn't touch them in any but the most stylized of ways. We are being taught to empathize in abstraction now. No-one really feels much. If they did, things would be changing for the better a whole lot faster.

    January 19th, 2006 at 5:25 am

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    Suzanne says:

    Yes, I guess that's pretty much a summary of what was going on yesterday. I think that if something shocking or upsetting happens, most people have to translate the information of what just happened via a primary medium like our voice (they talk to others about it) or via secondary media like telephones (ring up friends) or cameras (c.f. all the passengers who were in that tube and took pictures of the so-called "London Bombings"). Only then can they obviously digest the situation and categorise it as something unfortunate that happened in their lives. It's almost like a firewall for your psyche.

    January 19th, 2006 at 10:34 am

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    kid37 says:

    Ãœbersprunghandlung. You can watch that with apes, too. After experiencing stress, like being attacked by an enemy, the whole group starts chattering, searching each other for lice etc in order to cope with the situation and the high level of adrenaline in their body.

    Disturbing experience, I'm sorry for that. Hope you are ok, Miss W.

    January 19th, 2006 at 8:24 pm

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    John says:

    Your smug and superior attitude is unbecoming, Little One; you are no different than your fellow passengers--although presumably they hadn't just been to a seminar on Women in the Renaissance, not as emotionally philosophical as you, at that moment--but here you are, talking about it, trying to wrap your brain around it, just as any other human being (or great ape) would do. Don't pretend you weren't affected by it, wild thing, offer some tobacco to the dead person's spirit, help it find the exit--

    January 19th, 2006 at 11:11 pm

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    Suzanne says:

    Hang on, did you just call me "little one"?!? o_O

    I only partly agree with what you're saying. And even if that sounds presumptuous and arrogant to you, I do believe that there's quite a difference between prejudging a person you don't even know and trying to understand why this person got prejudged by others. The tiny word "meta" marks that difference. You might argue now that with my text I was prejudging others too, but if that's the case, then I'm sorry to say you slightly misunderstood the reason behind my post and the direction of it.

    Oh, and btw, I'm fine, kid37. Apart from a torn ligament caused by the emergency braking. Thanks for asking.

    January 20th, 2006 at 12:36 am

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    anaglyph says:

    Gee, it occurs to me that John himself does a pretty good line in smug and superior.

    January 20th, 2006 at 10:24 am

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    Suzanne says:

    And now you did the same. Hehehe. ;)

    January 20th, 2006 at 11:16 am

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    Thomas Anderson says:

    You're all being smug and superior...I just wanted to join the fun :)

    January 20th, 2006 at 5:54 pm

  9. Gravatar

    John says:

    No no, in the end my avuncular affection for Miss Wurzeltod is misplaced and inappropriate. Yes, I am older and bigger than Suzanne but I've no right to call her "Little One"--it's just that, as a childless man with paternal instincts I think people should accept my well-intentioned--ehm, paternalism. Not to be confused with Patriarchism, please. The internet gives a false sense of familiarity and I must be careful to avoid emotional attachments to people I don't know and will never meet in the flesh.
    But traumatic deaths must never be reduced to insignificance by our own callousness. Again, I suggest taking a moment to sing the departed one over.

    January 20th, 2006 at 8:22 pm

  10. Gravatar

    anaglyph says:

    Aha, yes, but see the difference between me and John though is that I never pretended to be anything otherwise. I've been accused of far worse than that.

    I'm also an older childless man with paternal instincts. But I have a cat upon whom to inflict my paternalism.

    January 20th, 2006 at 10:58 pm

  11. Gravatar

    John says:

    Wait--when have I pretended to be anything otherwise? If you're referring to my MySpace blog, "Girls With Knives," the title does seem to throw some people, even though my age and sex are clearly posted on the homepage. If that's what you're referring to, I'm just glad you took the time to check it out, thank you. What else?
    Perhaps we should take this discussion elsewhere, I'm already embarrased by what I've written here

    January 20th, 2006 at 11:36 pm

  12. Gravatar

    anaglyph says:

    I'm sorry John, I wasn't intending to be taken that seriously. Flippancy doesn't really translate that well to e-text. But I do think you kinda tromped condescendingly on Suzanne's original observations which I don't think were really either that smug or superior in the Grand Scheme of Things. Nor do I think she intended them that way. She was blunt. Have any of us not been that?

    Elsewhere sure, but I doubt we're offending Wurzeltod.

    January 21st, 2006 at 12:32 am

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    Mer says:

    Oof. This entry sent a chill down my back. Hope you're feeling okay, beautiful. I'll be lighting extra candles tonight.

    much love,


    January 21st, 2006 at 1:02 am

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    John says:

    B-B-but Anaglyph, may I not be blunt as well? A blogger who invites comments, invites comments. I believe that pretending to be above the others in that first railway car, Suzanne does a disservice to herself--I say, acknowledge--well, if it's really true, that is--shock, because medically speaking, shock happens even to those not physically injured, but it's a form of injury in itself, and it warrants treating, I'm saying, Suzanne take good care of yourself [rant coming on] because when we do honor to the dead it's never about the dead person really, it's about our coming to terms with death and our celebrating life but because it sounds better to us we call it honoring the dead but the dead person, in this case, if it was indeed a suicide, was expressing his/her pain and directing it outward, to the living, anger at the world for not being more caring--oh how I wish I could unplug my heart, sometimes

    January 21st, 2006 at 1:12 am

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    Suzanne says:

    Oh dear... it looks like I actually have a good reason not to post personal matters on a daily basis in this blog. o_O

    Look, I'm truly sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable, John. I fear I forgot to add some winking smilies to my previous comment. I guess that if I had expressed my feelings in German and not English, you'd have understood my point better. My intentions were far from judging my co-passengers, their views or their moral integrity. I only allowed myself to question their disrespect towards another person's life (and more importantly even: another person's DEATH). And that's why I had to write this blog. Not to overcome a traumatizing moment (to be honest, it was far from traumatizing for me), but as a reminder to respect the peace in death.

    So I guess that in the end, you and I can agree on the most crucial message that was (I admit it) rather hidden in my text.

    January 21st, 2006 at 1:40 am

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    Suzanne says:

    Also: Weeeeeeeee! I missed you so, my dear Mer. I think of you all the time. Especially when I see conjoined squirrels and hamsters that want to take over the world in the woods. Which happens a lot. Must. write. email. to. you. soon. <3

    January 21st, 2006 at 1:53 am

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    Diabolo-Menthe says:

    I experienced quite a similar story in my Nice-Vintimille train, very long time ago. You made me remember it. You were unlucky to have people around who talked stupidly (?) disrecpectfully(?) because they didn't want/weren't able (?) to think about their own mortality. Quite understandable. In the end everyone is alone confronted to his own death and life. And no-one like this idea. I guess thats what we call the sadness of the human condition :-(

    January 21st, 2006 at 12:04 pm

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    John says:

    For some reason I can't post comments on Warren Ellis's website--I'd be flattered if for some reason he didn't like me personally, but I think it's probably nothing to do with me. I saw your comment, Suzanne, regarding the recent death of Ellis's mother, and I know nothing puts you more in touch with your own mortality than the passing of one of your own.
    I once pulled the body of a drowned girl (I'm guessing she was 8-10 years old) out of a river; you can't make any sense out of it, so you may as well think of death as liberating, for the deceased person anyway--
    I find, as I get older, I'm talking much too much; I'm sorry for that, I'll shut up now

    January 22nd, 2006 at 5:55 pm

  19. Gravatar

    Vampirasco says:

    Hello, im the man who "stole" your gifs and put they in my blog.
    But i dont understad whats is the problem....because as you may notice i dont speak the english so well. Then my cuestion is: ¿can i keep the gifs or i have to erase it? Or how i can do the think that you mention in my blogg?
    Well im so proud that you post in my blogg. One last cuestion, how do you get into my blogg?

    January 23rd, 2006 at 6:23 pm

  20. Gravatar

    Suzanne says:

    First of all, thanks for your comment.

    Yes, of course you can keep them - it's a free interweb! :)

    I just thought that it would be nice if you could put a link to my website under the animations. At the moment, it looks like you're the creator of them and I think that's a bit misleading.

    But that's just a suggestion, not a threat. Okay?

    January 23rd, 2006 at 6:31 pm

  21. Gravatar

    Vampirasco says:

    Dear suzanne you came to late to my blogg because in one of the gifs it was a link directly to your web site. Well, how about something like
    "All the gifs are from Suzanne. http://www.wurzeltod.ch"

    do you know why i dont want to do something like that before?, beause this is my favorite web site and i dont want to no one of my friends to know it. Im a sellfish man dont you think?
    Well...if the phrase is good to you ill put it into my blogg.
    One last cuestion: How do you find my blogg?

    Bloody Kisses.

    January 23rd, 2006 at 6:58 pm

  22. Gravatar

    Suzanne says:

    >> “All the gifs are from Suzanne. http://www.wurzeltod.ch”

    Yes, that'd be great. Or just link the GIF to my website if you don't want to add text.

    Awww.. thank you for your kind words concerning my blog.

    I do like your blog, but sadly, I cannot read Spanish. So I could only look at the pictures. o_O

    Btw, I found it via my webstats - i.e. someone must have clicked on a link that leaded to my website.

    January 23rd, 2006 at 7:11 pm

  23. Gravatar

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