Momento Mori

I was on a train that hit and killed someone this afternoon.

I don’t know anything more than that. I didn’t see it. I didn’t even hear it, as I had headphones on. I think I felt it but even that might have been post-impact emergency braking. A body is not a very solid thing, and a train is.

I’m reasonably sure it was a woman, because I recall something vaguely said by another woman who did see it happen (we were in the very front carriage). She and another seemed close to tears shortly afterwards, and the driver (or guard?) was audibly in shock when he spoke over the intercom to say “the train is indefinitely delayed”.

Some passengers didn’t handle the delay gracefully, as is I suppose their prerogative. The train was not well air-conditioned and it smelt pretty strongly like someone had been living in it for a while. We sat and waited on “police action” for an hour. I got a few tweets out but even though I had good theoretical reception most of my time was spent waiting for a loading screen that never changed.

I’m writing this all out because I’m trying to figure out what exactly I feel about this incident?

I’m kind of distressed – but not even because of the event, since it barely touched me beyond a lengthly delay to an already long and exhausting day. And not because it distressed other people – though I certainly felt it most keenly when other people were affected.

No, I’m distressed at something else, something larger than the event – something more abstract, something harder to touch and see and feel, but which right now I’m feeling keenly. Something like a song, or an emotion, but with more ground and made of different stuff.

Who’s responsible for this tragedy? The easy answer is: “It was a senseless tragedy” or “She took her life in her own hands”. No! Fuck those answers. Who is really responsible? The driver? No, what could he (?) do in time? There would not have been time to stop such a heavy train. What about the train itself for being a heavy piece of swiftly moving metal? We could get angry at it – in fact do wish it were destroyed – whatever little symbolic good that would do. Are we responsible? What about us, the train riders? We who use City Rail? We who live in Sydney; in a ‘liberal’ democracy; in Australia; in a world with so few remaining corners left untouched by the greasy, metallic fingers of capital and it’s system of relations?


We are responsible. We are responsible.

“But why?”

Because we let this happen.

“Let what happen?”

Let this system of relations – which we benignly call CAPITALISM – between owners and workers and between the means of production and those who extract use value… WE who suffer this every day, and at the end of the week say ‘thank you, deposit my payment into X account please’, we caused… all of this. Nothing is untouched by us. There is no ‘nature’, just one giant world…. systems of connection, relation, being, and becoming. “I seem to be a verb”.


There is a concept that psychologists often use to describe what happens on those occasions when, for example, no one calls the police to report an accident or a crime because everyone thinks everyone else will do it. Psychologists call it ‘diffusion of responsibility‘, and I have a passion that it must be fought. “Everyone is at fault, therefore no one is.”

No, give up on that old chestnut – that’s bullshit. If everyone is at fault, everyone is at fault.

At least religious language captures the spirit of it:

…when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

Numbers 20:29

When did we stop mourning? Judith Butler (probably) thinks it was political.

I don’t have to know you to mourn you. I don’t have to know you to know that the world is irrevocably changed by losing you.

“But does the world really notice, let alone care when someone is lost?”

Fuck you, the “world” doesn’t even exist – what you’re thinking of is displaced god – something omnipotent, and unsleeping. Lidless, listless, utter lizard-like. That’s not the “world”. The world is ALIVE it is VIBRANT it is full of energy and motion and colour and the stability is the lie. It takes a lot of effort (displaced elsewhere; to coal fired power stations, cut down rainforests, etc) to maintain the illusion of a smooth, uninterrupted journey. All it takes is one, small, squishy little body.

So no. I don’t need to “know” who she was to grieve for her and to feel responsible – full responsibility – for her. I accepted my responsibility when I stepped on the train. No one will hold me to account for it though. Maybe I have to hold onto it myself till we regain something of a sense of congregation.

“Oh you’re just looking for an excuse to feel guilty – to feel something.”

Fuck you, you don’t know me. Here’s another piece of religious wordage: “Get behind me Satan”. That attitude is perhaps as far removed from what I am attempting to explain, attempting to reveal from my heart (mind? soul?), as I could imagine.

So what am I saying? Am I trying to shame you or judge you?

No. (duh)

I’m trying to say this; please believe me when I say we need new relations, these ones are fucked up; Live your lief because you never know what hurtling chunk of metal is coming your way.

28 At the sound of the cry of your pilots
the countryside shakes,
29 and down from their ships
come all who handle the oar.
The mariners and all the pilots of the sea
stand on the land
30 and shout aloud over you
and cry out bitterly.
They cast dust on their heads
and wallow in ashes;
31 they make themselves bald for you
and put sackcloth on their waist,
and they weep over you in bitterness of soul,
with bitter mourning.
32 In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you
and lament over you:

Ezekiel 27:28-32