O torment A Worm compelld

From Blake’s Four Zoas, which I have never managed to read in its entirety but do enjoy occasionally dipping into. Orc here is not an orc but a heartfelt serpent or perhaps a hell-whale, addressing Urizen, the local tyrant god:

Then Orc cried Curse thy Cold hypocrisy. already round thy Tree
In scales that shine with gold & rubies thou beginnest to weaken
My divided Spirit Like a worm I rise in peace unbound
From wrath Now When I rage my fetters bind me more
O torment O torment A Worm compelld. Am I a worm
Is it in strong deceit that man is born. In strong deceit
Thou dost restrain my fury that the worm may fold the tree

Deceit means in its parts to take from. Its latter syllable shares a root with cop and chase and capture. This makes perfect sense, because policing and arrest and detention are of course practices of deceit. The taking of persons from their lives, their families, from the world; the taking of their time, their days and years, under not merely false pretenses but an entire ecosystem of lies and deceptions enabled by police, judiciary, legislation, and media acting in concert to serve petty goals of gaining and keeping power on the back of atrocity. Ahnaf Jazeem’s first interview, on his release from detention after a year and a half (the translation project Free Ahnaf Jazeem has a nearly complete translation of Ahnaf’s allegedly controversial book now, by the by, with much thanks to Shash Trevett and the other translators) is telling on many fronts, not least of which is a first-hand window into the abysmal treatment of prisoners under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (which cannot be reformed and must be repealed), the farcical, clownish “investigation,” and the lengths to which the police go to attempt to force Ahnaf Jazeem to frame Hejaaz Hizbullah, who has been imprisoned even longer than Ahnaf and was recently denied bail on a deeply petty technicality: I hope, as many of us do, that he will finally be released by the Court of Appeal on Monday, even if purely as a pragmatic strategy to brush some of the dirt off Sri Lanka’s deeply stained reputation before the spotlight of the upcoming UNHRC sessions. In the absence of a functioning justice system but still trapped within the hollow space that it should have occupied, it seems accidentally positive outcomes as a byproduct of petty politicking are the best that can be hoped for.

(Which is not to say the best possible outcomes: merely the best that can be hoped for, because hope in itself provides very little leverage to make the world other than what it is. What is needed is will, built upon and beyond hope, but if we know anything about these, it is that while hope is cheap, will costs so very, very much.)

These two cases are tied together, of course. Both of them were targeted through the faux-investigation into the 2019 Easter bombings: Hejaaz for having been an activist lawyer and thorn in the side of power, Ahnaf for having the temerity to have produced art in Tamil, unreadable to Sinhala police or judges, in an area designated as suspicious because of its tenuous connection to the then recently-arrested Hejaaz. With both of them detained, the pressure mounted on Ahnaf to give a false confession implicating Hejaaz: a man that he had never met, never seen or communicated with, never even heard of until Hejaaz made the national news with his arrest. This Ahnaf refused to do. Others were similarly coerced. The single coerced witness who actually made it to the stand, himself until very recently a minor, could not even keep his lines straight. The thing is absurd, the whole of the thing. This country, where we its citizen worms are compelled to follow along with so much fa├žile worldmaking that would never pass muster in fiction. This is Urizen’s island now, chained by technocracy and disconnected from the real, first narrowing the world into a well and then diving in headfirst to wallow in bottomless incompetence. As long as he is stuck there, truth cannot get out to shame us.

From The First Book of Urizen, via the William Blake Archive.