Being in the Care of Philosophy: Thinking about Rachel Corrie

By Bari, Shahidha K. | New Formations, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Being in the Care of Philosophy: Thinking about Rachel Corrie


Bari, Shahidha K., New Formations


CORRIE AND THE IDEA OF CARE

If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew (because of previous experience) that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment ... if they came and destroyed all the greenhouses that we'd been cultivating for the last however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours, do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect the edge of the greenhouses, to protect whatever fragments remained? A bomb buried in the ground, after all, cannot be detonated unless a large piece of machinery rolls over the top of it. I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed--just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is.

Rachel Corrie, email to her mother, February 27, 2003 (1)

When Rachel Corrie, writing to her mother in the spring of 2003, reflects upon the acts of retaliatory violence taken by Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza strip, she draws together a vision of Edenic fall, desecrated 'orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees', with an implicit acknowledgement of her own vulnerability: 'I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is'. That turn of phrase, 'a labour of love', inadvertently figures to Corrie's mother the act of her own child-bearing and so, almost accidentally, poses the possibility of a loss that might be felt by the mother as closely as the felled fruit trees to her daughter. In the email above, Corrie passionately asseverates a belief that acts of violence spring from experiences of subjection and degradation; she notes in particular, with a peculiarly lyrical expression, the injustice of those who are compelled to live 'with their children in a shrinking place'. Her phrasing here is ruthlessly efficient and acute; how are children to grow in a place that shrinks, a place that is both militarily encroached upon and which must metaphorically recoil from the force to which it is subject? Nonetheless, there are children everywhere in Corrie's letters; the schoolboys in the street that clamour to joke with her, the babies she plays with, the children next to whom she sleeps in the homes of the Arab families that extend to her their hospitality. When an elderly Arab neighbour reprimands her for smoking, Corrie is bemused, recounting the story to her mother as if to reassure her that even where she cannot be, there are still other maternal figures ready to parent her. Yet beneath those reassurances and implicit in all the letters to her parents, Corrie's writing betrays the pained consciousness of her self-recognition as someone's child in a situation of considerable danger.

Early in February 2003, Corrie recounts her part in a particular incident:

   Yesterday, I watched a father lead his two tiny children, holding
   his hands, out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and
   bulldozers and jeeps because he thought his house was going to be
   exploded. Jenny and I stayed in the house with several women and
   two small babies. It was our mistake in translation that caused him
   to think it was his house that was being exploded ... I was
   terrified to think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk
   out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I
   was really scared that they were all going to be shot, and I tried
   to stand between them and the tank. This happens every day, but
   just this father walking out with his two little kids just looking
   very sad, just happened to get my attention more at this particular
   moment. (2)

Corrie notes the 'every day' nature of the kinds of danger to which the residents of Rafah are subject, but she writes here, specifically to her mother, of risking her own life to protect that of a father who is compelled to risk the lives of his children. …

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