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1) The Abyss of Nothing

‘Whiteout’, said one survivor. ‘Blackout conditions’, said another. A third man reported stumbling through ‘an abyss of nothing.’

These are escapees from the shoulder-high snow and flattening winds which hit theAnnapurna mountain trail unexpectedly last week, at the height of Nepal’s tourist trekking season.

Nearly 40 bodies have been recovered so far; but hundreds have survived – either snatched out of the snow by keen-eyed, sharp-clawed helicopter pilots, or straggling down the mountainside as best they could, clutching at straws which turned out to be guide poles trailing the way down to safety.

Down to the non-descript place where patches of snow give way to blotches of warm earth; and queues of bedraggled survivors look like they’re waiting for the Night Bus home.


Yet how splendid it must have been to come down in the world; to re-enter a lower realm of relative comfort, largely as you left it.

When the trekkers went up, however, weren’t they saying goodbye to all that? Pristine, surely, is what they were after. Above the snow line: the absence of things; and theend of men.

‘Blizzard conditions where the ground became the same as the sky and it was difficult to see which way was up and which way was down’, as one survivor described them, are also the preconditions for the Inhuman Being which tourist-trekkies are sort of, kind of looking for – aren’t they?

They may not admit it, and perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it – safer to have said they were searching for the Abominable Snowman.

Whoever he is, they only wanted to touch the hem of his garment; but when the Nepalese weather turned unexpectedly absolute, last week’s search party found themselves draped and dying in it.

2) The Abyss of Everything

A hospital waiting room where there’s no need to wait – surely no such thing. But now there is, in Dallas. Patients have fled the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after one man died there and two of his nurses contracted the Ebola virus.

Outpatients are not coming in for their appointments, corridors are empty, and, despite re-assurances, ‘the Presby’ has turned into a ‘ghost town’.

Meanwhile in Bedfordshire, UK, the father of a 13-year-old has taken his daughter out of school after he was denied permission to send her in wearing a facemask.

Not on account of her complexion; for fear of infection.

Although the Ebola virus shows no sign of spreading across countries where the medical infrastructure is strong enough to contain it, on both sides of the Atlantic theWorried Well have already caught the idea of Ebola as the abyss of everything.

Churning the imaginary charnel house, millions of cells and thousands of Africans, all of them flying everywhere. And everywhere they go, millions and thousands more. Always and exponentially more – more, more, more. Teeming until there are more Ebola cells than any other organism in the world; and Ebola reduces every other organism to an abysmal zombie of itself.

Until everything is hurled into the abyss, and the abyss is everything.

As a full blown scenario, it’s still very rare; but thousands are already partially affected by the Ebola scare.

3. The Abyss of Nothing and Everything

Reflected in the masked face of Jihadi John, the absence of all the virtues we can hardly bring ourselves to speak of nowadays, still less believe in. His being runs on our nothingness.

In footage of ragtag fighters dangling off the back of trucks on their way to another crucifixion, we are seeing our fear of the mob; for the umpteenth time re-running theperceived dangers of proliferation (on and on since long before ‘nuclear’), of other people everywhere.

Look again at what you’re looking at: this is your terror of everything becoming Other than you.

Islamic State – you couldn’t invent it; because in many respects, we already have.