Looking for
The Evental
(In an Iraqi
Field Hospital)
[The author is reading a book by the French philosopher Alain Badiou, Saint Paul, La fondation de l'universalisme]

There is a stirring at the door. Three wounded Iraqi detainees, preceded and followed by six M.P.'s, pass by the foot of my bed. The first is injured in the leg, the second in the shoulder, the third --- his hands manacled behind his back --- in the stomach, his waist turbaned with gauze. I watch them disappear into the bowels of the field hospital with a soupçon of moral displeasure that encompasses more than their fate and my own. Badiou --- who can believe this stuff? My irritation settles on a word the translator has used that may come from the French but doesn't belong in English. I have never seen it used before and dislike it in its noun, adjective, and verb forms: eventalization, evental, eventalize.... Come on. The three prisoners were an eventalization. (Hate it.) The three prisoners eventalized Paul's exposition of the ineffable. (Hate it even more.) Evental, its most common form, cannot be an English word. What does it mean? The sudden occurrence of what cannot occur? This is the weakness of contemporary philosophy, not the insight or claim that Jesus' Resurrection was a-rational, a-historical, a-real, but the desire to gussy up meaning and tease it out onto stage in silly, portentous neologisms, and supposedly untranslatable foreign phrasings.

I get out of bed to look for a dictionary. As I am instantly aware, this is an odd thing to do. A bookshelf loaded with cast-offs contains nothing but pulp fiction and self-help guides. But now that I'm up, I walk back into the tent toward the nurse's station. My presence causes a stir because, despite the renewed air conditioning, a very white-skinned nurse with some chocolate drop moles on her upper chest is still shielding herself behind a computer screen with only a sports bra on. Another nurse quickly tosses her a top, which she slips on as she asks what I need.

"I was wondering if there is a dictionary around."

"A dictionary? Do we have a dictionary?" she asks the other nurse, a lizardy woman with freckles, bronze hair, and a gecko-like ensemble of narrow eyes and small but broad nose.

"Like for crosswords?" Lizard asks.

"Well, for anything."

"I don't think I've seen one. What's the word, hon? How many letters?"

Because I'm so lonely, I decide to deadpan my way into this. Patients are children; they need help; I am a patient and, therefore, a child and I need help.


"Like when something happens? An event?"

"Yes. I just want to see if it's in the dictionary."

Moles says sorry, no dictionary, but Lizard says they've got an Internet connection. Why don't I try that? This seems like a good idea, so I take Moles' seat --- we're all in a tight spot in this crowded nurses' nook --- and bring up Dictionary.corn. No entry found (not surprisingly).

"Did you really mean eventual?" Moles asks.

"No, he didn't," Lizard says. "He typed it in just the way it sounds."

"It isn't a word then," Moles says.

"Wait," I say. I do an Internet search for evental and come up with a reference to an Israeli photographer whose last name is Evental --- Pnina Evental --- but then down the page, I come upon an entry for Alain Badiou --- Professor of Philosophy --- that I read aloud: "A truth then expands out of the evental site (site eventementiel) insofar as it elicits the militant conviction of certain individuals who develop the ..."

"The what?" Lizard asks.

"The rhapsodic insistence that what they believe enters time and space as we know it and pushes it out of the way," I say.

"You're making that up," Lizard says. "I don't see that there."

"Yes, but it's what we'd find. I know what he's up to."

"You know this guy?"

"I'm reading one of his books."

"No time and space, then where do we exist?" Moles asks.

"More or less in the site eventementiel," I answer, pleased to have caught this word in its native French costume. "I think Badiou is more anthropologist than philosopher."

"He's talking about miracles?" Lizard asks.

"No, I think he'd say miracles are time-bound and space-bound. The boy walks. The old woman sees. That's an occurrence that reverts to what we would call reality; reality is the continuous reference point. What he means is a permanent alternative; reality is displaced."

"What would we have instead?"

"The Kingdom of Heaven. Nirvana. Reality overwhelmed by unity where the fact that you can't walk or see is irrelevant. It's exploded. Those are mere distinctions. Saint Paul preaches the aftermath of the Resurrection as life without distinctions. No Gentiles, no Jews --- all humanity redeemed in singular grace."

Moles says, "I wish Saint Paul could tell that to some of our patients."

"He'd be at home here," I say. I gesture around us, inadvertently brushing her shoulder with my hand. "His father was a tentmaker. He probably sold a few tents that made their way across this desert."

"How long ago was that?" Lizard asks.

"Two thousand years."

A pulse of air, the air conditioner getting its second wind, pushes past us. Moles squeezes her arms over her breast. "I wonder if they had windows back then. That's the one thing. We've got no windows, which I hate."

"If we did, they'd fur all over with the sand hitting them," Lizard observes. "We couldn't see out, but that sand would get in. I mean the grit. It's not really sand; it's grit, hard sharp grit."

"Still," Moles says.

"Do you believe in this?" Lizard asks me. "I'm not asking if you're a Christian, but what is he really getting at? Can everything change for you, is that ... ?" She doesn't finish her sentence because another nurse has appeared in the transept, gesturing for her to come quickly. Spryly, Lizard disappears into the tent gloom, her bronze hair vanishing last.

The near perfection of this moment makes Moles and me both frown. We don't know what to say. We're having a hard thought, she from inside tent life wanting to look out, me from inside tent life wanting to be out. And all my mischievousness is now spent, so we're close together, which is good, but we're stuck.

--- From Nights in the Pink Motel:
An American Strategist's
Pursuit of Peace in Iraq

Robert Earle
©2008 Naval Institute Press
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