So someone probably told New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch that he had to write a few words about the Germanwings plane crash, and about the horrific likelihood that it was a suicide combined with mass murder. There’s not much to say about it, really, because we don’t know much now, but that’s never stopped the New Yorker.
So Gourevitch cranked out 1250 words of bloated prose, “A bewildering crash,” that, in the end, said nothing. If there’s any fault of the New Yorker, it’s the tendency of some authors to say very little, but say it in lovely words. Give me articles by John McPhee any day! Here’s a sample of Gourevitch channeling Mr. Kurtz:
The horror. It’s all there in the sound of Lubitz breathing. The wind of life, the wind of death. That steady soughing tells us all that we know so far, and all that we don’t yet—and may never—know, about this atrocity, the deadliest aviation catastrophe in France in more than three decades. Just as the brevity of the flight, and the apparent spontaneity of the captain’s decision to leave the cockpit—to stretch a leg? or take a piss? or have a chat? We do not know—tells us that Lubitz could not have planned before he flew that day to crash the plane that way; and just as the locking of the door, and the pushing of the button that brought the plane down, tell us that he acted consciously and deliberately, so Lubitz’s breathing, unbroken by any attempt at speech, tells us that he chose not to explain himself. He knew that he was on the record. What did he think he was doing? What came over him? What possessed him? And why?
This, dear readers, is bad writing. We learn nothing there that wasn’t already in the news. It’s merely an excuse for an author to show off his style and his learning.
The only interesting bit in the whole turgid piece is the ending, and there, amidst another pompous and gratuitous reference to Ecclesiastes (Gourevitch had already quoted a big chunk of Shakespeare’s Richard III), we find the tiniest suggestion that this whole mess doesn’t comport with the idea of a benevolent God:
When death strikes without the rhyme or reason of coherent human agency, in the form of a tsunami or an earthquake, a flood, or lightning bolt, or falling tree, the insurance companies, godless agencies of capital though they be, describe the blow as an “act of God.” Even those who like to believe in a divinity that loves us and means us well can grasp, and take some sort of solace in, the awareness that creation is random and incomprehensible and indifferent; that—turn, turn, turn—there is a time to every purpose under heaven; that, in short, it is not personal. Still it seems to go against our grain to accept that we are part of this natural order of disorder ourselves—and that the wholesale murder of innocents by someone as apparently motiveless as Lubitz (as far as we know so far) might also best be understood as an act of God.
But of course nonbelievers have said exactly this after every hurricane, tornado, and flood. We just don’t get paid a lot to say it while larding it with allusions to Shakespeare, Conrad, and the Bible.