The Pistorius case

NEW JERSEY - One's self is endless. Reading about Oscar Pistorius's alleged murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, I thought of the old stories, and the old ideas. I thought of Oedipus, with his terrible anger and his-to put it mildly-poor judgment, and of Achilles, with his pride, and his tantrums, and his childish pettiness. I thought of Heraclitus, who said that life was a river, a constant flow of change, with no resting place or closure.

Lee Siegel,

24 Fevereiro 2013 | 01h00

We are all, despite what we've learned from experience, accustomed to thinking of life in terms of stories with a beginning, middle and end. From all we knew about him, Pistorius had passed through the horrible ordeal of his beginning, through the pain of struggle, to the happy ending of achievement. Born with a condition that made it necessay to have both his legs amputated below the knee before he was a year old, he became one of the world's most celebrated athletes. But like the ancient heroes, his character and his psyche flowed on and on, without resting place or closure.

No one except Pistorius himself will ever know what happened the night he now stands accused of shooting Steenkamp to death. And maybe he did, as he claims-and as unlikely as it sounds, at least at this point-mistake her for an intruder. And maybe the investigating police officers were incompetent, or even malfeasant. Yet from all the details about Pistorius's life that are emerging now, it seems almost impossible for there to be such a simple explanation for the events of that night.

How could we have been so insensitive to the human condition to think that this man could lose both his legs as an infant, strap on some miraculous carbon blades, and sprint his way to happiness and immortality? Why do all the revelations about Pistorius's anger, and fear, and violence surprise us now? Our lives are enigmatic enough, even to ourselves. What perplexity must have pounded away inside the head of this man, who had so much robbed from him almost at birth, and went on to receive more than nearly any mortal could hope to.

In the light of his condition, the emerging details of Pistorius's aberrant behavior in the years leading up to the shooting seem normal, and his celebrity seems like an aberration. He is said to have kept a variety of weapons in his house-a cricket bat, revolver, and a machine gun-to ward off intruders. In violent South Africa, this was ordinary enough, but in the case of a man who, without his carbon blades, was left defenseless, it seems like the height of rationality. His temper, his threats of violence against people, his obnoxious boasts about his marksmanship-all this seems like the rational counterbalance to all the fears and demons that surely haunted him when he saw, with what must have been agonizing clarity, the chasm between what his physical limitations really were, and what the miraculous blades and his iron will had gotten for him.

As tragic as the outcome was-especially for poor Reeva Steenkamp-Pistorius's story, no matter what happens in court, has all the contours of a fairy tale. He is either the hero who is powerless without the magic that has been conferred on him, or he is the villain who is powerless without the magic he has stolen. In both cases, the gap between the actual self and the amplified self is vertiginous.

I am certainly not saying that, in accepting the magical powers of his carbon blades, Pistorius trespassed against his limitations. On the contrary. His story is beautiful and inspiring. It means that disabled people possess the dignity of their luckier fellow mortals. It means that society must not close doors to anyone on the basis of a disability that has nothing to do with how he or she can perform a job.

But once people accepted Pistorius's triumph, they forgot about the man beneath the example. This willful blindness must have created a whole constellation of people around him who submerged his fallible humanity in their own interests. Lawyers, managers, agents, executives of sporting goods companies that paid for his image-once all these figures started to make money from Pistorius's achievments, it was in their interest to ignore, or even cover up the obscure side of him that kept going on, and on, and on, out of sight and beyond rational comprehension.Was anyone interested in the Pistorius who lay alone in his bed at night, his legs cut off at the knee, the carbon blades leaning against the wall? They were no more interested in that Pistorius than they were in addressing the question of whether his magical blades did not merely put him on a par with other runners, but gave him an edge tanatamount to the most powerful steroids.

What happened that night? Whether he shot Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder or deliberately killed her, Pistoirus was acting out of a primal fear the likes of which few people can endure, but which he lived with every day. That is certainly, absolutely, no excuse if he indeed murdered Steenkamp. In that case, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But that fathomless, unfathomable fear is an explanation for what and who Pistorius fundamentally is---an explanation that civilized society clearly feels less comfortable with than it does with the cut-and-dried charge of premeditated murder.

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