Senseless is a novel about various aspects of modern times and how they relate to the theme of connecting with people. The Internet allows every individual in the world to communicate with anyone else with Internet access. Economic globalization brings countries together in trade, sharing products and currencies that bring the world under one blanket. The terrorists of this novel show the potential horror of these things and reveal that despite all this connection, humans are still selfish beings that fail to empathize with suffering, even when modern marvels like the Internet bring it close to their faces. Eliott Gast doesn’t know what the world is like, just like the world doesn’t know what his cell is like. This disconnect characterizes him and the world he lives in; our world.
The visual grotesque elements are throughout and increase the more Gast gets tortured: the alien masks, the brief nightmare sequences, and Gast’s changing perspective the more senses he loses. But going past the purely physical, Eliott faces the fully grotesque side of human beings. He couldn’t imagine normal people around the world would not only stand by and do nothing to stop his punishment, but would also donate money to ensure its continuation. His isolation on a farm cut him off from the changing world, and Blackbeard puts him in an ironic reversal as he is isolated but fully connected to the entire world. It’s also ironic that a businessman who travels the world and has shaped its economic state knows so little about what people are capable of. Having all his senses couldn’t inform him of the true nature of people, but losing them taught him more than he could have learned with them. Another ironic reversal comes from the weapons used to handicap him; they are always commonplace objects, usually kitchen-related he has used routinely to serve his senses. Here they are repurposed for sinister routines that remove his senses and open his eyes to the grime possibilities of the world.
Culpability is another theme in the novel. Blackbeard calls Eliott a collaborator in their little “project” and if he wants to be freed quicker, he should do his part. Gast shouts at the camera that the viewers are as much collaborators as the torturers, and that’s when I realized that I, the reader, am also to blame. Watching this man’s torture while still enjoying my own senses. It was a very compelling moment that forced me to reflect on the real suffering I have witnessed and let continue. Our society of overexposure has numbed us to the pain of others. If we felt empathy for every injustice we saw, we wouldn’t be able to function, so we become desensitized to the commonplace horrors of the modern world. Blackbeard states that he must go over the top in order to get anyone’s attention, and they do capture the attention of the world, but not its empathy.
The ending is great. I feel like Gast’s complete journey taught him more about flawed humanity than his punishment. His tormenters were also imperfect and it was their infighting that saved him. He doesn’t know if it was cruelty or the kindness of dissenters that allowed his freedom. Again he is uninformed about the potential of human beings. It’s interesting that while on the street Gast briefly mentions that he is “freed from it all,” referring to his senses as if they were a burden before his imprisonment. Now he can enjoy the world free of sound and smell and pursue that blue fire that’s as mysterious as the kings under the water. Senseless is a harrowing novel that brings up themes of endless visual connection with the world but a shrinking emotional connection to it.