Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Just Like a World Cup Final

Literature, Balinese Cockfights, and Universal Truths

Here is a great piece on the value and importance of good literature which we came across the other day.  
But the poet [as opposed to the historian], Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones.  The poet's job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.  He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event.

You wouldn't go to Macbeth to learn about the history of Scotland--you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he's gained a kingdom and lost his soul.
  When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don't feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there's a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself.  Our impressions of human life are picked up one by one, and remain for most of us loose and disorganized.  But we constantly find things in literature that suddenly coordinate and bring into focus a great many such impressions, and this is part of what Aristotle means by the typical or universal human event.  [Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, p.63f; cited by Clifford Geertz in an essay entitled "Deep Play" in Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies, edited by Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, (Berkeley CA: University Of California Press, 1991),  p. 267.]
Good literature connects with the soul of Everyman, insofar as human beings share a common nature.  Now, of course, in our postmodern world, the very notion of a common nature is a ridiculous thought.  Postmodernism paints the world as if everything is in flux, transient, and temporary--a swirling ball of tenuous, wispy candy floss.  Until, of course, advocates of postmodernism want to assert some universal or other.  Whereupon, they once again strive to erect a Tower on the plain of Shinar from which they will proclaim their (now) very non-postmodern truth.  It's all a joke, really.  At this point we may return to universals and make comment upon the self-deceitfulness of human nature.  Lo and behold suddenly we are right back with Aristotle, Northrop Frye, Clifford Geertz, and Micawber.  And, more than that, lest it be studiously ignored, we are precisely right back at the flaming swords east of Eden.

In the volume cited above, anthropologist Clifford Geertz dissects and describes the institution of a Balinese village cock-fight.  It would be hard to imagine a world more removed from a bustling Western metropolis.  Yet it turns out that--as the proverb has it-- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

He writes:
. . . Balinese go to cockfights to find out what a man, usually composed, aloof, almost obsessively self-absorbed, a kind of moral autocosm, feels like when, attacked, tormented, challenged, insulted, and driven in result to the extremes of fury, he has totally triumphed or been brought totally low. [Rethinking . . . p.267.]
Ah, yes.  Just like a World Cup rugby final.

So, postmodernism is a load of codswallop.  Second, good literature is essential if we are to advance in discernment, perception, and self-awareness.  Third, the world revealed in the Bible is the only frame that makes any sense.   Fourth, universals are inevitable.  Humble yourself and deal with it. 

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