No…this isn’t a reference to a low budget version of “300” in which everyone has a slight pot belly and and wears speedos. But it is from a running conversation of the past few days about the nature of historical memory that is peculiar to Americans.
Generally speaking, for most Americans (and I am talking USA) history only really exists in what has occured within the past 200 or so years.
Case in point – at a poetry reading last night, while discussing poets that we liked the small group I was in agreed that we liked dead poets best, ancient and old ones. Then they all agreed that one of the oldest was e.e. cummings and I had to stop and look at the group I was in. This was followed by someone reading some “really old work” and wanting people to guess when it was written (1896).
And then…a small conversation about the nature of images of Christ being blond haired and blue eyed as having arisen from the demands of our bible belt for inoffensive, non-ethnic presentations of Jesus.
Christ as a long haired, fair skinned, bearded and rather clean individual started to become standardized around about the 5th century. With the blond haired, blue eyed version showing up around the 8th. Before that…well, at the beginning, Christ was represented as a symbol only and then, as it became acceptable to try and put a human face on this very religious character, the image of Christ tool on the ethnic aspects of the place where the image was produced. There are 3rd century ethiopian jesuses and 4th century eastern ones and a whole range of other depictions.
But not until Celsus legalized Christianity (in what we now think of as Italy) did he begin to take on a more defined and standardized western form.
The world has been around and doing its thing far longer then most countries have claimed a history as their own.
Yet it is easy to see the world only as it relates to us. To only understand it through a frame of reference that specifically includes what has become our daily lives.
The median age of the poetry gathering I was at was pushing 70. And it is funny because the first thought is …. “old people” and then you have to remember, 70 now is a hippie then or, someone seeking a conservative ballast against hippiedom.
ee cummings, sylvia plath defined the nation and the accepted “ancients” included rimbaud, whitman and satre. All active and influential form the 1850s on. Each generation tends to look only 100 years behind itself and then stops, the past then becoming too foreign to be understood.
Language that is a 100 years old is still close enough to our modern form that we can read it easily (except for political and philosophical standards, that remains equi-dense no matter what the time period). Poetic language that is 200 years away from our OMGs and Cool, seems as if it was written in a foreign language and the tendency is to eschew the past as….unrelated.
Chapter 4, which I just uploaded has to do with this. Our fear of the past, for not is it foreign but it holds the beginnings of great ideals that we long for (even now) but have a hard time facing a history that shows how hard they are to achieve and where we, as a human effort, have failed in realizing them. So we turn to the future because it is unwritten. The past we limit to what can be easily understood (so we think) and is still in immediate effect.
We remake the wheel without examining the square ones our ancestors built and therefore we miss the evolving squareness of our own. Like images of Christ, we remake the image of what will be into our own likeness (as it evolves and changes) and do not connect to the philosophy that has led to such teachings inspiring mankind (and I am talking about all prophets now) to seek the same thing in each lifetime, each generation, each century and epoch.
They say nothing new can be thought of or done. In some aspects this is true, but, you can’t begin something new unless you have either a) completed what was begun or b) officially decided it isn’t worth doing.
It is…frustrating to watch, especially online, people struggle to find meaning to find a way to become effective in a modern world that has begun to erase meaning, to value a reflection that never goes deeper then the glass. Because when you go deeper you realize that you are not the first person to look at such things or think about them in such ways and you have to then examine the attempts and failures of generations before and you begin to feel the amount of effort that will be required of you to “get to the next step.”
But the next step in all of this will mean a reshaping of the world. And not just economically, but philosophically. The “next step” strikes to the core of what has developed as our modern culture and society. Some people get this and try, but then mess it up by trying through the adoption of surface images, Christs with guitars and pierced noses, Mohammeds in three piece suits on TV stages, Buddhas in stretchy pants on rubber mats. They miss that all these images are merely ways to speak the language of the person in front of you and not a replacement for the message. The message does not have to be interpreted but translated. The message throughout time and across cultures, languages and religious forms has remained the same. No matter what prophet uttered the words in which language they all said the same thing.
You are more than who you are…
What is Wrong with the World
Part 1 Chapter 4 audio
by GK Chesterton, read by Cassandra Tribe
available in the public domain
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