Archive for the ‘language’ Tag
We went to see Avatar in 3D on Wednesday. It’s the story of the human colonisation of the fictional planet of Pandora, and the resistance of the native population of Na’vi (The People). The humans attempt to usurp the Na’vi on a number of fronts, including militarily and diplomatically. They genetically create Na’vi bodies (or avatars), which trained specialists can upload their consciousness to, in order to negotiate with the Na’vi and attempt to ‘educate’ them in human values and language.
Pandora is a breathtakingly beautiful planet, and rendered in high-definition 3D it’s pretty awe-inspiring. The Na’vi enjoy a close bond with their land and can access a kind of ancestral consciousness through forest network. They are experts in tracking, hunting, healing, caretaking and honourable relationship. The barbarity of the colonising attitude is at the fore throughout, but for once things don’t always go the usurpers’ way.
Avatar is well worth a view and hopefully I’ll be going back to see the IMAX 3D version before it leaves the cinemas.
Following up on the post on crafting simple ritual, I believe the gods as we understand them are human responses to external stimuli, in the same way as the concept of a thunderstorm is a human creation, a structured yet arbitrary interpretation of the sensations that enter our subconscious and are ordered by the structuring system of our conscious mind (which operates like a language). It’s impossible to know the ‘real’ gods, or the underlying reality they occupy, without recourse to the linguistic structuring of consciousness.
This underlying reality can be thought of as the realm of spirit, a unified place of infinite potential, the raw materials from which all interpretations of the world are forged through the process of classification. Things in the conscious world are sacred because they reflect this underlying potential. They are the stories and songs of our relationship with spirit. As I recognise this as being true for everything, so I believe that everything is sacred.
To those who honour the gods, they are as real as a table or a rainbow. As our structuring process is inherited, and as the gods were a crucial element of our ancestors’ worldview, so polytheism seems such a natural way to respond to the world for so many people today. Polytheism is a prototype, fossilised in myth, of our modern way of structuring the world. Accessing it speaks to something very elemental within us, connecting us to our earliest ancestors and reminding us of our place in the long process of becoming human and relating to Other.
Reason and logic are also ways of structuring, and often incompatible with the belief in deity. They don’t easily fit. To hold both is to be exposed to the gaps between the structures we use to conceptualise the world, to recognise that the process is arbitrary, an interpretation of an infinite underlying potential, not the sum of everything that is. But it’s not just their incongruity that makes the gods worthy of attention.
Our pre-modern ancestors had an innate recognition that experience was but a reflection of an underlying, unknowable reality. Language and cognition were but translations of that reality, subjective and arbitrary yes, but infused with poetry and artistry. Modernity brought an end to that realisation, in a process of disenchantment, when a worldview that had become standardised through shared language began to be mistaken for objective reality. An appreciation of deity re-enchants us, in that it reminds us of our relationship to the unknowable, to that which exists on the other side of language. It removes us from the centre of our cosmology, humbling us with the knowledge that we are subjects of our reality, not masters of it.
We need to honour the gods to remind us, and them, that we are still part of nature, still reflections of an underlying infinite potential.
There’s an interesting thread about postmodernism on Philip Carr-Gomm‘s blog at the moment. According to a creative writing tutor at the University of Sussex, with whom Philip recently discussed the subject, no concept of awen could exist in a postmodern universe.
My response was as follows:
I’m a post-structuralist po-mo and the concept of awen is very important to me, and funnily enough the desire metaphor is probably one of the best ways to explain it.
Our perception of the universe is structured linguistically because language is nothing more than a way of classifying experience. Without it everything would be amorphous and undifferentiated. Without language we cannot make sense of what we perceive.
Language is not perfect though. Words are artificial and do not align perfectly with our constantly changing perceptions. Western rationalism, however, teaches that this should not be the case, that what we perceive is objective reality, not reliant on the frailties of our structuring process.
There is a gap between the ideal and the perceived. No word or words are ever good enough to describe our object, our beloved, adequately. We are always required to qualify, our descriptions proliferating down a never-ending chain of signifiers.
But no matter how hard we try we can never attain ultimate Truth, never achieve unity with the Other. But we must try. The desire is what makes us human, what makes us thinkers and artists and lovers. It is the Awen.