THE CULTURAL LOGIC BOUNDARY COLLAPSE
May 29, 2010
Like traditions, moral norms, economies and families centered on a husband and wife, the borders of nations are collapsing. One also could say they are being treated as obsolete, relegated to the dustbin of history. This is more than bad faith; it is the logic of culture.
The ancient Hellenistic fascination with shape-changing and transformed identity has a lot to do with the modern collapse of norms and boundaries of all kinds. The Dionysian aspect of this process hints that political dissolution leads to total fragmentation.
A world of eight or ten power blocs, with boundaries and names retained to beguile the memory and corral the thought of those still able to pay attention, and to numb the rest of the herd with reiterated clichés is effectively in place. A spectral entity called “the United Nations,” a virtual fig leaf for the managers of the masquerade is the template onto which a still living world will be “etherized upon a table” as “the West” completes its ancient project of idealization and metamorphic fusion to become a well-oiled “artifice of eternity.” They may even craft and set a golden bird upon a golden bough to sing to the drowsy emperor in the imperial city.
This is elementary material and I will not here review political ephemera that vary with the seasons. It is more useful to examine the cultural roots from which boundary collapse results, and the yearning for transformation and mindless unity that fosters and still drives it. It is a double-bind: the more disorganized and fictitious things are, the more a thirst for the coherence and reassurance of unity grows.
Perhaps the most important concept in the first chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures is “and He separated” (it’s one word in Hebrew) which complements the reiterated phrase, “according to its kind.” These acts of distinction continue when the Creator brings all the beasts before Adam to receive their proper names and Adam notes that he needs a mate according to his kind: not an eagle, bull, river or goat but a woman.
The key points are distinctions, discriminations, boundaries and the propriety, identity and peace they sustain. Without boundaries there is no peace (“good fences make good neighbors”), no respect for property and, in fact, no identity, only a blob of throbbing emotions in a digitalized light-show of pop rapture; only cultures slopping into each other at soggy borders. World progress is a congeries of personae stamping through virtual lives vulnerable to management by various oligarchic guilds.
Rousseau’s theory that an individual should yield his rights to “the General Will” to become a “persona ficta” and his polemic that only a created identity is ‘true’ (a new version of the Platonic notion that ideas are “real”) boosted this process and created the “identity politics” and image-dominated aesthetics of the modern - postmodern era; but he didn’t start it, it long antedates his work. The etymology of idea means “to see a pattern or image.” Ancient Hellenic sensibility dominates our society through very basic concepts and words, filling our discourse with magic, disorder and dissolution.
When Zeus wanted to inseminate Leda, he took the form of a swan. Enhanced by the “audience in the shepherd’s hut,” the jealous competition of Hera, Athena “the spoiler” and Aphrodite resulted in the Trojan War. When Zeus desired Europa, the princess from Sidon in what once was northern Israel he took the form of a tame, snow-white bull. Absconding with the princess to Crete, he took her and she bore Minos, the king whose wife, Pasiphae lusting for a bull (it must have been a heritable taste), clothed herself in a cowhide and conceived the Minotaur, a composite beast that dwells in the labyrinth of fantasy and feasts on humans. Conducting an amour with Semele, princess of Thebes, Zeus came as lightning in a cloud. Too hot for her to handle, he snatched the infant Dionysus from her womb and, after maturing him in his thigh set him loose to organize marauding bands of wild women who “abandoned the hearth and loom” to run the mountains with animals and tear beasts and men apart. A group of maenads outraged that the singer of art’s magical harmonies, Orpheus, preferred young boys to women, pursued and tore him apart. Dionysus, the life force whose general principle was to know no boundaries thought this a bit much, and transformed the maenads into trees. Change, fantasy and erotic trauma are our inheritance from Greece: Aristotle is a shell.
The head of Orpheus is the idealized image (a ‘global society’) that has set itself above the cultural ‘body’ from which it conceived a new identity (same root as “seeing patterns” and of “it”). The transposition of life into imagery decapitates culture through its magical displacements and fictions. Falling in love with fantasies, life dissolves.
One can read about Iphis, “a girl, a virgin, yearning for girl and virgin,” for the maiden Ianthe; how she and her mother prayed to the Queen of Heaven, Isis and suddenly “she was no virgin now but a young bridegroom.” Juno (Hera) and Venus (Aphrodite) came to the wedding and the new couple lived happily ever after in the artifice of myth and its source, the imagination and its appetites. In ancient Greek, identity and identical are from the same root; the human and his image are both “that one” (id), in some sense, “the same” (idem). This fundamental confusion and doubling is virtual reality’s source and the loss of the most essential boundary, self from image, truth from fiction.
It is instructive to contrast the orderly process of discriminations and boundary-setting in Genesis (indeed throughout the Books of Moses) with the earliest Hellenic account of the origin of the universe. It’s called, “the generations of the gods” and its scrambled erotic relationships indicate the instability, and unstable fusion at the core of the West:
First of all there came Chaos, and after him came Gaia of the broad breast to be the foundation of all the immortals who keep the crests of snowy Olympus, and Tartaros the foggy in the pit of the Earth, and Eros who is love who breaks the limbs’ strength, who in all gods, in all human beings overpowers the intelligence in the breast…from Chaos was born Erebus, the dark, and black Night…But Gaia’s first born was Ouranos, the starry sky to cover her all over…
Gaia is the Earth; Ouranos, the sky, is both her “first born” and her consort. Gaia schemes with their son, Kronos to help her castrate her husband/eldest son. Flung from the marital bed, “the immortal flesh” mixed with ocean water to form Aphrodite, “a modest lovely goddess.” This is the original transfiguration of the West: castrated male members mix with brine to produce the goddess of love, embodiment of Eros, “murderous Aphrodite, mistress of deceit” and “the sweetnesses of love, and flattery.”
In regard to transfiguration and doubling, one myth claims that the Trojan War actually was fought over a likeness of Helen fashioned by Hera in order to rid the world of the burden of mankind, and to avenge her jealousy of Aphrodite. So Helen is confused with her “perfect copy” or clone while she herself, secluded in Egypt is taken for a “living image” of herself. Like the myth of Aphrodite’s violent formation it is the original metamorphosis, virtual reality, displacement of life by an image, and endless, or near-endless war fought over images and sexual transgression. Magic displaces miracle.
The basic principle of ancient Hellenic (Greek is what the Romans called them; the West follows the Roman lead in this) sensibility was metamorphosis. Usually prompted by erotic trauma, transformation has a geopolitical and ideological aspect in possession and displacement of one culture by another. This is what imperial Rome and its borderless successor did to ancient Israel and what “the Quartet,” via a series of client regimes, does to Israel today. It is an intrinsic part of the process of destroying boundaries and identity.
The Hellenic impulse to metamorphosis, idealization and rapture is rooted in Dionysian energies that cannot abide limits or boundaries of any kind. This explains the intense antinomian emphasis of the West. It also explains its extreme instability: not only is a metamorphic sensibility based on the displacement of life by images unstable and conducive to trauma and terror, it also contradicts the insistence on boundary and discrete identity in Judaism which the universal church, piggybacked on Roman imperialism lassoed into its new dispensation. Its ethical basis is a de-contextualized Judaism which cannot comfortably sub-serve a borderless cult of rapture and sanitized Dionysian communion. Oil and water do not mix. The graft is unstable: the metamorphic, antinomian Greek element has been rejecting its Hebrew root from the outset. This has expressed itself in the voluminous history of Western heresies and the myriad losses of faith and norms from the West’s formation to postmodernism. It expressed itself in the collapsing boundaries, in all cultural fields that distinguish modernism. “Globalism” is simply another replacement theology, an image or cult of aesthetics which horrifies many of those who follow the creed from which it sprung as neo-paganism, Modernism, rises.
“When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel” the reference being to the number of people of the house of Jacob – Israel who went down with him to Egypt. There are seventy nations in the world and all the ‘initiatives’, policies and ‘democratic voting’ in the spectral fiction signify only that the world is in a late stage of displacement of life by imagery, of the absorption of life by artifice and virtual formulations.
The leaders of advanced nations do not enforce their borders to enhance their control of inchoate masses but also because they are rooted in the compulsions of the West to shape changing and rapturous dissolution. It is not simply for money, power (the most alluring being the power over the bodies of others) and all they bring. It is because the directors of the grand game, the powers and spirit of the West inherit the compulsion toward transgression, boundary erasure, possession and mindless communion inherited from its Hellenic roots and hastened by its forced marriage to Hebraic cultural material that remains fundamentally alien to it.
Observing the pop culture, its glittering, ephemeral pleasures and terrors from stadiums to geopolitics, generated by the distraction machine of media imagery one sees the obsessive drive to become a composite beast. Or, as von Kleist expressed it in a parable two centuries ago, “to eat again of the tree of knowledge” and gain the grace of unselfconsciousness, the grace of an animal or a god. “But that’s the final chapter in the history of the world…”
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We are entering the state that follows history, the dominion not of the hunger artist but of the panther, symbol of “the beautiful blond beast” and companion of Dionysus. Europa, her name taken by “the greatest of all continents” means “expansive” or “imperial gaze”; via cultural rape, the West generated the Minotaur and its labyrinthine schemes that like “appetite, the universal wolf…first consumes the world and last eats up himself. Chaos follows the choking.” Boundary transgression means anarchy, violence and then tyranny, including the tyranny of images over life.
Eugene Narrett is the author of Culture of Terror: the Collapse of America
The quotes and paraphrase are from T.S. Eliot, “the Wasteland”
and W. B Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
2. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (1760-9; published 1782)
3. Homer, the Iliad, Book 24; Hesiod, Homer’s contemporary Hesiod calls Athena “the spoiler” Theogeny 317
4. Euripides, the Bacchae in which political upheaval leads to madness, dismemberment and exile
5. Ovid, Metamorphoses Book X section 1, book XI section 1
6. Ibid. book IX, last story; see John Milton, Paradise Lost V 28-128 on Eve’s dream and Adam’s answer re the relation of reason to imagination (“fancy”) and its “misjoining of shapes,” i.e. metamorphosis.
7. Hesiod, Theogeny (Lattimore translation, slightly abridged), 116-127; Hesiod collates several accounts of creation, some of them pilfering the Hebrew Scriptures. “Erebus” is derived by Hebrew Erev, “evening.”
8. Hesiod 173-206; Euripides, Helen 270 (Vermeule translation)
9. Deuteronomy 32:8
10, Exodus 1:1-5
11, Heinrich von Kleist, “On the Marionette Theatre” (1810)
12, Winston Churchill, “to the Council of Europe,” Strasbourg, August 17, 1949
13, Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 1.3: 76-128
© 2010 Eugene Narrett - All Rights Reserved