Monday, October 17, 2011

The borders of Paradise

This morning, and I have all my essay ideas in the morning before thoughts can side track the natural impulse, I heard an Iranian-German artist lady talking about filming dancers in Iran. She said that dance is absolutely forbidden in Iran, but they have something called "rhythmic movement" that is allowed.

"No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of the misunderstanding of the ends of art." -- Ruskin

We can take Ruskin's quote and nod sagely. "Yes, yes," we say, "and out of the crooked timber, what-what." The later Victorians were full of awareness of imperfection, situated as they were in the satiated and regretful phase of empire. Category and clarity had swept away the sights of beggars, but not the beggars themselves, and "The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness, than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings," as Hazlitt wrote in 1829. Many had come to realize that the noise could not be shut out, that, as Horace said, "Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret" (in Epistles) ['You can drive Nature out with a pitchfork, but she will return again']. Cover the nudity, and it's still under the covers.

Nevertheless, when we persist through these ages of empire, of decay, of self-conscious sadness, there is a tendency on our parts to turn from a red faced public servant with a sack full of fig leaves to John Cage. We go from purists to artists of Autotune. This produces its own dialectic, if not enterically then exotically. The religious fundamentalist and the political fundamentalist alike appeals to any population that is awash in too much embracing of porous borders. Each generates its own idealistic ideology, its own Zion Celeste.

The political idealists are easier to talk about than religious revolutionaries, as they seem to conform to readily understood causes that have economic and material bases, and they often transform into other parties, other organizations. Thus, it's not so hard to talk about fascists in Germany (but you'll have a heck of a time nailing them down in Italy), and it's not that hard to talk about the John Birch Society in the U.S. or the National Front in the U.K. These groups all set out to be puritanical -- to achieve an ostensibly conservative goal by the eradication of all accumulated state apparatus and the imposition of a morality and clarity that had been muddied by Them and the agents of evil.

The political groups want to stop the flow of population, the drift of genes, the spread of culture, the transformation of economic structures. In that regard, they are not conservative, but Utopian. They are not, and never have been, summoning glories of the past but promising a thing that cannot be: a frozen moment of security. To achieve any of their goals would require immense power, tremendous abridgments of liberties, and endless regulation -- as both Italian and German manifestations of fascism have attested (and the latter also required a reiteration of slave labor for its economics to function). This is because they are attempting the impossible: they want to stop nature.

It is natural for people to mix their genes, to mix their tongues in more than one way, to invent and forget, and to flow as far as they can to opportunity, because humans are opportunistic.

Is the same true of political purists of the communal variety -- the socialists? Since these groups begin by embracing paper work and rules and the state's place in administration, it is hard to see how they are betrayed by their actuality as much as that they fail by siphoning off their potential in their implementation. The ideological and idealistic energy behind their endeavor lessens with each aparatchik, each factory boss promoting his buddies, each rigged election, and each set of police necessary to monitor these.

In Iran, they had a completely idealistic revolution. It was simple: they would have a real theocracy. In Afghanistan, the same thing, more or less, from a different branch of the religion. In 17th century England, too, they had a clean, clear idea: the Lord's own nation, led by saints inspired by the Holy Spirit. We know from history that the English were unhappy with their government and, because of the semi-feudal nature of the remaining state, were able to affect a second revolution to restore, but with changes, the prior government and nation state structure. That is not to say that Cromwell failed, or the Taliban failed, or the Ayatollahs failed, because "fail" depends upon the goal sought.

I know that it's convention for the Marxists to reject religious socialism as being non-revolutionary, it's also true that the power of the supernatural ideal powers the endeavor once in place far more effectively than a philosophical system. The problem, though, is that they have a problem of ensuring that their ideology extends into the subject. In other words, when Christianity or Islam ceases to be a religious choice and becomes your employer or your state, then your state and your employer have to, as a matter of existence and operation, extend religious faith into the mind and soul of the employee and citizen.

The ideal, which is lovely and functioning when idealists join, becomes state power when those idealists triumph and make the ideal the innervating element of the state.

Once Oliver Cromwell became Protector General, it became necessary to ensure the Christianity of the people. Instead of trusting the people to be Christian, the state now had an interest, and therefore it had to have proof. Further, it needed to specify for its functionaries how and what would be considered moral. Idealized states spin paper as a precondition of their existence. Perfection, after all, is only perfect if it is protected in a static position, and that means ruling out change or ruling in qualities.

Therefore, the Iranian "rhythmic movement" and "approved hairstyles for men" are examples both of the native authoritarian extension of power into an ideological space of the subject and the deterioration of the subjective ideal that frames the power impulse. A state may start out with the simple ideal of good men and women, but it will need to say what constitutes good, and then what constitutes bad, and then it will make the soul of the individual, as well as the body, its concern.

Our dilemma, then, as humanity, is that we accept the blood and pus and confusion of allowing each other to sin, and thereby create a call for our overthrow, or we strive to a perfection that, by its nature, is death. Either that or, more sensibly, we worry about the neighbors' health and happiness and our own goodness.

1 comment:

The Geogre said...

Dadgum 4th paragraph incomprehensible, and after my stupid break for paper grading I began over-using articles.