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And So We're Told This Is the Golden Age

I had a strange visitation from the past via film.

New Year's Eve, Cara Sposa and I were trying to decide what to do with the Christmas Leftovers (Note Caps. I'd made enough parsnips, potatoes, carrots, beets, and yams for a dozen, but only seven could make it because of ice and flu). I wanted to do pasta because I was tired, and she suggested beet pasta, which after some deliberation we settled on. The beets had been steam-broiled and tossed in cream and horseradish, but with a bit more cream and horseradish as well as goat cheese and flaked almonds, actually became a rather nice dish, which I plan on making again since...

Well, it was a good year for beets, and our CSA sold us a bushel for a decent price, and they're our main stored vegetable (out of refrigeration, they keep well because they never actually die, but grow a few leaves waiting for spring).

And, err, well, the beets this year are so rich in their basic beetiness that they actually make you pee red. Not "oh my god, my kidneys are melting down" red, but an unmistakable Zinfindel rosé. It's kind of off-putting, really.

Ahem... But I digress. So we were eating this fuscia pasta, and I'd suggested something that I'd come to regret, and we put on the film General Orders 9, which has been waiting around a while for us to get to. Cara Sposa is reading Charles Montgomery's Happy City and I had some notion that the film was about urbanization, which it kinda sorta is....

Sadly, it was a good example of what happens when processes are financially standardized. Because it had to fit a market length of 90 minutes or more, it went on into what can only be called a self-indulgent wreck of an attempt at Koyaanisqatsi with a Southern flair. But the whole point of the film could have been made far more effectively in about 20-30 minutes tops. So to spare you an hour and change of drivel, let me flesh out some of the beauty of the main point.

  1. In the narrator's state of Georgia (which my surname family harks from, or at least back into the 18th century), urbanization grew first organically.

  2. Deer paths became native footpaths became County Roads, and towns sprung up at the crossing points of County Roads.

  3. Towns have a sense of place, of order, with a courthouse in the center, and the town arranged around it, and a weathervane on top.

  4. After the Civil War, there was a die-back, and when growth returned, it came through Interstates.

  5. Interstates are more like the blood vessels of cancerous tumors, not leading to a place, but contributing to a process. Consequently, a city is not a place, it is a machine.

  6. The only response is to flee the place-lessness of the city and return to the ruins of the town, which leads to listlessness, apathy, and depression.

  7. In the vacuum left by the city's wake, similar to the vacuum left by the war, there is the need for a new psychological/symbolic center of place, a new totem for the new era, which arrives like a flood and leaves nothing in its wake.

  8. Religion only turns one away from the wreck, it does not build, and the sense of place cannot impose place on the placelessness.

  9. There is something about the town arranged around the courthouse, marked by the weather vane that is basic, human, and... has to do with that Jungian process of self-actualization.

This is all told through images, repeated, repeated, repeated, repeated themes, and a personal narration. To differentiate the narrator's self before and after the moment of self-actualization, there is a ruined library, a canoe stuck on a stone in the Chatahoochee, and, afterwards, the canoe filled neatly with books.

Now, the visitation. When I first went to live in Georgia, to study Philosophy at the University in Athens, I was deeply obsessed with that process. For me, it was very similar to what was in the film. It has to do with the point and the circle and the square, and the transition from linear to angular motion. It's one of those so-very-fundamental things that operates in the human mind.

The first dream I recall that had me understanding that I might go into philosophy was an end-of-the-world anxiety dream. I was much younger, and when the balloon went up, and the flash of light signalled the bombs had fallen, I was shown a Boschian scene where all the books of the world were set into boats, and I was shown that only one boat had really been lost, and it was the works of Machiavelli, the Prince in particular.

So I found it rather odd to be seeing the alchemical process of squaring the circle narrated concerning the state I had gone through the same process in, end with the image of a boat of books making its way happily to the sea. VITRIOL: visita interiora terrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidem.

But what the adult in me saw was finally an understanding of why Evangelical thought is so prevalent in America today. It's the Interstate and the placelessness, the soul-lessness of the place of our lives. It's an earnest yearning for meaning in a formless void of process and valuation. It's an escape of the machine. There is a reason why Islam has one place to pray to as well: the most abstract, iconoclastic form of the Abrahamic tradition also can't just drop place. It needs place as well, in the same way. The Taliban, American and Afghani, are really one and the same in terms of what they have lost.

For me, that alchemical process gave me an understanding of faith as separate from belief. Faith is a creative process. It's the placing of hope against reality in order to transform that reality. It's the stuff of nonviolent revolution, the persistence that eventually overcomes all things.

Belief, on the other hand, is a destructive process. It's the cancellation of reality, and a kind of lying. It's the stuff of Santa Claus and Stalin. Ultimately, it's all about accumulating power, not overcoming limitations.

So's Machiavelli.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
I'm with the film up through no. 7, but the introduction of religion--a huge, abstract concept, and not particularly related (unless you spend some time explaining a relationship) to the concepts of growth of communities--seems random and out of left field. Why religion? Why not any other abstraction of modern life--politics, say, or science? Or, if we just accept that it's religion the film wants to focus on, then why bring it up at no. 8, when it's been a part of human life from the footpath period onward?

… regarding faith/belief, I feel as if maybe the distinction you're drawing is one that's based on personal parsing of the words, personal meanings or resonances being given to them. I do get the distinction you're drawing, though, between a sense of hope in spite of reality, which nevertheless you acknowledge, and closing your eyes to reality and insisting that something other than what's phenomenally manifest is actually true.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
Well, he IS a pretty standard southern man, and the small introduction of religion is more a "lord save me from this, though I am not worthy" that does not resolve his inner tension. So don't think "Religion" in this context but "his religion".

Deffo a semantic split re: faith/belief, here, and I think I flubbed the faith part, too. It's more the active will to bring the reality that is not here into reality that's part of faith, as opposed to belief, which is to deny facts that contradict reality.

So, by necessity of that definition, faith is limited to the real. Belief can be total BS and irrational. Which is why I still believe that faith without God is not only possible, but possibly necessary in the "if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him" kind of understanding.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )