by A Dervish
IN Yet another version of the same old story about how “everything is going to Hell”, we are threatened now in the link below with a tidal wave of illiterate ignorance. I suppose American Whigs and English Tories felt rather the same way in their time. That was at the advent of the Jackson Presidency of the “common man” in the 1830s, and the Reform Act of the lower-middleclass man of 1867. However, the discerning reader will note that what is written by Chris Hedges at truthdig.com is also thrown down into a “reduced” language, itself only a semi literate prose. Its essence is invective. Especially in the first five paragraphs, primarily of single clause and mainly negative declarative sentences, it is just doomsaying:
Now in fact for most of our human history, most people were functionally illiterate. This was exactly so too in our own late-modern heyday in the Old Atlantic West, now over. Indeed, very probably most people then at the start of the nineteeth century were just as not able to read as their naked Catholic ancestors. Our medieval forebears then feasted on cabbage and turnips, onions, and the occasional stewed hog, and they fed their minds and spirits on the glorious images and stained glass of the gothic cathedrals. Emotionally and mentally then, they were exactly no more or less rich or poor than are we, in just the same way as the pigs themselves suffer neither more nor less in their postmodern factory barns. Then a lack of reading knowledge was because of the lack of opportunity to learn. Now it is because of laziness. That is the difference. Laziness, then, is the problem, not illiteracy which can be a symptom of many different things. Which things depends — solely — on era. Interestingly, though, in the sixth paragraph of the linked write-up above, this statement is made in all irony:
“All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.”
This is a travesty. One can only hope that at bottom it is written very tongue in cheek. If not, then the author is really a not so secret pessimist and, logically, has no choice but to go out and kill himself and stop being a nuisance. To begin with, all progress has its origins in imagination or “wishful thinking,” a creative rehearsing in any case of new possibilities first of all in the mind. A step or three beyond that shows that Hedges, apparently quite carelessly, is actually alluding in a very disguised way to an emerging creative motif of the new cultural impulse and civilization now emerging in the World. Questions here about who the real Sufis are, and how and where they are doing their public work on a number of leading levels in their writing and so on, are not the point in any case. It only needs to be repeated that in the nineteenth century, when democracy was vital and alive and, above all, rising in the World, literacy levels were not high at the beginning. Of course they grew greatly from one end of the century to the other.
But in the meantime — and this alone is the point — the drive and the passion of the large numbers of the illiterate found many opportunities, on the frontiers of the World.
Thus the mass of Old Atlantic men were harnessed effectively to the building of the new late-modern era, not by literacy but rather the immediate possibility of new physical chances. Especially there was the unique historical fact of civilized mass emigration. Needless to say, this was at the hideous expense of numerous indigenous cultures, the most of these pre literate. And, likewise, as with all cultural impulses, the western spasm has now exhausted itself.
This extreme tiredness is what at stake now, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of sadness that underlies our anachronistic late-modern public life, wrongly and frantically persisted in in these first decades of postmodernity.
It is in fact this atmosphere of everywhere medicated hopelessness that the writer of the link above is resonating to, and not some historically invalid “crisis” or other in culture. Crises in culture invariably take care of themselves in the natural way. Some gains in information are handed on (often piecemeal) and then everything else dies out. This is pure Nature and we are now once again at the end of another fantasy (the scientific one) about how man is somehow “separate” from Nature. In fact the West is dead as dodoes, only collectively does not know it. Or, rather, we cannot bear to look at it and therefore are failing morally….
Instead, we proclaim “terror wars” without end (as did the gentleman at the head of the CIA in our televisions today), and we also suppose fondly that our moribund science, mired now beyond redemption in “technology” and brainless sneering matches with creationists and others working on different levels, is going to somehow save us from the present death of many species, global warming, China and the rest of the hoodoos.
That all is imaginative of us, of course. But it is not enough. It is just not daring enough. In the evolving transition from the the “imaginary” to the outright imaginal realm of existence, in fact the televisionized and, now, computerized libido — the emotional raw energy — of the illiterates (whom we shall have with us always, like the poor mentioned by Jesus in the fable) will be put to good use.
For them again there is indeed the immediate possibility of nothing more or less than new physical chances!
Driven as always by the universals of anger, fear and greed, lust and eternal laziness, and the usual retinue of lies, the deplored illiterates are also the new pioneers of yet all too human petty purposes, now on the frontiers of electronic existence. This use will be made of them, and of us, by Nature itself, and Time. Even as you read this, irresistably the little bit of hard won additional awareness of the human creature gained by the West now passes on into the future. And beyond the future there it goes off into an entirely new way of being. That life will be wholly on the electromagentic and photonic scale in the end. Hence, the despised illiterates of today with their crass present freight of fleeting images and masturbatory pictures and “useless” wishful thinking, they in fact are also the unwitting finders of the new World. Now no amount of proclaiming universal disasters everywhere can enable us any longer to effectively clientize these wretched souls (“for their own good”) and make them all into readers against their dim wills. Certainly not now that reading is at an end, and the making of books. Nor are we going to be able to take Heaven by storm any more with a staged literacy crisis than with “global warming” or out of focus videos of Osama. Indeed, the very “terrorism” itself is now all played out, just look for yourselves at the malarkey faces on the inside of your television sets of those playing wearily over and over in all sincerity this outdated greasy card.
These are the days of the dying Earth, then. This beautiful cradle of the birth of Nature’s self awareness, initially in our inadequate persons, has fallen with its broken bough at last from the great Tree that gave us all life — and yet we are (even “now”) in this eternal place always, inside nothing more or less than all the perfected pictures and wishful thinking, imagination and remembrance. Where all the creatures live, forever.
May these words then be the last you need to read, oh Man, amin.
[Emmett R Smith all transcription-rights reserved 13 November 2008]