“The sadness will last forever.”
― Vincent van Gogh
The cultural deck of cards is loaded in favour of music, fashion, rights -- of all stripes -- and the need to be all you can be.
But what, culturally, came before?
Previously, I never stopped long enough on my march to the promised land to consider the same, less still to think about my native, Devonian ancestors and what they left me that would be of benefit to me and the world.
Now was now and that was infused with a real-time of 20th-century culture one, or at most, two generations deep; and, of course, there was out there, the future where my potential lay in wait ready for me to seize it by the scruff of the neck or wrestle it to the ground to do my bidding.
To illustrate this point, I pray in aid this vignette from Stephen Jenkinson's book, Come of Age:
"The Canadian poet Alden Nowlan wrote a poem called “The People Who Are Gone” sometime in the latter 1960s. In it, a Maliseet elder, whose English name is Peter Little Bear, is telling Mr. Nowlan the story of how his people once brought young boys to the forest for initiation. As a kind of throwaway forethought, Mr. Little Bear delivers two lines of quiet, surgical devastation:
Until the white man came we had no history and now we have nothing else.
I call it surgical because of the honed edge of the observation, honed so finely by living that the edge barely appears. There is no rancor, no argument in the pronouncement, and it veers precipitously to a confession of a cultural poverty of the deepest kind."
And that's very much what I think but my reference point is advertising, the military-industrial complex and, now, social media.
But look at what it's airbrushed out of our (pre-history) cultural lives.
Sure, there's a hint in the digital ether of our indigenous forebears but think about your topos and what comes to mind? In my case, there's nothing to say. Sure, we've Dartmoor, a few local storytellers and some ancestral runes but nothing that informs what we talk about and certainly how we live out our lives.
Nah, we've buried our clay feet in the moral ground and have sucked up the capitalist narrative, devoid as it is of anything more remarkable than working your ass off until you drop dead but (of course) you can have and be anything you like.
Right about now, you might be thinking that what I'm hankering after is a return to some prehistoric, hard-as-hell tribal existence. I'm not, but I do wonder what we've lost by losing connection with our ancestors and what came before?
If I'm on a mission to do anything, it's to bridge the gulf between the anthropocentric here and now and our cultural past. For me, as naive as it sounds, I'm convinced that there's where I’ll understand what it means to be human and to live at peace with all that I survey.
Peace in extremis.
Just an acknowledgement that culture is not what you think it is.
Photo by Carlos Quintero on Unsplash
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