Friday, December 26, 2008

Reflections: Steal This Post


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Below are two more excerpts from Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World which I found to be particularly thought-provoking. Hyde’s topic here is the Greek god Hermes in his role as trickster, but also as mediator between the world of mortality and change and the Eternity above. I have inserted various bracketed keywords to flag contexts and/or analogies—perfect or imperfect, ancient or contemporary—that came to mind as I was reading:

"For a human community to make its world shapely [orthodox] is one thing; to preserve the shape is quite another, especially if, as is always the case, the shape is to some degree arbitrary [ideological, dogmatic, doctrinal] and if the shaping requires exclusion [xenophobia, sectarianism] and the excluded are hungry [ecumenically inclined]. So along with shapeliness comes a set of rules meant to preserve the design. “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not blaspheme. Do not gamble. Do not pick up things in the street. Behave yourself. You should be ashamed….” Whoever has the wit to break these rules, whoever puts the guards to sleep, slips across the threshold and floods the sacred meadows with contingency, whoever steals the boundary stones [between the Greco-Roman world and Israel] of clean distinction, that person strips design of its protective glamour. Hermes [Jesus] does all this and by it he disenchants the world into which he was born."

But wait—there’s a catch:

... "To have the lying [blaspheming], thieving [Sabbath violating] Hermes [Jesus] spring from Zeus’ loins is to figure Zeus as the ultimate author of hermetic inventions, as if Hermes had never really been an outsider…. To have Zeus [Yahweh] father Hermes [Jesus] is to claim that the changes he brings are a part of the eternal and not contingent, relative, or dependent on historical situations. It draws history back into myth.
XX"Such may be the frequent fate of radical change-agents, to be co-opted, outflanked, and contained by the larger culture [Rome, the Church, Madison Avenue], to be brought up short of a full apocalyptic reallotment. But what exactly are the options? A remark by Claude Lévi-Strauss offers a way to imagine the possible fates of those who threaten a group with fundamental change. Lévi-Strauss contrasts two types of societies: “those which practice cannibalism—that is, which regard the absorption of certain individuals possessing dangerous powers as the only means of neutralizing these powers [Eucharist] and even of turning them to advantage [Constantine]—and those which, like our own…adopt what might be called the practice of anthropemy (from the Greek emein, to vomit).” The latter eject dangerous individuals [Crucifixion]; they leave them in the woods [Gulag], or build special jails [Gitmo] to cut them off from the group and keep them isolated. In short, groups can either expel or ingest their troublemakers. The most successful change-agent avoids either fate and manages to stay on the threshold [Lenny Bruce, Ralph Nader, Bob Dylan, Ayn Rand], neither in nor out, but short of that difficult balance the next best fate may be to be eaten, to be incorporated into the local myth."

Maybe the concept of the internet "troll" needs to be given a second look?

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