The History Of Literature II

September 29, 2020 Category: History


{1  The alternate articulation of such existential queries is: Why am I here?” which can be taken as a question about efficient causes (how so?) or ultimate ends (what for?)  Another version of this is: What’s this point of it all?  PERSONAL narratives (that is, narratives employed on the level of the individual rather than as a collective) are also salient.  As MacIntyre put it: “Narrative history of a certain kind turns out to be the basic and essential genre for the characterization of human action.”  The catch is what happens on the micro level is typically constrained by what is happening at the macro level.  That is: One’s personalized narrative, custom-tailored to suit one’s own life, is–by default–molded according to the parameters of the (prevailing) Grand Narrative of the society in which one finds oneself.  It is only the radical thinker that breaks outside these parameters.}

{2  MacIntyre is a relativist, so I do not concur with his overall moral philosophy.  His relativism is best encapsulate by the title of his book, “Who’s Justice? Which Rationality?”}

{3  One of the most famous “see what might happen” scenes in film is the final moment of “Planet Of The Apes”.}

{4  For more on this topic, see the writings of Joseph Campbell.  Useful insights about RELIGIOUS narratives in particular can be found in Ernest Becker’s “The Birth & Death of Meaning”, Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking The Spell”, David Sloan Wilson’s “Darwin’s Cathedral”, Scott Atran’s “In Gods We Trust”, and Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained”.}

{5  There is, of course, endless commentary available about the “moral of the story” for these two parables.  The problem is that, for any one of the candidates, one is still left thinking: Was THAT the best way the point could have been made?  And is THAT one of the most important points that needs to be made to mankind?  In any case, both were appropriated from antecedent Syriac lore.}

{6  These were about the impending emergence of a malevolent “singularity” (i.e. the dangers of a non-benevolent super-A.I.).  In addition to Stephen King’s “The Lawnmower Man”, we might note Daniel Suarez’s “Daemon” and “Freedom (TM)”, Charles Stross’ “Singularity Sky” / “Iron Sunrise”, “Rule 34”, “Accelerando”, and “The Rapture of the Nerds” (with Cory Doctorow).  The genre of cyber-punk (pioneered by Philip K. Dick in the 1960’s and popularized by William Gibson in 1984 with “Neuromancer”) imagines possible futures in which technological advances play themselves out in ominous ways.  In the advent of social media technology run amok, Dave Egger’s addressed such concerns with “The Circle”.  Much of this genre has to do with mankind’s handling of a post-apocalyptic world–as with Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves”.  For “hard” science fiction about a speculative far-distant future, see Ian M. Banks’ “Consider Phlebas” and Stephen Baxter’s oeuvre.  For fantastical, see Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion”.  For phantasmagorical, see Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik”.}

{8  Dystopias are not to be confused with post-apocalyptic tales, which merely portray a bleak future in which society has completely broken down, and those who remain need to find ways to survive.  Classic tales about post-apocalyptic futures include Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” (1826), Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plague” (1912), Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” (1954), and Stephen King’s “The Stand” (1978).  More recent examples include Max Brooks’ “World War Z” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (both from 2006).  We might also note bleak futurist novels that have a strong message–such as H.G. Wells’ “War Of The Worlds” (1898).}

{7  As well as its sequel: “The Testaments”.}

{9  The Bene Gesserit were a female-only order.  There was a holy book: the Orange Catholic Bible.  There was a quasi-divine super-being: the Kwisatz Haderach.  And there was a campaign to overthrow a network of super-intelligent machines (the xenophobic Bene Tleilax and their “Mentat”): a crusade ironically named the Butlerian Jihad.  The Bene Tleilax even had a term for all outsiders (heretics): “powindah”.}

{10  Take, for instance, the tales about Mohammed of Mecca.  (What else is the story of MoM than the 7th century Arabian version of an urban legend?)  Illiterate desert-dwellers in the Dark Ages who were highly prone to superstition (and were yearning for something solid to hold onto) were perfectly primed for what was being peddling.  Many surely found the prospect of a celestial oasis awaiting them after “death” (the assurance that “death” wasn’t REALLY death) irresistible.  Why WOULDN’T they have eagerly signed up for the program on offer?  I discuss the psychology behind this in my essay, “The Island”.}

{11  Aesop was only the beginning.  Compilations of fables are commonplace the world over–as with Krasicki’s “Fables and Parables” (Polish), La Fontaine’s “Fables” (French), and Henryson’s rendition: “The Morall Fabillis Of Aesop The Phrygian” (Scottish).}

{12  Some great scholarship has been done on CNVs as ways to promulgate an ideology: “The Power of Parable” by John Dominic Crossan, “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell, “Mythologies” by Roland Barthes, “The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettelheim, and “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker.}

{13  Parable does not even need to have a fluid narrative (that is: a contiguous plot arc)–as Milorad Pavic demonstrated with “Dictionary Of The Khazars”, Ursula K. Le Guin demonstrated with “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, William Faulkner demonstrated with “The Sound and the Fury”, James Joyce demonstrated with “Ulysses”, and David Foster Wallace demonstrated with “Infinite Jest”.  Note that JSS that features a deity often involves an array of deus ex machinae: magical interventions that are orchestrated by said deity to account for otherwise inexplicable jumps in the narrative.}

{14  Whenever hearsay seems to fit (and especially when it bolsters the emotional thrust of the telling), it may be adopted irrespective of its veracity–especially if it gives better flow and/or more sheen to an otherwise rickety / bland account.  This usually does not happen conscientiously; it typically occurs organically, and thus unwittingly.  Only rarely is memetic selection calculatedly dictated from the top down–as with, say, the material given sanction at the Councils of Nicaea.}

{15  Sagacious commentary on this matter has been done by Ernest Becker–especially in his “The Birth and Death of Meaning” and “The Denial of Death”.  Other works that address this include George Akerlof’s “Phishing for Phools” (in an economic context), David Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons” (in an existential context); as well as Michael Shermer’s “How We Believe” and “Why People Believe Weird Things”.}

{16  Parables can be fantastical–as with Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time”.  When it comes to parable, the outlandish-ness does not compromise the efficacy.  For other great parables, we might also note the works of by Jumpa Lahiri, Octavia Butler, and Angela Carter.}

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