Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Black Mass: so if we can't have a Utopia then...?

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia sets out to make two major points.  Firstly, that the secular political ideologies which sprung out of the Enlightenment, such as liberalism, capitalism, communism and more recently neo-conservatism are all deeply rooted in Christian notions of history as a narrative process.  In other words, the Judeo-Christian legacy views history as an unfolding story, with a beginning and more importantly, with a definite end point.  Different ideologies have taken this endpoint to be different things, either a bloody final battle between good and evil, or a catastrophe followed by a restoration of harmony or even Communism.   Unlike in other cultures (which are very vaguely defined by Gray) which view history as a cycle which repeats, the Judeo-Christian model is set on the idea of progress and movement towards a final destination.  Secondly, Gray wants us to believe that this is not the case and that history is headed nowhere and that any attempts at creating a Utopia will merely end up in bloodshed.  As a result, he advocates a purely real politik form of small c conservatism, whereby we make changes as they are needed, stay pragmatic and embrace pluralism and religion without enforcing any one creed or ethnic identity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zombies and the Coming Ecological/Energy Catastrophe

I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook “World War Z” by Max Brooks.  It is a BOOK recounting the stories of survivors of the Zombie wars, and I mean zombies in the tradition of George Romero.  Now I know what your thinking, a BOOK about Zombies?   How can such a purely visual topic be rendered into literature?  Well, aside from saying that Brooks did a great job, here is my bit of insight into what a book about zombies and our culture’s general fascination with zombies say about us?  Well, it is important to note that the book takes place in the near future.  Additionally, certain elements, such as Cuba becoming a superpower in the post-Zombie world immediately bring to mind doomsday scenarios relating to the looming (real) oil crash and other forms of ecological catastrophe.  From a cultural studies point of view, this made me realize that we as a society can’t get away from the traditional adversarial way of thinking.  A zombie both “humanizes” the enemy in the sense that it represents a concrete manifestation of an enemy capable of posing an existential threat to humanity. In fact, I think this is a signal that mankind at this moment is coming to terms with the existential threat posed by the environment/energy.  By environment, I mean pollution and the depletion of energy resources.  These are not adversarial threats in that there is no definable enemy against which we can fight.  But ironically, the zombie hordes in a sense represent a literal metaphor for the revenge of the dead.  The generations before us, which we can in some ways blame for putting us in our current predicament, by wasting resources and polluting with reckless, abandon are the source of our contemporary ecological problems.  By turning them into zombies, we perhaps are subconsciously acknowledging the role they play in the current ecological crisis.  Man needs an enemy, it is difficult to oppose and/or feel threatened by an enemy that is not easily identifiable, in a sense, an intangible enemy like lack of energy or pollution.  Further, a zombie is very much an “instant gratification” kind of threat.  If it gets you, you will suffer the most agonizing death imaginable, be eaten alive.  Contrasting this horrible fate, the destruction of this enemy is also very visceral, destroying the brain, which is a symbolic destruction of the very identity of the “other”.  (“On Killing” by D. Grossman cites the analysis found in feminist discourse for why porn has an obsession with the “facial”, whereby the male actor symbolically obliterates the identity of the female by obscuring her face, the true locus of human identity)  Clearly, sci-fi always gives us huge insight into where we are as a culture/species at this moment in time.  It seems these are our biggest concerns at the moment, dealing with a threat, which is existential and yet not human (although it may be caused by humans) and with no instant consequences.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gender and the English Language

Recently, I have learned through my TESL course a great deal more about the English language than I ever knew before, especially the grammar of the language.  As someone who speaks some Farsi, I can appreciate aspects of the English language which give it its unique character.  For example, you cannot give an extended account of a given situation (particularly an interpersonal interaction) without revealing the gender of the persons involved.  In Farsi, we use "u" (say it like "ooh" or the u sound in "to") for the third person singular.  For my fellow grammar illiterates, 3rd person singular is he or she in English.  So, if you tell a story in Farsi, you can obscure the gender of the participants since you can refer to them simply as "u".  Naturally, you might reveal this info at the beginning of the story by saying "some guy..." or "This woman..." but you could also choose to keep it ambiguous by using Farsi equivalents of things like "someone" or "a person" etc.  For fun, try telling someone a story about some strangers (strangers to the listener if not to you) without revealing their gender.  You will find that you have to resort to numerous awkward grammatical structures in order to preserve your screen over the subjects gender.  
I'm sure English isn't the only language which forces the categorization of subjects by gender, but it is certainly an interesting aspect of an otherwise largely gender neutral language.
What does this say about the English character?