Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Sacred and Sinister: Where to Fit in Between American vs European Life Worldviews?

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2012 at 7:47 pm

KARL Rossman lands shame-faced and exiled on the shores of the US, hotfoot from Europe and his sketchy past, to scratch a new existence in Kafka’s 1926 America. Being an intelligent mannered youth in unfamiliar territory means he feels the horror of his vulnerability but remains overawed by his streetlevel encounters. The scale of American Freedom and Possibility consume Karl’s sensibilities. He neither finds his voice nor outwits the Job’s Comforters who track his progress; and who look to him as their own meal ticket. But we suspect Karl felt alive. The sinister side of free-market America fosters a sacred form of potential self-emancipation. The sacred and sinister hover side-by-side in Western culture.

Aldous Huxley talked of L.A. as a City of Dreadful Joy. A land built on risky impermanance, ready to upsticks to follow the market. Horrifying but exhilarating; far from European classical patterns of existence and frozen hierarchies blocking social mobility. America is built on individuals finding their voice amongst gauche cultural icons that don’t have any snob-value nor heritage to intimidate or learn. Only in America would a James Holmes, 24, a neuroscience PhD student, walk-in to a midnight showing of a new Batman movie, dressed as The Joker, to exercise his franchise to carry arms. A dreadful life imitation of popular-art. The closest and worst sacred-sinister encounter.

Popular overblown images from L’art pompier; neither truly classical studies nor honest representations of ordinary life. In essence not artistic nor original in thought, but acceptable to a world wanting conformist and marketable forms. As such the loss of the sacred honest voice of the individual in modern life is a sinister daily concern. Credit:

I’ve always admired America’s contempt for European worldviews. Europe after the war, re-built on American loans, conditional on absorbing American Foreign Policy, served to super-charge the American Economy; allowing Levi Jeans to be the key weapon that crumbled the Berlin Wall. Europe has fought back with Integration. Alain Badiou offers a worldview termed ‘didactico-romanticism’, a typical French Philosophical mouthful, meant to expose the overblown art of Hollywood or life imposed by popular culture. This schema has found purchase in the UK where there is little explicitly offered alternative to the stuffy classicism of European high-aesthetics. The sickly-sugary romanticism of a synthetic-life led through multimedia remains overwhelmingly compelling. It’s between these poles of existence that Karl sought his transcendence.

In late-modernity we are searching for meaningful ways to exist that don’t obey ‘didactico-romantic’ laws of popular-culture (and speaking only in what SørenKierkegaard termed abstract language and avoiding personalising ourselves with the dangerous word “I”). Alternatively, we wish to avoid throwing ourselves out of ‘real’-community into the pompous classical world of snobby high-aesthetics, behaving like ornaments. How would Karl have managed that journey between these low and high roads? Could he have found Peace on a separate hidden path, maybe one that’s rarely beaten down as few want or know how to travel it, preferring to skip between the two roads alternately.

Of course integration under the EU offered not just a market counterweight to the US but attempts a cultural alternative to America’s low-aesthetics. A commonwealth of former crusty and guilty nations offering a re-born liberal and non-aggressive pact slowing any Rise and Rise of China and easing the West out from under American hegemony. Driven by France and Germany Europe has recovered post-war to offer a serious new worldview that Karl might have grabbed. The UK positioned itself to slide effortlessly into European progressiveness if the EU took off. Exposure to our own Continent through travel shocked even the hardened Imperialist into a realisation that our Victorian values were a lazy-simplicism and looking strongly-drawn, a meat-and-two-veg position, hopefully dying with our parents’ generation. The enlightened post-war Europe appeared to have embraced free-markets but constrained within a socialist-capitalist Hybrid Experiment headed by the German and French economies; still a tempting vision despite the current meltdown, as Hayekian Free-Markets were at the root of the banking scandals and possibly behind the Eurozone debacle.

The sacred-sinister proximity is still closest in the unabated free-markets, and widening then in the liberalising-secular European Integration. The latter being the same direction that Karl seemed to be moving in as he sat on the balcony outside Brunelda’s apartment, momentarily trapped. His only option was to ‘create’ himself outside, or even in the face of a sinister contexts. He’s responding to Kierkegaard’s appeal to be responsible to himself for his character, life and outlook. His suggestion is that modernity forces the individual to speak only like a ventriloquist’s dummy; in The Present Age he wrote: “In fact there are handbooks for everything, and very soon education, all the world over, will consist in learning a greater or lesser number of comments by heart, and people will excel according to their capacity for singling out the various facts like a printer singling out the letters, but completely ignorant of the meaning of anything.” Karl took a job with The Oklahoma Theatre. To be part of an explicit staged performance being a possible honest choice, like turning to liturgy in church; better maybe to knowingly borrow our words than unwittingly serving a hidden ‘didactico-romantic’ script.