This is the last entry in a four part series over the last few days, beginning here
So can we ever know anything? We live in a world of stories and tales that have become “stuck” in time, shackled by their dated nature, which no longer evolve in a perceivable way. The wool has been ripped off our eyes but our perceptions are overexposed to the light. Information overload leads to meaningless facts and numbers (another topic Postman wrote about in Technopoly), and postmodernist perspectives challenge the values we’ve defined for ourselves through traditional institutions like the church, civil religion, or our indigenous culture.
Some people have suggested the answer is to create an alternative culture or mythology for ourselves – neo-tribalism appeals to anarcho-primitivists because they recognize an overarching theme to civilization like consumption, accelerated growth and expansion, “conquering the earth” and other motifs they want to seperate themselves from. Creating a new tribal culture is a way to confront those old preconceptions in a radically different way, by writing them out of our society completely. This is why whenever you have a “Utopian” community in literature or real life the members are reliant on more than just a codified set of laws or some preamble; beneath the guiding code there is a mythologizing of certain values or themes that will guide those members in spirit. We understand that in the USA as “civil religion,” the cultural identity of American values and principles that lead some constitutional scholars to describe their own hierographical scroll as a “living document.”
Back to postmodernist perspectives, there is the question of relativism that comes up whenever we’re determining mores and norms. Is the West’s commitment to abolishing sexist institutions intolerant of other culture’s religious practices (and it’s own value of freedom for religious belief)? The easiest answers lie in value based assessments of each society’s practices. But those assessments are usually based on subjective ethical reasoning. Sometimes we’re just wrestling with ideas with elusive origins and vague relevance, vestigial cultural institutions largely existing because of tradition rather than as an expression of meaningful mythological or cultural purposefulness. A better example than the hijab would be reform Judaism; much of the mystical or spiritual significance is lost on or denied by modern Jews but they still identify with the powerful self-identity afforded by that culture that echoes from it’s mythos.
In contrast, Aboriginal Australians live their myth. While largely destroyed in a true “clash of civilizations” (sorry Huntington), aboriginal peoples have had an active and functional mythology in which they use the paths created across the land and sky (songlines) created by ancient beings during which all reality came to exist (the Dreaming). Through an oral tradition, the stories could be repeated in appropriate recitals which would navigate people across the wilderness of the 3,000,000 square mile continent. Really, everything about the Aboriginals is facinating; I highly reccomend Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines as an introduction to the topic.
I’d like to use Alejandro’s Jodorwosky’s Holy Mountain as an example here, but the scene I’m thinking of would destroy the movie. Instead, I’ll recommended you see that as well. The point is the illusionary frameworks in our life cannot be destroyed, as Jodorwosky suggests, but they can be continuously reinvented, as many self help books try to do. When we abandon one method of understanding, we discard it for another, hopefully something greater and more encompassing of newfound understanding. When we watch a film, or absorb media, we have an author’s ideas suggested in our minds, singing different songs that inspire new behavior. This is the real irony of Nolan’s Inception; the true heist was that over the course of the movie, the production infiltrated our consciousness and created a believable reality with new ideas springing from the original work. While we thought the inception happened in the movie, it actually happened in our heads. And that’s true of any great movie that really impacts our psyche.
Filmmakers and authors are constantly creating worlds and systems of understanding, alternative or modified illusionary frameworks that are both based on human experiences and adapted to explain them as they happen. Whether pessimistic like Vonnegut, macho like Hemingway, or fanciful and given to hubris like Rand, they are attractive and compelling, which is why we devour them. In the new media of audiovisual communication, we look for films to do the same. But all along, our sub-consciousness is performing that function as we rest. Dreaming is the first storytelling, which is why the Aboriginals understood it as a process of creation. We can dream at night and forget that during the day, we can spend all day preparing to dream at night. Or we can understand the function of those dreams and bring them to a conscious level, by performing that action in our waking life through creative understanding.