Try as I might to avoid the Universe, sooner or later it grabs me by the throat.
Three in the morning, as it is every night, no books to be had and nothing on the telly. Until CNN International breaks in with coverage of Lebanese youths [always the “jovenes”, their patrons in hiding behind doorways or under grandstand cover] storming the Danish consulate. And then a Catholic church and any other threat that might appear to witless eye.
And so I was forced to confront the thought which has been everywhere of late, for me. Symbols, icons, and what lies behind, below them and, sometimes, to the left.
Two different thoughts, paths, for the moment. The first having to do with the fundamentalist laying claim to symbol, iconography. Hagiography, as it were. The American Christians who rage against a silly television show which dares to diminish Jesus by showing him in the flesh. The Lebanese youth who rage against a consulate because someone dared show their prophet in a sketch.
Someone else, once, who raged against someone who dared speak lightly of Mr. W, an idol held close by those of his chosen sect. Revealing a two-fold irony that leads to the second thought, because it is the nature of the sectarian to assume that only they know, can understand, hold an opinion on their favoured gods. The truth being that the very first time my words ever saw light of print – a lifetime or three ago – they were devoted to an exegesis on the subject of the very Mr. W.
Understandable folly to assume that I, given my gender and outsider status, would know nothing of their gods or should be allowed, regardless of knowledge, to venture an opinion.
But if it were to be true – that other way of looking at the iconic – then what?
What if, let’s pretend for a moment, a huge portrait of Stalin were to be hung in a room crowded with the newly faithful? Or again, along the way, a hammer and sickle were to hold pride of placement?
And what if this were to be done, not by those who quietly wear their chosen decade close to their hearts, but by those new to the fray? By the fretless, fevered young ones, seeking what all seek, whether in Belfast or Damascus or San Sebastian or LA?
That they would know nothing of the Doctors Plot or Treblinka, for example, would it matter? They are young, impassioned, resolute and, most of all, present. Would we, should we, care?
Some might smile, if smile they could, at unwitting homage to long sequestered gods.
Others, one at least, would think that those of us who do remember the gulag and the stone have a duty to impart the memories, to recommend knowledge as a necessary perquisite of engagement. To say out loud that it is good to learn the history of icon before embracing it.
Anyone who has been a parent or a teacher or an adolescent understands the heated, heedless rush to battle, and god knows anyone who has ever seen, for example, the posts to the yahoo zapatista mailing list knows that there cannot be THAT many counterintelligence ops out there.
But how can one tolerate the moral relativism that touts the self-preservative need to learn History on the one hand but then ignores it when presented with hordes of adorably naïve, untutored acolytes? I fear, much too often, that a rationale lies behind this dichotomy.
If we were to expect, request, demand, a bit of knowledge, provide even the most basic of primers, then the numbers might diminish. There would be books to be read, for one thing. And after that there would be questions to be posed, dilemmas to be discussed, goals to be weighed.
Not the grand stuff of post-mod theatre or op-ed duels from on high.
No more Gang of Five or Clash of the North of the Border NGO Titans.
No more cannon fodder, literally or figuratively.