Monday, 10 September 2007

scylla and charybdis- the siren song of cultural confusion

back from london and the languedoc for over a week but even with a remedial day in york to cheer myself up, its evident that i cant fathom whats at the bottom of my deepening malaise. i cant shake off the nagging doubt that this rather elderly classicist and archaeologist with a penchant for arcanery, ruin and decay has no business concerning herself with the ‘global village’ of fashion, speed and surface. perhaps my prejudices will always preclude my comprehending this brave new glossy homogenous world so beloved of almost everyone else!

this predilection for the natural cycles of decay and renewal is clearly out of synch with modernity’s preoccupation, nay obsession, with youth, beauty and perfection played out in an eternally frozen present, the increasing privilege of an overindulged decadent west, hopelessly addicted to novelty and instant gratification. its all too easy to read into this admittedly cliched critique a certain positioning, a latent pessimism that is inherently prejudiced against improvement, innovation and progress, alternately having a pop either at the advances of modernity or the revolutions of the post-modernists; either a poetic romantic, gothic revivalist, sentimentally wallowing in neglect and decay; or a deluded killjoy, an old fogey, one of those reactionary pro-enlightenment revisionists.

that simply doesnt reveal the whole story. im neither richard dawkins, latter-day witchfinder general and unyielding defender of rationalism, ruthless objectivity and an almost scientific fundamentalism, whose polemic 'the god delusion' reminds us that rationalism can be blind and intolerant, too. terry eagleton's review in the LRB expresses the concerns of this rigid absolutism much more succinctly than i ever could; his beautifully articulated overview of faith, theology and belief certainly made me believe in the power of the intellectual to raise humanity above its worst inclinations. a read of his excellent review is food for thought and should be compulsory!!

nor am i francis wheen, so-called US apologist and member of the controversial euston manifesto, which "reaffirm the ideas that inspired the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity; human rights; the pursuit of happiness." when the manifesto was published in the new statesman and on the guardian's blog "Comment is Free" it was hotly debated, its critics arguing that it was in reality a front for its authors' support for the current foreign policies of british and american governments. im certainly not in this camp...

but take his latest book, 'how mumbo jumbo conquered the world'. its hard not to turn from the absurdities of mainstream television without feeling some sympathy, some acquiescence that we've gone a little crazy! its rather easy to make fun of much modern day western culture with its smorgasbord attitude to religion, ethics and politics, preferring to appropriate the 'nice bits' of everyone elses cultures and beliefs, rather than work through the problems of ones own...

but its also a little smug and facile, something that an archaeologist cannot afford to be, given that the bread and butter of the field or academic archaeologist is the quotidian, the vernacular, the stuff and material remains of humanity; the dust, decay and bric a brac of everyday life.

time, then, to gird my loins, polish up my pinze nez, get off the fence and back into the fray.

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