Monday, 27 April 2009

Reading the Archetype

Solomon saith: There is no new thing upon the earth.
So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Solomon giveth
his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.
Francis Bacon: Essays, LVIII

I actually own an ancient copy of Bacon’s Essays that looks as if it would be perfectly at home in a literary museum; and thus I feel it necessary to point out that I’m feeling particularly lazy at the moment and instead of quoting from my copy of Bacon I’m quoting from the PDF version of Louis-Jorge Borges’s epigraph to his short story, The Immortal. I am quoting Bacon being quoted by Borges – it’s mind boggling if you think about it, which I don’t suggest you do because I don’t want it on my conscience that you lost the last scrap of sanity that you owned reading this blog.

What I’m really trying to say is that I think those mysterious people who told Liz Browning that the epics are dead might have been right, but not in the cynical way in which they supposed. The moment the first truly great and epic story was told was the moment nothing better could be told. Every story that follows is simply another version of the archetype – its storyness is a shadow of the real story in the world of forms. This is all in Plato according to Professor Kirke; “Dear me, what do they teach them in the schools nowadays?” He asks. It’s certainly not Plato I can assure him.

Why do we continue to tell stories then? I think it’s because we are a forgetful bunch that constantly needs to be reminded of our place in the world in the world. We never seem to learn from our mistakes as a species. Look at our history: The Americans fought for independence from the British, who were being very mean to them, and then they started fighting with the native Americans (this probably happened before their independence). They drafted a beautiful declaration of independence that goes on about the rights of all humankind and then they go and enslave African people and act like they’re not human beings. The same thing happened all over the world: in South Africa the Boers fought for independence against the British (hmm... they seem to be the root of all evil in this tale) and then merrily instituted apartheid. I was telling a friend of mine that we’ve all more-or-less come to the conclusion that colonisation was wrong but if we ever discovered a planet in some far away galaxy that is populated by beings with less strength of arms than us we would colonize them in a heartbeat. We would argue that this is somehow different from what we’ve been doing on our planet in the past.

This is why we still write stories, to remind us that we are silly and that we need to stop it and eat all our veggies.
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