What the mask told me

No, the mask does not speak - in a literal sense. But I have often thought that one can "hear" or "read" works of art, and argued such in my first university thesis. Art has a narrative. To "hear" art, one must look at it in silence for a long time. But then, there is also the knowledge one ought to have of the context of the piece, in order to hear it properly. Hear/read - essentially I am talking about an approach akin to a reader response theory, wherein the text is visual. The reason I write "hear" and not "read" is that the visual has more immediacy than a text. Anyway.
Today I was looking at The North Wind Mask, thanks to the MET's daily work of art RSS feed.
The description explained that in the performance cycles "that were important in maintaining proper human, animal, spirit-world interactions," the ceremony in which this particular mask was used would represent spirits that were both benevolent and malevolent to the community.
In the book "Cannibal Cultures," Root argues that a problem in the Western world is the exclusion of all "bad" elements, and projecting them onto victim cultures (usually poorer ones), and then consumes them. Such an unrealistic assignment of labels and a willing blindness to the true situation at home will be to the detriment of cultures that do this, she writes.
While it is important to acknowledge the malevolent, if one calls upon the ceremony of the North Wind Mask, it becomes clear that the purpose of acknowledging the malevolent is to understand its place in a structure that affords ultimate harmony to a society.
I would say the biggest detractor from such harmony comes from always wanting to be the victor. In society today, we are told that the loser will be effaced. Nobody wants to be effaced - in fact, some of the most meaningful cultural artifacts have been built for the preservation of memory - and of these, the most magnificent are those dedicated to a shared memory and to a higher, benevolent purpose. To be remembered; memory in a good light.
As if being remembered in other people's hearts is not enough, man is often sacrificed without his conscious consent.
This is nothing new; were not the games of ancient days also highly competitive, was not a foreign tongue inscribed on the walls of conquered lands.
But what if one is not on the side of the powerful or the victor? What if one is in between? Does one, like the Chinese official scholar of bygone days retreat to a forest dwelling? Or learn to speak in code? It is an act of irony to use all one's strength to try to reach meaning that actually makes sense for all the lost and tangled pieces, and then realise that one cannot speak of such things openly, but must again obfuscate the path through symbols that only the one who uses all their strength will learn to decode. But maybe the best ideas must be silent, because they only gain their ultimate meaning through the intention of the seeker.
But to return to the matter at hand, all of this is not to advocate speaking of the ill for the sake of it, but to give it it's proper place: not to focus on it, but to assign it a position in the constellation, for it has a meaning - and ultimately it cannot be wished away, so the competent mind will seek how to assign it meaning. There will be a meaning to les chutes - granted that it may only be revealed from within a bigger performance, whose ultimate message is balance and harmony.

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