Does living in Asia make one more respectful of appropriate mediators? The refreshing but difficult thing about the West is that there are more places for direct access - the encouragement to try something 'in one's own moccasins' - but this means more getting lost. What happened to the guide?
I have been thinking a lot about Fraenkel's description of his gentle but vertiginous realisation that not all texts are of equal value; as we learn, we ought first to learn through the critical apparatus of those whose intellectual capacity and hard work may shine the light on an aspect of a topic we might otherwise miss.
One of Maxwell's books opens with the Greek inscription: λαμπάδια ἔχοντες διαδώσουσιν ἀλλήλοις ἁμιλλώμενοι τοῖς ἵπποις, which has to do with passing the torch of life on from one generation to another. But this tradition has most definitely been broken in more than one place: last night, I fell down the rabbit hole of finding all the occurrences of "rupture" in postmodern thought, though I first came to it in something I was reading by Levi-Strauss.
One of Habermas' recent texts, something about the modern European citizen, advises that Asia ought to follow the Western path towards post-metaphysical thinking, wherein science dictates moral thinking, not metaphysics. And yet. Davenport has noticed that at the dawn of "progress", man became fascinated with pre-history: the most ancient fragments, the oldest frescoes. To my mind, it is as if the rush forwards is mediated by a profound turning back, like the jejeune adult disparaging the pre-verbal state of infancy but pretending to meditate on its existence.
"Progress is a complex, self-deluding idea. It must suppose that the history of man is from some primitive condition to a civilized one, and civilization at the time of the New World's discovery was already transforming itself into a definition which uncritically included all technology while assuming that spiritual concerns were settled long before," Davenport writes.
What this means to me is the need for a creative return to a paradox Ricoeur located: "how to become modern and to return to sources; how to receive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization". So, we return to the beginning of the post: the mediator: one that has respect for the past - because too many assumptions are made by people unqualified to understand the full meaning of certain world views - too quick to slap the label "primitive" on the precious gems of humanity.
Once upon a time, Vico wrote of the ages of mankind: the age of the gods, oracular, metaphorical; the age of heroes, of metonymy, synecdoche; the age of democracy and irony. He warned that to extend Cartesian lines to the social sphere was madness - and that if humanity did so, the age-cycle would begin again.
I sometimes toy with the idea that we have forgotten how to read the world. Like this morning, when I read about rock type. The author proposed: "Literature becomes a place to visit." It is this multi-sensory experiential level that we are missing as a whole in society, when we really see. Because to see is to have some idea - or feeling? noein? - of where the little piece of experience belongs in the bigger picture, to smell it, taste it, to connect it to other experiences or information.
Levi-Strauss writes in "The Structural Study of Myth" that we are not to comprehend merely sequentially, but also through harmony: through affinities. But these affinities become chaos if not guided by ideals - and we return to Plato's Republic, where he advises against poetry: most people do not know how to interpret it. The modern illustration would be: people watch films about lechery, consistently, and wonder why their relationships aren't working: bad behaviour creeps in: it seems ok to fight within the sacred walls of home, broken by unfaithful imagination.
And we return to the idea of the mediator, or the idea that one must be worthy of democracy - so many Victorians warned us about.
At the dawn of "freedom" - the French Revolution which first wooed the Romanticists, then had them recoiling in horror, Étienne de Senancour wrote: pouvoir sans savoir est fort dangereux. If we understood knowledge as a torch - which reminds me of the MET's Marathon Stone in honour of Pheidippides, for somehow, I think of the torch as long-distance calls for help or victory - if we understood knowledge as a torch, would we not be more careful that it not get extinguished? And, like Arnold proposes in Culture and Anarchy, always be mindful of elevating our best self. This is my Chinese New Year message.