Wednesday, December 29, 2010

nothing new under the sun

I can't seem to get warm, even with the space heater and the heat turned up to almost 70, which makes me want to sleep, but I've been sleeping a lot and sometimes I just want to have something to show for this massive amount of time I have to play with besides having the flu.

Ryan came up yesterday for what's become a wonderful annual hanging out tradition. We went to the Art Museum to see the "Treasures of Heaven" which is totally stuff I'm geeky for because of that weird convergence of religious devotion, body parts of dubious origin, and medieval bling. And they had a corresponding illuminated manuscripts exhibit downstairs so I was in artistic heaven.

It was even more fabulous than I thought it would be, with a lot of Byzantine and early German and Irish artistry with this sense of seriousness, beauty, and ancientness that doesn't seem far removed from the time when my ancestors were still painting themselves and running around naked in the woods throwing people into bogs to ensure a good harvest.

Even as weird to our jaded minds as it seems to be taking trips to see the enshrinement of John the Baptist's tooth or the skull of one of St. Agatha's 11,000 virgins, I get the feeling that while some people did the pilgrimage for the whole religious experience but for others it was a chance to get out of whatever village you were stuck in and have the excuse to go somewhere warm like Spain and party at taverns and maybe shave a few years off of purgatory. I get why the Calvinists were pissed off because the whole shameless revenue of this enterprise must have been hard to bear.

It's not unlike the way that people now do spring break or take road trips out to the middle of nowhere America to see abandoned buildings, eat at weird diners or places like the Cathedral Buffet and take photos at roadside attractions with giant dinosaur sculptures. Or the people who go to Graceland or the gravesites of Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. I wonder what Chaucer would make of us and our strange mess of European culture with its own agnostic mysticism.

We were talking about some of the conversations heard around the table at Christmas, where our relatives who listen to a lot of Glenn Beck are freaking out at the state of society and how it's on this continual slide into the morass of something or other, and how back in the day it was better.

But it wasn't. There's always been wars and power struggles and corruption and moral degeneracy as long as there's been people. Peace is the punctuation between war not the other way around. It's just that now there's the Internet and bigger guns and nuclear bombs instead of cuneiform and spears. Is 21st Century America really worse than Nero's Rome?

It's not surprising to me that Ecclesiastes doesn't get a whole lot of coverage on Sunday mornings with its despairing existentialism that resonated with me in my teens when I wasn't sure if I believed in God and if He/She/It existed, did it really matter, but the way it describes human nature and the patterns in society and culture could have been written yesterday, they resonate so strongly with what I saw around me in a way that more esoteric texts didn't. It was a visceral truth that was reassurring in its lack of platitudes.

There's nothing really new, just repeated patterns and revisions.

There is a time for everything. Most of our pursuits in life are dead ends. Politicians are greedy and corrupt. Sometimes good things happen to bad people and vice versa. The eye never has its fill of seeing and the ear never has enough of hearing. It's foolish to talk about the good old days because they never existed and it doesn't do any good. God gives meaning to existence but that doesn't always make it easier to understand or bear.

I'm sure if this got thrown into the conversational fray I'd probably get some funny looks but whatever.


Jeff Hershberger said...

I feel compelled to comment when somebody writes something I feel like I could have written it myself. So: well put.

Hey, that video you posted earlier ... search youtube for Arvo Part. He's a sort of minimalist composer who often does choral work, and he has a bit of an orthodox-catholic-eastern-european bent.

thatgirl said...

I love love love Arvo Part! The fact that he's still alive and composing is amazing to me too since I'm used to most composers being, well, dead.

Randal Graves said...

The good old days never existed? Are you nuts? Last week sans work was fantastic!

Pulp said...

You are correct. There were no "good old days". It doesn't surprise me that people who are gullible enough to buy into Glenn Beck would lack a mature historical perspective.