A Proper Update

February 21, 2010

Sunday being a day during Lent in which one does not freak out about one’s discipline, I will not be relating a parable today. Also, I’d run out of them a few days early if I did that. Instead this will be an actual update in the comings and goings of my life, plus a few other things on my mind.

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The latest Paste Magazine’s cover story bears the title, “Is Indie Dead?” To which the answer is, yes. As soon as Volkswagen opened the floodgates for corporate appropriation of whatever Indie is Indie died. Whatever, who cares? Things change, and I’m excited for the future. Far more interesting to me was the way Rachel Maddux, the author, reformulated the old Elephant parable. Briefly, I will recount the parable for those unaware of it:

Three blind men each happen upon an elephant, but they don’t feel the same parts of it. One feels the tail, bristly and stiff. An other feels a leg, thick and sturdy. The third feels the trunk, strong and flexible. None of the men can agree on what they’re experiencing as the way they encounter the elephant is different. They’re all describing the same thing just different parts, and without being able to see the whole thing the elephant seems indecipherable.

This is often used by people when they talk about relativism, or even God. Our experience determines what we know, and even when two or three people experience an event simultaneously the human condition makes it impossible for all of the pieces to line up. One thing the elephant parable does do, though, is assume that if we could see, then the elephant would be mutually understandable. Maddux brilliantly reformulates the tale, turning the elephant into a mutant creature that would be totally incomprehensible to the men even if they could see the whole thing.

I. Love. This.

This is, I think, a fascinating way to think about God. Even if we could see the whole of God, what we would see would be beyond comprehension. Think back to Exodus; God is named as unnamed; The best Moses can see of God is where God just was; God in the Tabernacle is revealed as a cloud, the Shekinah, a heaviness beyond comprehension. You could say that Jesus reveals God anew to the world, but the view of God in the Christian world after Jesus is of a tripartite God who is possibly even more incomprehensible than a simply unnamable God.

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I’m plodding along with classes and my dissertation work right now. There’s a frustratingly small amount of English language literature on my topic, particularly contemporary studies, so a lot of what I have to do is take historical accounts and match them up to recent demographic data, which is fairly available. More frustratingly what little English literature exists is pretty much nonexistent in the school’s library. I don’t have access to two journals that will be useful, and several books are proving difficult to procure as well. I did finally figure out how to use Queen’s Lexis Nexis account, which was altogether too difficult to find. A Nexis search should be an easily used function for university students to access, and at Queen’s it is buried in the network. Stupid. I’m very much looking forward to going to Russia over Easter break, and am now working on getting some interviews set up in Kazan. Hopefully.

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One proverb often repeated by people is the creaky trope, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” That is the laziest excuse for encouraging historical comprehension in existence. It sounds profound on the surface of it, but even brief prodding reveals its weakness. Namely this: No historical event ever repeats itself. Things may look similar at first blush, but the contingencies underpinning human events are in constant flux and are never identical to their predecessors. Far too often that line is used to justify a lack of curiosity when studying the past, as it is assumed that linking past events to present ones is an adequate explanation for both. It isn’t, and being satisfied with such a superficial understanding of history degrades our understanding of both the past and the present.

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