05 March 2013

A Purposive, Unified Culture

White man got no dreaming,
Him go 'nother way.
White man, him go different.
Him got road belong himself.

I have never been able to discover any Aboriginal word for time as an abstract concept.  And the sense of 'history' is wholly alien here....

...The Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred, heroic time of the indefinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present.  One cannot 'fix' The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen....

Clearly, The Dreaming is many things in one.  Among them, a kind of narrative to things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen; and a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant to Aboriginal man.  If I am correct in saying so, it is much more complex philosophically than we have so far realised [sic].  I greatly hope that artists and men of letters who (it seems increasingly) find inspiration in Aboriginal Australia will use all their gifts of empathy, but avoid banal projection and subjectivism, if they seek to honour the notion.

-from "The Dreaming," an essay on Australian Aborigines by W. E. H. Stanner (1953)


The real language of men is chameleonlike; words refuse to mean what they ought to, and a culture which does not observe this is a culture in decay....there are no plain words.

This is a grave matter.  The belief that there were plain words sponsored the faith, three centuries ago, that science might unite mankind.  After all this time of increasing disunion, in the course of which word-men and scientists have pulled so far apart as only to communicate through interpreters, we are coming to wonder if people only understand one another's words when they pretty nearly understand one another anyway.  There are no plaine speakers either, no plain readers, only groups of us more or less skilled in a greater or lesser number of overlapping languages.  And this is not something that has gone wrong with our culture.  What went wrong with our culture was the insidious belief that it could ever be any other way: that people could, for instance, just speak their "real language."  That was a comforting but atavistic belief.  It is only the people we call savages who have a simple, a purposive, a unified culture: whose poets are "technicians of the sacred."  The decision to leave those simplicities behind, a decision we presumably do not propose to renegotiate, was entailed in our decision not to be savages.  (131)

-Hugh Kenner, The Mechanic Muse (1987)


One cannot go back. It is one's destiny inside one.

There are these peoples, these 'savages'. One does not despise them. One does not feel superior. But there is a gulf. There is a gulf in time and being. I cannot commingle my being with theirs....

There is an invisible hand grasps my heart and prevents it opening too much to these strangers. They are beautiful, they are like children, they are generous: but they are more than this. They are far off, and in their eyes is an easy darkness of the soft, uncreate past. In a way, they are uncreate. Far be it from me to assume any 'white' superiority. But they are savages. They are gentle and laughing and physically very handsome. But it seems to me, that in living so far, through all our bitter centuries of civilization, we have still been living onwards, forwards. God knows it looks like a cul de sac now...your own soul will tell you that however false and foul our forms and systems are now, still, through the many centuries since Egypt, we have been living and struggling forwards along some road that is no road, and yet is a great life- development. We have struggled on, and on we must still go. We may have to smash things. Then let us smash. And our road may have to take a great swerve, that seems a retrogression....

We can't go back. We can't go back to the savages: not a stride. We can be in sympathy with them. We can take a great curve in their direction, onwards. But we cannot turn the current of our life backwards, back towards their soft warm twilight and uncreate mud. Not for a moment. If we do it for a moment, it makes us sick.

We can only do it when we are renegade. The renegade hates life itself. He wants the death of life. So these many ' reformers' and 'idealists' who glorify the savages in America. They are death-birds, life-haters.

-D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)

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