There be dragons!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Culture, tragedy, maturity, and other fine things

Cultured. From the original Latin word cultus; meaning to be tilled, ready for planting, receptive to the seed. The cultured man is the civilized man. He is the man who is receptive to understanding who, as Simone Weill points out, is able to listen, the religious man. But being ready for the seed, being receptive to the word, involves a certain amount of violence; churning the earth, tearing out the weeds and roots, breaking the stones. Tillage is not a task for the weak and always some damage to the “natural” environment must occur. Thus tragedy teaches one to be cultured. Hector, the defender of Troy, experiences one tragedy after another over the course of nine years of violence. He is faced with ultimate ruin and pain. He even fails and runs from Achilles. But at the end he realizes what is important and stands his ground. The suffering of violence and loss, that tragic element of life presents to us a moment of crisis wherein all illusions are stripped away and we have to face with unblinking eyes the harsh reality of the world. No more can we respond with laughter to everything. No more can we adopt a careless attitude of irresponsibility. No more can we remain oblivious to our own poor decisions and the suffering of others which those decisions create. In that moment of crisis we are presented a choice; either to reject what has happened to us, to lay down and die, do nothing to stop the inevitable, join with despair and become a monster, or else to accept our own weakness and still fight on for that which we have, in happier times, seen to be good and noble and beautiful whether it be our cause, or our beloved, or our little ones. Acceptance is, in this instance, not simply a que cera cera moment but rather a submission to the plow which makes us more receptive, more open to the commonality we share, more adept at being listeners. It instills in us, as it does eventually in Achilles, a sense of the commonality of human suffering. We cannot remain in that happy childhood world of oblivion where no consequence exists for our hateful words and actions, our neglect and self-indulgence, our laziness and failure to help those in need. Rather, we gain a sense of our helplessness, our smallness, our need for redemption; we hunger for the seed; we thirst for righteousness, yet realize that we cannot gain righteousness by our own good works because we have become a curse to our friends and loved ones and have suffered deeds which men talk about in hushed voices. Only then can we never inflict pain inadvertently. Only then are we ready for the planting; cultured and civilized. Only then are we ready to see the real comedy of God’s mercy and rejoice at the escape from death offered in the resurrection; to rise on that day, to look at the movement of the stars and heavens, and realize that death has no sting.

1 comment:

  1. Altogether right. Tragedy as the great opportunity of suffering as the fount of love. The Greeks didnt see love, and thus didnt see tragedy as anything more than a brief glimpse of the world of the gods, a moment of kles, glory. But the Passion showed what tragiedy really is by showing what suffering is. No?