Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Covered in Blood and Warstripes, Signifying Nothing

"Now this same primary panic that I feel in our rush towards patriotic armaments I feel also in our rush towards future visions of society. The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past." (G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World, p. 29).

These days in the church there is - for good reason - lots of talk going around about the topics of just war and of the feminization of the church.

Of course our country is in a war with another for reasons of which no one is quite sure. Still, although I haven't heard any conservative supporters directly claim that the war is just (they seem to state their support more by simply talking about and restating Just War generally, or simply by reminding us that we must win, and so must fight on), I have read where some folks are putting a lot of work (via statistics and such) into proving the patriotic argument on rational grounds of our being the good guys and "them" (radical Muslims) being the bad. I have also heard the other side of the argument that our patriotic rush into explosive violence is mere manipulative vengence for the purpose of pretty much just taking over another country (for an unknown length of time). Here is a link to a site that encompasses the argument; see some of the comments by Thomisticguy for the referenced statistics (I'll save you time by telling you to search for the word "jihad").

As well I just read a newspaper article today with the subheading "There's no divine feminine here" in the L.A. Times that documents a mens' revival called GODMEN. "The conferences now carry titles such as 'Storm the Gates' and 'Uprising.' This year, the theme is 'Unleashed,' as in unleashing the warrior within." At the conference men are encouraged to courageously lead their families as spiritual heads rather than wimpering into the shadows of oblivion, to challenge injustice when they see it rather than being doormats for the world, to corageously face the demons and angels hidden in the recesses of the human heart that longs for strength and acceptance and to be valued and needed. At the same time, however, they are encouraged to be less courteous to their wives (so what if the toilet seat is left up?), to take joy in their communal desire to blow stuff up ('Maybe worship could be hanging out with a bunch of guys, admitting we like blowing crap up."), and sing "worship" songs with lyrics like, "Forget the yin and yang [an idea from a highly fraternalistic society]/ I'll take the boom and bang.../ Don't need in touch with my feminine side!/ All I want is my testosterone high." Questionable lyrics for a "worship" song, at best.

Obviously the image of a mens revival confronts us with the image and question of manhood. Somehow, however, the question of Just War does not, since it is supposed to be a question of right and wrong, in the abstract, having nothing to do with the man making the "rational" argument. "The charge of the Crusades was a charge; it was a charging towards God, the wild consolatin of the braver. The charge of the modern armaments is not a charge at all. It is a rout, a retreat, a flight from the devil, who will catch the hindmost. It is impossible to imagine a medieval knight talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships." (Chesterton, p. 29).

Chesterton seems to be implicating not so much anyone's acts of injustice, but a whole rotten environment in which decisions of justice might be made, an environment formed by certain ends at which men have taken aim. "It is the peculiar evil of this epoch that even its pugnicity is fundamentally frightened; and the Jingo is contemptible not because he is impudent, but because he is timid. The reason why modern armaments do not inflame the imagination like the arms and emblazonments of the Crusades is a reason quite apart from optical ugliness or beauty. Some battleships are as beautiful as the sea; and many Norman nosepieces were as ugly as Norman noses. The atmospheric ugliness that surrounds our scientific war is an emmanation from that evil panic which is at the heart of it." (Chesterton, p. 28, 29).

Of course if I am not asking a question of the ends of our war, not asking a question of the causes of the war and its effects, then I must be asking a question of beginnings. And the question of ends is still an open one. Back at the beginning I am asking a question of manhood. The Crusades were a charge, because men were charging. Iraq is a retreat, because it is fought not by men but by his automated technologies. And with these automated technologies man fights over the question of a technology (biological warfare). If the question of what to do in a war is the question of what button for a man to push on the computer screen of his tank, plane or ship, then questions will naturally arise in man's mind as to what tasks really need a man to be completed and as to what really makes a man. Of course not to mention, this man will be asking if he is a man. Of course then, too, this man who does nothing will be asking and grasping for answers as to how he is any different from a woman! This is not to say that a woman does nothing, but that a man who does nothing will be left asking how he is different from a woman.

So with this new beginning in mind - a question not of success or effeciency - I think we need to start asking some fundamentally differnet questions. The film called "The Big Labowski" is a film about a "hero...well, I won't call him a 'hero', 'cause what's a 'hero'?!", in which nothing happens. Its a film in which the wrong Jeffery Labowski is asked by the porno-grapher Jackie Treehorn to repay a "rather sizable debt" owed by the right Jeffery Labowski's wife. The poor Labowski, the hero, caught up in a story beyond himself, then attempts to exchange a ringer for the real Labowski's kidnapped wife rather than the original ringer provided by the real Labowski (who really "doesn't have any money of his own anyway...his problem is vanity") for his wife who was never really kidnapped in the first place. Of course all of this nothingness isn't known until the hilarious course of events have come to their meaningless end, and we find Mrs. Labowski frollicking drunk and naked in the back yard after having crashed her red Ferrari into the voluptuous fountain out front. In the meaninglessless of this end, however, we are still left with the question posed by the rich Labowski who isn't really rich to the poor Labowski who was mistaken by Jackie Treehorn's idiotic goons as the rich one: "What makes a man, Mr. Labowski?"

The image of a bloody and victorious warrior is an onld one that ignites man's imagination from his core, because of that of which he is made (to be children of God the Father allmighty). Assuming, however, that our American men come out victorious in the Iraq war (a presumptuous assumption), what will his war stripes have earned him? In whose blood will he have then been covered? To what end? Will he be able to confidently utter the words of Jesus, "It is accomplished?" In whose image will he have been formed; what will be the significance of such an image? What will be the meaning of his war stripes?

To what ends are the means of one's modern war employed? Might the technological means, not in theselves but in their modern telos, be the ends as well? Might we be able to answer this question differently after a war successfully fought essentially by a man's whole being rather than a war essentially fought by a technology born from a fragmented piece of this man who by the use of this technology employes so little of the rest of his being? This technology is a machine born from the fragmented and isolated machine of the mind. "Self amputation forbids self recognition" (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media).

Might that war fought essentially by the whole man, from its beginnings, tend to be fought for different reasons and to answer different questions...primarily of manhood? What is it that truly makes a man? I think we can discover exacly whose blood is covering us by finding whether we are charging or retreating. Effeciency as a means to conserve our "freedom and a way of life" (which itself is self-referential to effeciency) is a half-reason involving only half a man, or rather only half of a man. The question of whose blood covers us, asked along with the question of the telos of man's fight to find himself (his whole self), is answered by man's charge toward the Cross...where he looses himself. Such finding in a loss that grants Holyness, however, is diferent from "self amputation" that forbids "self recognition". I am also currently reading Marshall McLuhan's War and Peace in a Global Village, which seems to be an exploration of our whole being similar to what this post is pointing, implying questions not of the effects or "justice" of modern wars, but questions of who we are...eventually questions of our manhood.

Modern man tends to retreat into the featurless image of a vast frontier. "Now this same primary panic that I feel in our rush toward patriotic armaments I also feel in our rush towards future visions of society. The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past...the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity. Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate." (Chesterton, p. 29).

Western man is driving his tanks back into the Eastern frontiers of ancient Babylon, out of which rode Abraham and back into which rode Alexander. I think that in reality he is not going to find "success"; he is not going "to keep our freedom and a way of life" (a "future vision of society"); but he is going to face his deepest of fears born on the side of civilization where the sun is always setting. Eventually, however, it returns to where it arose. "the west shall shake the east awake.../ while ye still have the night for morn..." (James Joyce). Modern Western man is left fighting the fears that give rise to his world in order to save it. "It is impossible to imagine a medieval knight talking of longer and longer French lances, with precisely the quivering employed about larger and larger German ships." Whether moving foward or back, can this be anything other than a retreat?

"Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall,but we rise and stand upright." (Psalm 20: 6-8).

Men enter into war in order to become whole men. The other has something that will complete the warrior, if it can be wrestled away from him. Both sides are looking to the other for their own completion. The warriors dance with each other in a terrible choreography of desire. Surprisingly, even the injured do not complete themselves. Only the dead become whole warriors; then they ascend to the heroic plateau where, surrounded by the dead, they rejoin the fight in the ecstasy of oblivion.

Again, you went there! Aaahhh...yes. But you describe what it is like to fight SOME-BODY...face to face, at the END of a charge. In a fight against terror (both our own and "the terrorists"), the wrestlers have lost face from the beginning. They've already found oblivion, and the chaos of the fight as well as its reasons (every fighter's memory of Vietnam is a remembering of chaos) is an escastasy mis-ordered.

Its a disorder between - a mapping over of - mythical and actual time. A disorder originally born from a loss of face, from the lost face. Cinematic time contributes to this...I think of when the Scots beat the English in "Braveheart"...it seems like more of an insane cry than a sacred celebration. I think on your blog you mentioned "horror vacui", or it might have been McLuhan in War and Peace....but "horror vacui" was an idea that came to be expressed in art around or soon after the time that you are studying in depth on your blog now.


They've lost face from the beginning -- interesting. In almost a Marxist sense the modern warrior has become alienated from his enemy. The bomber is faceless to the enemy and vice versa. There is no personal satisfaction in achieving this sort of anonymous destruction. You either have to go abstract modernist -- body count -- or premodern mystical -- the suicide bomber's reward of virgins in paradise. Perhaps it's easier to make yourself kill a faceless enemy -- a gook, a madman, a barbarian -- because they're already dead to you. The battlefield is a space set aside for those who are already dead.

"Horror vacui" is a term I didn't know, but you're right: it is critical in the transition from medieval to modern visualization of space and time. Now we have "terror vacui" in the paranoia induced by silence.
...which means that really there is no more silence...

And thanks for the interesting and insightful applications to contemporary or semi-contemporary fights.

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