Friday, May 05, 2017
Colonize the Undiscovered Country
There is an underlying theme in Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow and set in New Jersey in Atlantic City that riveted me. We are all -- the people of this planet -- focused on the past. We are looking for the brier forest surrounding Sleeping Beauty's castle caught sleeping in an angry fairy's spell for more than a century. We dream of being the one to break the spell, free the sleeping court and live happily ever after. Conversely, we would be happy to stumble over a hidden crypt within a mountain where the riches of the earth lay waiting or happen upon a tarnished lamp in a junk shop that is the Aladdin's lamp that when rubbed clean would appear from the smoke to grant our every wish and unravel the riddles of the ages. We are focused on the wrong view.
We should understand the past in order to create a better future, but the focus should be on the future not the past. How can we survive if we don't look to the Undiscovered Country of the Future to set ourselves free of the slavery of the past?
Everywhere we look we see TV series about the Old West glorifying the good old days of Jesse James and the splendors of the courts of Louis XIV or Henry VIII. We relive the exploits of King Arthur's court and fashion stories about the bloody Borgias and recreate the struggle between King Xerxes and the Spartans who died defending the pass at Thermopolyae or the plains of Marathon where a Greek runner sped 40 km (about 26 miles), the distance from Marathon to Athens, to let the Athenians know they had won. The Persians had been defeated and turned away from their invasion of Greece. We run the modern marathon to honor that feat.
Historians, scientists, and archaeologists endlessly sift through the detritus of past ages to make some sense of the ancient past when they know little of what actually happened less than 200 years ago, making up stories and spinning fanciful dreams about what they think happened while destroying what they find and do not understand, hiding the general idea that our ancestors were less technologically and socially advanced than we are in our glass and marble cities piercing the clouds with their sun splashed windows that appear to be gold from the distance.
Men, women, and children recreate old battles, fight mock engagements, and annually put on Renaissance Faires where everyone plays at reliving fantasies and dreams. Daily we reach back into the past to complain about sins and mistakes our forefathers made without ever understanding the world they lived in or the struggles they mastered to make it possible for modern rebels without a cause to complain when few of the middle or lower classes ever saw the inside of a college or university or could have climbed out of the misery of their lives where their children and mothers died in childbirth or lived long enough to succumb to any number of diseases easily cured today. Blacks demand reparations from the promise of 40 acres and a mule and imagine the government will or could make good on a special field order made and revoked in 1865, still dreaming of untold wealth and riches from a country that enslaved their ancestors. They might as well petition for citizenship and the governor's mansion in Monrovia or face the indigenous African people dispossessed by freed slaves settling in African lands and imposing their rule and religion over the African people who were born and had hunted and settled the lands from time out of mind.
We look to the past to dig up whatever history we can find or refashion to support our beliefs and positions without regard for the facts -- if the facts are indeed known. If the facts are sparse, it won't take long to use the bits of broken pottery and a good imagination to fashion new facts to fit the bill.
Romance authors reimagine the past to fit a new paradigm that suits them better, turning the past into a tapestry of lies, half truths, and dreams that raise the structures that will hold whatever the author thinks should have happened or fills the gaps where mysteries are born, mysteries that take forms that change from writer to writer. We fill the past with zombies and monsters where cartographers imagined there be dragons. Whirlpools became devouring demons that rose from the depths to swallow ships and treacherous shoals provided seats for beautiful demons sang to passing sailors and lured them and their ships to their doom.
Adventurers and seamen crossed desserts and oceans to plant colonies and discover lands and peoples with fabulous legends of cities of gold and lost treasures or civilizations that disappear beneath the oceans in a night or are devoured by a sandstorm that lasts a whole year. Riches and fables pepper the globe if only we had the map or a journal describing the route.
We are all children wide-eyed and breathless getting ready to go to bed wrapped in Morpheus's arms to enter a dream world where we fly and travel the distant stars or the depths of the oceans to realize our fondest wishes and live out magical dreams that disappear when the sun rises. Fairy silver turns to dust in the morning sun and dreams hover at the edge of consciousness until night sets them free to accompany us on the wild hunt.
We are all dreamers born of smoke and mirrors in Scheherazade's 1001 Arabian Nights to beguile a vengeful prince to allow us another day of life and to fall in love all over again. With hearts and minds mired in the past, we will never enter or colonize the Undiscovered Country nor will we stop complaining that reality is less substantial than we dreamed.
That is all. Disperse.