A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus that allowed me to voice some ideas about the role of escapist media in contemporary spiritual life. Evidently this post struck a chord with a good deal of people as I have been receiving a lot of traffic from people kind enough to link to me. While I cannot address all of the points raised by people, I can address a few of the comments that caught my eye. Thank you all for your attention and I am delighted that you enjoyed the read!
Humans are a curious species in so far as our desire to understand the world frequently outstrips both our analytical skill and our willingness to accept the truth. Nowhere is this tension better expressed than in the explosion of conspiracy theories that invariably follow the unexpected death of a celebrity.
As JG Ballard correctly diagnosed in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), celebrities are not merely people but symbols and signs. These signs and symbols bind culture together in such a way that, when the celebrity attached to them suddenly dies, the symbol continues to exist simply because of the structural role they play. Dimly aware of the undead symbolic status of these celebrities, humans attempt to account for the cognitive dissonance by either denying that they are dead or by seeking to transform their deaths into important historical moments: Osama bin Laden is simply too important to be shot dead in some Pakistani suburb.
Our desire to see the world in terms that make sense to us is also evident in our attempts to build theories that account for such random and chaotic events as war. Matthew Hope’s The Veteran explores the idea that, far from being a violent and random convulsion of the body politic, war might actually be a force of nature.
I once attended an academic conference where a member of the audience repeated a criticism made by the author of a rather successful book. In response to this criticism, the paper-giver smiled and began his response by saying “While I think that professor X should be praised for producing such an accessible work on the subject…” before going on to explain at great length why it was that he thought that professor X was both wrong and a grotesquely ugly freak. Though I cannot remember the subject of the paper, or the criticism made of its position, or the response given to said criticism, I can still remember the audible intake of breath and the appreciative tittering from the audience when the speaker applied the word ‘accessible’ to the work of another academic. The dynamics of this withering intellectual put-down are easy enough to unpack: if a work is accessible then it means that it is written with a non-specialist audience in mind and if a work is intended to be consumed by people who are new to the subject then it cannot hope to break new-ground. However, if the aesthetics of accessibility are ‘wrong’ then what are the right aesthetics?