Time has named the #metoo Silence Breakers as their Person of the Year for 2017; this is not the first time that they have named a group. (Vox has a piece on it here.) I don’t mean to say anything negative at all about the movement, which is really only incidental to the pattern that I want to call attention to with two quotes.
Thomas de Zengotita, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It (New York: Bloomsbury, 2005), 81:
Who thought up this whole teenager thing, anyway? We don’t know exactly, but I bet it was, like, a bunch of girls. Twilight of the Heroes. From George Washington to Martin Luther King. From Lindbergh and Churchill to, uh — why there’s no name I can put here. So we’ll just say New York City firefighters on 9/11. Performers and fans. Virtual revolution. You, again.
You should read that book. After re-reading it, I can’t help but notice what looks like Taylor Swift on the cover of the representatives of the award. Seems fitting. “Performers and fans.” The ritual function of media is not what one thinks. It does not touch the viewer: it punctures the viewer. “But, of course, this is not about Taylor Swift!” –but of course, I agree.
The next is Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition (New York: Verso, 2016), 6ff.
No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers. The public ceremonial reverence accorded these monuments precisely because they are either deliberately empty or no one knows who lies inside them, has no true precedents in earlier times. To feel the force of this modernity one has only to imagine the general reaction to the busy-body who ‘discovered’ the Unknown Soldier’s name or insisted on filling the cenotaph with some real bones. Sacrilege of a strange, contemporary kind! Yet void as these tombs are of identifiable mortal remains or immortal souls, they are nonetheless saturated with ghostly national imaginings. (This is why so many different nations have such tombs without feeling any need to specify the nationality of their absent occupants. What else could they be but Germans, Americans, Argentinians…?)
The cultural significance of such monuments becomes even clearer if one tries to imagine, say, a Tomb of the Unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen Liberals. Is a sense of absurdity avoidable? The reason is that neither Marxism nor Liberalism is much concerned with death and immortality. If the nationalist imagining is so concerned, this suggest a strong affinity with religious imaginings. As this affinity is by no means fortuitous, it may be useful to begin a consideration of the cultural roots of nationalism with death, as the last of a whole gamut of fatalities.
You should most definitely read that book. I just finished it, and am playing around with writing a review once I can get my hands on, and finish reading, a symposium on it that was held in 2016. One of many works worth reading as I slowly prep to write an article on Civil Religion for Orthodoxy in Dialogue.
The previous post had some sliver of what Simone Weil wrote about finding refuge in collectives; if I’m not mistaken, it had some of what she wrote about how the flight to the collective, to find refuge in it, apes transcendence.
Header image found at http://metamorproses.com