Monday, November 5, 2012

colour-blind signalmen

"We belong to a generation whose perception of symbols is blurred except in familiar social contexts."

A few weeks ago, we read Brideshead Revisted, and our professor pointed out to us how odd the sacraments are.
They are absurd.
They go against everything we young postmoderns have been raised to believe.
We are taught to look inward at someone's real intentions, their interior disposition, "it's the thought that counts."
But the Sacraments assert boldly:
"Symbols are the only means of communication."
That in order to understand the spiritual we must embrace the physical. Heaven and earth must truly kiss.

In Brideshead Revisited, this adherence so completely to ritual--even down to it's seemingly absurd, nit-picky details--is a major plot point. This is a point where the Universe rings true, but reads as absolutely nonsensical to post-modern sensibilities. And that is the delightful foolishness of holiness that is wiser than all the combined wisdom of man.

"Yet his contempt both for magic and rules of impurity is based on ignorance. The drawing of symbolic lines and boundaries is a way of bringing order into experience. Such non-verbal symbols are capable of creating a structure of meanings in which individuals can relate to one another and realize their own ultimate purposes."
--Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols.

For example, communication. We assume (sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly) that spontaneous speech flows straight from the heart. It may be incoherent and imperfect communication, but it's raw and honest, and says "exactly what the person wants to say."
It is actually ritual and ritualized speech that gives us the instant communication we long for. We all envy twins who can communicate, it seems, via telepathy or some unique and coveted twin-extra-sensory-perception. 
We yearn for a kindred spirit or bosom friend (as Anne Shirley would name it) who knows our minds and our hearts so well that words are weighted with the collection of stories behind the words. A friend who can read and participate in the ritual expressions that we ourselves have inherent in our own bodies. We idealize this non-verbal communication, we long to have someone who knows us so well they can "finish our sentences," we are in awe when we both say the same phrase or words at the exact same time (on cue, as it were), and we love inside jokes and other verbal communications that hold non-verbal communication. 
Our words are the most real, communicate the most meaning when they become sacraments that "harmonize with The Word," to borrow a friend's phrase.

Those who reject ritual and ritualized speech are rejecting a whole world of non-verbal communication full of life. As much as we value spontaneity, we are beings that innately long for ritual.

1 comment:

  1. Haha. I love this in large part because I know the circumstances under which it was written. At least something good came out of studying for Anderson...