Sunday, March 8, 2015

trylon and perisphere

Trylon and Perisphere: it sounds like a pair of lovers from a Greek myth you learned in high school, and now you pretend to remember when it's casually referenced at a cocktail party.

In fact, Trylon and Perisphere was the name of a modernist artistic sculpture/architecture displayed at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. Trylon was a triangular pylon tower that shot up into the air alongside Perisphere, a steel globe. They represented the "World of Tomorrow" which was the fair's theme. I am not usually inspired by large geometric shapes, so I am, from the outset, cynical.

But even if you are a very geometric-minded person, the whole situation is filled with tragic irony.
First of all: the 1939 world's fair had no way of knowing that World War II was upon them, a war that violently ushered in a very bloody tomorrow. Secondly, Trylon and Perisphere were dismantled at the end of the 1940 season of the world's fair, as their steel could be melted down to use for the war effort. These symbols of a new tomorrow were dismantled to destroy the world of today.

Progress is a fickle virtue, and those who pursue it for its own sake, will find that it turns on them, pulls out the rug from underneath them, and undermines whatever cause they originally had in mind in the first place. We--human beings--have a drive inside of us to be great, to become better, to be constantly improving. Perhaps this is us fighting against the natural entropy of the universe. As we are dragged further into chaos, we fight this by constantly ordering the parts that are dissolving into disorder. But this fight to make things better is not in itself the point.

Without an underlying telos, the drive to "be better" is a meaningless exercise. So many social movements are in danger of forgetting their telos: democracy, technology, feminism. I see this particularly in feminism, and I think today is a fitting moment to discuss, since it is International Women's Day (a fact I forgot, until a friend and I were, very appropriately, getting a girls-only brunch, and our waiter wished us a happy women's day. It's a rare delight when you visit a brunch spot where your waiter is more feminist than you are).

I have been listening to an enlightening and informative and fascinating podcast. (I just said the word "podcast" which means I have become the worst version of myself. I hate that word. Anyone who is listening to a podcast must also be drinking kale shakes and wearing bougie, faux-hipster non-prescription horn-rimmed glasses. Next thing you know I'll start wearing those hats that everyone wears that are just like regular knit winter hats, but you wear it so it only covers the top of your head, and there's a Cathedral steeple of knit hat towering over the rest of your head. Stupidity, thy name is those hats.) Anyhow, the podcast is called Stuff Mom Never Told You, which is a clever and sassy title, and for that reason alone, I enjoy it. The two hosts are hilarious, delightful, and have lots of interesting facts that you can intellectually masticate over to your heart's content.

However, what I find grating about the podcast, is that any sort of limit that is ever put on women is decried as anti-feminist. Which is just unrealistic. Limits come from being a specific human, living a specific life, in a specific time. It is not unfair that my spending budget is significantly lower than Taylor Swift's, it is just reality. We have different jobs, different lifestyles, different net values. It would be unjust if one of my colleagues at the school made more money than I did, simply because he was a man, or she had blonde hair and I had brown. That would not be a limit, that would be an injustice, an inequality. Not to drink the Patriarchal Kool-Aid or anything, but it seems to me that there are certain limitations to being a woman, and that's okay, because I am a human being, not Superman, and I'm okay if having a vagina means that I am biologically incapable of achieving the same muscle mass in my biceps as my male counterparts. In my book, I have the better deal anyway.

Perhaps this is just because I am a kind of person who believes that there are things that are right and wrong; not because I have arbitrarily decided them to be so in my happy little moral system, but because they are just facts. Just as, when you breathe, oxygen enters your bloodstream, and nitrogen leaves, when you give to another person, without thought of yourself, your ability to see the world, and to love the world becomes bigger, it grows, your heart becomes softer and less self-interested. And if you act selfishly, your heart grows smaller, because that is the scientific definition of acting selfishly: to make yourself smaller, to cut yourself off and turn yourself inward. These are not optional, they are, by necessity, what happens when you perform the action. We have all experienced this clarity at moments, but usually, these facts are not apparent to the naked eye, therefore, we often forget they are facts.

The telos of feminism is not to cast off all limitations on women; that is pointless and unrealistic. It is to give a voice to the experience of half of the world's population whose voice, for many centuries in mainstream culture, has been marginalized.

I was reminded of the importance of telos in a meeting on social justice, in which I felt so keenly the absence of the Eucharist. The Eucharist: as in; Christ's intimate encounter with us, His drawing us into His divine life, His pulling us into the Triune life of God. This powerful physical encounter: of God entering our hearts, and transforming us into likenesses of God, is what compels us to then go re-enact this transformation in the world.

 Without the Eucharist: without the particularity of the Eucharist, then the "God is in my neighbor" "God is in everything" language falls impotent. The Real Presence is the why to our "love thy neighbor" and "work for justice" language.The Eucharist is at the root of this new world we live in, where God is so immanently present.

The Eucharist proves to us that God does not just want to be a spiritual, imaginary reality to us; but an actual, physical, undeniably real presence. A presence who enters into time, and takes up with that entrance into time the limitation of time. The limitation of mass, weight, taste, touch, and smell. Without this encounter of the Eucharist, this unity with God, then our work for justice in the world will suffer. It will lose its telos and grow tired. We will forget that we are not working to change the world into images and likenesses of ourselves, but into an image of Love Himself.

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