Sunday, April 27, 2008

BPN 1081 Modern life is medieval

I am presently reading the book Darkmans, which was shortlisted for THE Man BOOKER PRIZE 2007. It is a fat book of 838 pages and the story and setting is very British and hilarious. I wished I had bought the e-book version of this book as it hard to read the book in bed.
The author Nicola Barker is extraordinary in her observations. I was very surprised to find in the book a comparison between the end of the Middle Ages and the present time. On page 395, she mentions the monumental cultural work of Dutch humanist John Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages. The book celebrates a culture in decline – the end of the historical period of the Middle Ages

One of the persons in the book argues that modern life is medieval and she supports her position: If you ask any expert in the field what the single most notable social characteristic of medieval life was they’d probably say the bells. It might sound strange now, but bells pretty much defined the age. They tolled for every occasion – the start of curfew, the end of curfew, the arrival of a dignitary, the prospect of danger. Quiet was an anomaly. Life was a clamour. And now, after several hundred years of relative social calm and tranquillity, we’ve developed the mobile phone which also chimes – and must be allowed to chime – at every available opportunity. But instead of bringing social unity, instead of connecting us more intimately to our social peers and neighbours, it actively divides us, it isolates us, it encourages an atmosphere of merciless self-inviolvement parading in the guise of spurious conviviality…

And she has more gems. In medieval life the higher echelons of society celebrates levels of cupidity – of excess; their huge feasts, their crazy processions, their ornate costumes – that were by any historical standard almost obscene. Here, today, in the deep inside the belly of the decadent West, we cheerfully do the same. We define our power and our status – just as they did – through meaningless and gratuitous acts of consumption. The phrase all you kids like to use, I believe, is bling.

And how about their obsession with Courtly Love? …The tournaments, the jousts, the chivalrous knights and all those buizarre and convoluted rituals of etiquette – those faux-historical games of form, which weren’t actually historical at all; the cult of King Arthur, for example? All neatly echoed in our present-day passion for, say, Star Wars, or The Matrix… The Lord of the Rings. Harry bloody Potter. All invented mythologies. WE inhabit these worlds as if they are real. We respond to them intellectually although they aren’t remotely intelligent. We encourage our children to play computer games which seek to simulate life, to mirror it, because we’re too afraid to let them step outside their own front doors. We allow them to fight violent, artificial wars on screen, while we carefully remove ourselves – and them – physically, from the consequences of actual conflict, with our long-range warheads and our missiles…

And the person finishes her tirade: It’s a perfect medieval mind-set, don’t you see? To experience something so intensely but as strange kind of denial. I mean it’s tragic, almost laughable that our greatest invention – the computer – a device intended to set us free to live lives unconstrained by mindless details – has actually ended up binding us more thoroughly to life’s minutiae by filling the world with reams of useless – often –unreliable – information, with this endless, this empty, this almost unstoppable babble…

Oh I love this ranting.

Blog Posting Number: 1981


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