What Matters?

What Matters?

By Bob Lane

“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.

– Umberto Eco

The truth about stories is –

that’s all we are.

– Thomas King

Massey Lectures 2003

 

My general notion of literature includes these claims: literature is about the world, interpretation is a creative act, intention is a necessary condition for writing of any kind, there are four focal points for any work of literature: poet, text, world, and reader.  The biblical text is complex and sophisticated narrative exhibiting many layers of intention in its final form. In the second book of Samuel, for example, we read the exciting love story of David and Bathsheba, and learn how David, driven by desire for the beautiful Bathsheba, brings her to his bed and makes her pregnant while her husband Uriah is in David’s army fighting the enemies of Israel. David eliminates Uriah by sending a letter (carried by Uriah) to the commander telling him to place Uriah in the fiercest fighting and then to fall back leaving him alone to be killed. After Uriah is killed Bathsheba mourns for him for the appropriate time and then David brings her into his house and takes her as his wife. (2 Sam. 11,12)   Shortly after this we are told “what David had done was wrong in the eyes of the Lord.” And then, as we read in the King James Version:

 

And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto

him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one

rich and the other poor.

  1. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
  2. But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb,

which he had bought and nourished up; and it grew up together

with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and

drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a

daughter.

  1. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he

spared to take of his own flock and his own herd, to dress for the

wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s

lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

  1. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man;

and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done

this thing shall surely die:

  1. And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did

this thing, and because he had no pity.

  1. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

 

 

David will pay for his lust; the child he conceived in sin will die and the other threats will also come to pass. The punishment will fit the crime: the child conceived in sin will die; the man who could not control his sexual appetites will be punished by having his wives taken in front of everyone. Note the layers of narrative here. Nathan tells David a parable. David is moved by the story. He sentences the fictional man to die. Nathan tells David that he is the man. The story is used to get the king to see himself and to judge his own acts. Just as Uriah carries his own death warrant to Joab in the form of a letter of execution, David comes to issue a death sentence on himself through Nathan’s story. When Joab opens the letter carried by Uriah he will see David’s intention; when David “opens” the story carried by Nathan he will see the Lord’s intention.

 

Nathan relates a fictional narrative in order to get the king to see the truth about his own situation. Nathan’s intention is clear – he uses story to reveal truth. Once he gets David to see that the rich man in the story has done wrong then all he has to do is get him to see that he is like the rich man in the appropriate moral way. Self-delusion, though powerful in human affairs, can be broken by story. David has then judged himself. But there is another layer of intentional meaning here also. “The Lord sent Nathan…” adds a layer to the narrative which reveals another story of alleged divine intervention in the understanding of the events. And this story in turn is related by a writer or editor who is shaping the larger story of the books of Samuel for his audience. We get the sense that David would never have admitted guilt for killing Uriah in order to have Bathsheba, but he is able to see and respond to characters in stories. As readers we too are to respond to the stories and to that end have been given narrative access to the larger story pointed to by phrases like “The Lord sent Nathan….”

 

One of the most interesting assignments I gave to students was to have them write their own creation myth. What they learned was that what they valued was what they put into the story. Their papers were always a way into a discussion of the two creation myths that are redacted into one in the book of Genesis. In one male and female are created equal and in the other, better known story, man is created first and woman made from his rib. The Genesis story emphasizes authority, hierarchy, creation by divine order, and a transcendent divine. Other creation stories from, for example, North American Indians, emphasize cooperation, the feminine, and the equality of all animals. As Camus asks in a notebook entry, “What would the human face look like if we had not been told for two thousand years that we are evil?”

 

One way of approaching these early stories is to think of them as maps. They were constructed after the fact as ways of explaining and charting the unknown past of how and why. In that respect they are backwards looking. But they also contain a perspective from the present projecting into the future. They contain within them a story about how we ought to be. And the language of these stories is often the language of dream – symbolic language – a language that means more than it says, a language that is found in poetry and in children. When our immediate family experienced the first death in the family which our kids experienced it happened like this: the phone call came saying that Grandpa Jim had died and that his funeral would be in a military cemetery in a few days. Margaret, our daughter, was about three years old. She heard her mother on the phone and guessed that something was wrong. She asked her older brothers (seven and eight) what was going on. “Grandpa Jim is dead.”

“What does that mean?”

“They will put him in a hole in the ground.”

“And put dirt over top of him.”

“And you will never see him again.”

 

She was puzzled. Later she went off to bed without saying much of anything. In the middle of the night I heard her weeping quietly in her crib. I went to pick her up and held her against my chest. She was in that state between sleeping and waking and was sobbing over and over again: “I don’t want to go down in that hole; I don’t want to go down in that hole.” That is symbolic language. What heart knew head guessed. The stories of the Bible are written in that kind of language. At the level where the human cry of mortality and mystery emerges is to be found the story line of the best of the stories from the Bible collection. At another level, of course, is the official line, which offers an explanation, a reading of the stories, proclaims an interpretation, an ordering conceptual map.

 

A valuable approach as reader is to consider that reading a text is a performing art. I do not mean by this that one needs to learn to be an oral interpreter, although that is a good skill to develop. I mean that in reading a text one must engage every bit of creativity, of sensitivity, of intellect and feeling that one possesses. The story is in the text, but its full experience is in the mind of the reader. The story provides form and directs responses, and the reader completes the communicative act. Think of the text as a musical score and yourself as a performing musician. The notes are there – are in the score – and you must be able to perform them on your musical instrument. You need to bring technical skill, sensitivity to nuance, and knowledge of the language of musical notation to the task.

 

God, like beauty, is to be found in the stories, the works of art, of the Bible. When our first son was about four he went to play school one day and immediately went over to an easel and stood there holding a brush ready to start painting. The teacher came up behind him and said, “What are you going to paint?” “God,” he said. “And do you know what God looks like?”

 

     “I will when I finish the painting,” he said as he began to paint.

 

In some sense we are all and always looking for Eutopia. Eutopia means the good place and is to be distinguished from Utopia which means no place. Eutopia is a place in which human society, natural conditions, etc., are so ideally perfect that there is complete contentment.  Philosophers and poets have over the years given us glimpses of what Eutopia might be like. In my Eutopia human solidarity would be seen not as a hoped for after-life but as a goal in the here and now. It is to be achieved not by further inquiry but by imagination, the imaginative ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers. Solidarity is not discovered by contemplation but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of the pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar kinds of people. We need to come to see other human beings as “one of us” and not as “them” – story can help us in this quest.

 

Let me end with an example of a story, the truth of which, I do not know. I relate it because its truth is not important. It changed my attitude. For years I have been prejudiced against a certain group of humans. Even long ago as a college student I used to shy away from members of this group. Confronted with them I withdrew with fear and repugnance. I knew I was wrong to do so but I could not seem to get what I knew incorporated into what I do.

 

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash.

At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back.  Every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said:  “This will make it better.”

Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story.

Why?  Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.

Each of us creates a narrative in our life, writes a STORY as we walk toward the grave. Choose your stories with care, for “the truth about stories is – that’s all we are.”

 

Still relevant

ARTSWORLD
By BOB LANE


A recent Sydney Harris column on paranoia was most
instructive. Harris wrote, “everyone knows that the
mental disturbance called paranoia gives the patient a
distorted sense of reality, he sees through a glass darkly
and what he sees ·is mostly the product of his own
emotions, ” . .
Now I suppose that most of us suffer in varying degrees
from this affliction ..we often see not what is there, but the
reflection of our own emotions. This happens when looking
at paintings with preconceived ideas of ‘Visual presen-
tation. It.happens when we think that the RCMP officer is
looking at us when we meet on the highway, when most of
the time he-she is not thinking about us at all but about
lunch or domestic problems.
The world is given to us in emotions. We feel happy or
sad, morose or ebullient, and respond to our family or’
friends depending upon our mood. We respond to the world’
depending upon our ‘feelings.’ . .. .
One time we feel like hugging the family cat another
time we want to throttle it.
Luckily, most of the time we can channel our feelings,
our fears and anxieties so that we at least have some sense
of a commonly perceived reality. Imagine the chaos if in
fact the world were different for each of us.
If we are to strive together for common goals then
clearly we have to eliminate cheap subjectivism and
paranoia. .
What we most desperately need now, as always, is a
sense of moral imagination. We need to be able to imagine
the world from the other person’s point of view, to try to
see what he or she sees and believes before we pass a
judgement.
How often have you seen good people – full of energy,
commitment, and talent – strike out at each other in
senseless and destructive ways when, at rock bottom; they
were Interested m the same thing?
How often.have you been hurt by people who were unthinking

or insensitive and there, when you had a chance, struck back in kind?


All but the saints among us are guilty of these and
other foibles.
Arts groups it seems are particularly susceptible to
these afflictions. Good, talented, sensitive people end up
tearing-away at each other in public displays of hysterical
outrage. I met a cynic once who claimed the best way to
kill any idea was to give the idea to a committee of artists.
What is’ the answer to all of this paranoid self destruction?

Probably the oldest remedy on this earth is
still the best one: common sense. It preaches give and
take, acceptance, tolerance, and cooperation.

(originally published in the Nanaimo Free Press)

UPJA Virtual Conference | Programme and details

UPJA’s Virtual Conference for Undergraduate Philosophy (November 2020) is this weekend!

Student talks will be on a range of topics in ancient philosophy, cognitive science, logic, social philosophy, and ethics from presenters at various institutions around the world. In addition, Associate Professor Stephanie Collins (Australian Catholic University) will be giving a keynote address on “Organisations as Wrongdoers: Volitionist, Attributivist, and Aretaic Lenses”.

Click here for the full conference programme or to pre-register. 

Day 1: November 28th, 5:00pm–9:50pm AEDT (UTC+11)

Day 2: November 29th, 10:00am–12:00pm AEDT (UTC+11)

A Zoom link will be sent to those who have pre-registered approximately 30 minutes before each day’s session is due to start. Please feel free to join from 4.45pm to get to know other attendees.

call for papers

9th Annual BAFTSS Conference

7-9 April 2021

Hosted online by the University of Southampton Centre for International Film Research (CIFR)

Theme: Time and the Body in Film, Television and Screen Studies

Deadline: 1 December 2020

The 9th Annual BAFTSS conference will take place entirely online from 7-9th April 2021. It will be hosted by the University of Southampton Centre for International Film Research (CIFR), and takes as its theme ‘Time and the Body in Film, Television and Screen Studies’. In focusing on time and the body, the conference seeks to bring attention to two elemental components of the physical world, whose manifestation in moving image media is however always dependent upon technological, cultural and artistic determinants.

The conference invites submissions for papers or practice-based research on any aspect of time and/or the body, whether human, social or otherwise, in Film, Television and Screen Studies. These might include:

how different treatments of time and the body vary according to historical, national or regional context, technology or exhibition space;
how special visions of time and the body distinguish art and entertainment, helping define different varieties of genre;
how categories of pleasure and punishment, love and labour, work, class, care, production and reproduction are each experienced; and
how stardom and performance, action and pace, haptics, spectacle and contemplation, each involve particular understandings of temporal or corporeal properties.
how time and the body help us rethink the relationship between nature and culture, or contain a political potential in areas as diverse as futurism and nostalgia, biopolitics or ecology, or with regards to how time and the body are gendered, sexed and raced.

The conditions of the 2021 conference bring home with particular pertinence the fundamental, yet malleable, natures of time and the body. The conference will be held entirely online, and will adopt a different format to increase participation and accessibility. Panels will be conceived as opportunities for discussion, with participants offering summaries of their research and devoting the rest of the time to debate with their fellow panel members and audience. Participants will be asked to provide a 10-minute presentation, script or any other form of audiovisual criticism prior to the conference to allow their research to be available to attendees in advance. In keeping with such a format, the conference will not feature keynote speakers, but rather a series of round table discussions about the challenges and opportunities the discipline currently faces.

We thus invite proposals for papers, practice, audiovisual essays, workshops or panels of three or four papers. BAFTSS is committed to issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity and we particularly encourage those proposing pre-convened panels to be mindful of this.

Submission guidelines:

Proposals for individual papers should be no longer than 300 words, plus presenter’s name, affiliation, email address and a short biography (150 words max). Proposals for workshops and pre-convened panels should include details of individual papers (where relevant), plus a short summary (300 words max) of the session and information about the chair.

We welcome proposals from SIGs, who may wish to use the online format to set up more debate or discussion-focussed sessions.

We encourage those who submitted papers that were scheduled for the cancelled BAFTSS conference 2020 to resubmit them with an address to the new theme, stating whether they were previously accepted in their proposal.

The deadline for proposals is 01 December 2020. Late submissions may not be considered. Email proposals to: baftssconference2021@gmail.com

CFP: One Hundred Years of the BBC

In 2022, one hundred years will have passed since the formation of the British Broadcasting Company, later to become the pioneering public service broadcaster best known as the BBC. The BBC has had an enormous impact on television culture in its first one hundred years, providing a blueprint for independent publicly funded broadcasting. The BBC has been a testing ground for new developments in broadcasting technology and infrastructure. It has provided space for programme makers to innovate new forms, as well as to display national traditions – and invent some of its own. It has offered important public space to playwrights, scientists, politicians, musicians, historians, performers and many more thinkers to enlighten, to amuse, to infuriate. Its formative mantra of ‘inform, educate, entertain’ has undergone many modifications over time but these aims remain core to its contemporary ethos. Its goal of providing impartial and balanced news, current affairs and analysis has been tested numerous times in divisive political climates. It was born of a patriarchal, colonialist and elitist view of cultural uplift. How has it changed over its long life?

Critical Studies in Television will be marking the centenary of this television institution with a series of themed special issues throughout 2022. Each will explore a distinct feature of the BBC and its work in television, providing historical contextualisation, critique and new debates on the output, culture and influence of this important televisual institution.

We are looking for contributions to these themed issues in one of these formats:

Original research articles (6000 – 8000 words): articles that present fresh textual analysis of BBC programmes or content, empirical research that can provide a new perspective on the history or culture of the BBC, or innovative methodologies or theorisations for understanding the historic and contemporary influence of the BBC.
Provocations – (up to 3000 words) pithy essays that stimulate debate on an aspect of the BBC’s television programming, history or culture. These do not have to present new research but should inspire new ways of thinking about the BBC.
Interviews – (up to 5000 words) an edited interview with industry professionals who have worked within or alongside the BBC, past or present.
Publishers and authors who are planning to publish books relating to the BBC in the run-up to and during 2022 can contact Christine Geraghty, editor of the book review section, about possible reviews.

The themes for the issues will be as follows:

Volume 1: BBC Nations and Regions

In the BBC’s current charter, one of its five public purposes is to ‘reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions’. The recent combination of Brexit and a global pandemic have revealed deep divisions between the nations and regions of the UK. In this febrile context, how might we assess the BBC’s current and historical reflections of these diverse communities? We are particularly interested in contributions that explore the BBC’s role in serving (or not) underrepresented communities within the UK.

Volume 2: BBC Channels and Brands

The BBC’s creation of programming and channel brands has been a long-term feature of its survival strategy, spreading its public purposes further and wider than its original broadcast contexts. This volume will explore the ways in which BBC brands are meaningful and functional in both UK and in global contexts. We welcome contributions that focus on BBC channel brands, or analysis of other forms of branding across the BBC, within and between programming.

Volume 3: Women and the BBC

Recent controversies around equal pay, misogynistic abuse towards BBC personalities and a lack of female representation at the top of the corporation suggest that the institution has far to go in matters of gender equality. How might we characterise the relationship between corporate and on-screen representation of women? And how has the BBC responded to changing socio-cultural attitudes and discourses defining women over time? We are particularly interested in contributions that address the historical and contemporary stories of female workers at the BBC, analyses how BBC programming give representation to women’s lives and serve female audiences, or explore experiences or representations of genders and sexualities at the BBC.

Volume 4: The BBC In the World

The fifth public purpose in the BBC’s current Charter is that the institution should ‘reflect the United Kingdom, its culture and values to the world’. This volume will cast a critical eye over this facet of the BBC, critically appraising its global reputation. For this volume, we are especially interested in submissions that explore the BBC’s historical and current relationship with television cultures outside of the West. We welcome submissions that explore and critique the BBC in post-colonial contexts and in BRICS nations.

Editor for the volume is Dr. Hannah Andrews; if you have any questions, then please contact her at hannah.andrews@edgehill.ac.uk. For initial expressions of interest in contributing to any of these issues, please send a short (250 words) abstract and biographical note to Dr. Andrews by 18 December 2020. Please make sure you indicate which format (see above) you would like your contribution to take. As part of CST’s ongoing commitment to publishing new voices, we are particularly interested in expressions of interest from Early Career Researchers who would like to submit work from PhD projects completed or nearing completion.