Monday, April 12, 2010

Gods, Monsters and Americans

Was reading a book putting forward the theory of monistic idealism. The author notes an observation attributed to Mother Theresa that Americans are the most materialistically blessed but impoverished in spirit people on earth. This could actually be said about most of the people in the Western world but maybe of Americans the most.

The author (Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe) attributes this to America’s unquestioned materialism. We have lost connection with the world of enchantment in which we felt connected to something greater and more mysterious. I won’t gainsay this. But it may not be the whole picture. To judge from American popular culture – especially in the movies and TV that we export to the whole world – we seem to yearn for what we are missing. Living far from the US for the past few years, I see the reflections of this American preoccupation with particular clarity. We flood the ether with vampires, superheroes, ghosts, wizards and witches, psychics, aliens, magic, lost dimensions, time travelers, alternate realities, undead, formerly dead, demons, angels, devils, gods, mythical beasts and monsters. And I have no doubt left some out. We seem to have an utter fascination with things and beings which we in our day-today life know do not – cannot – really exist. What are these if not expressions of something deep inside of us that we feel the loss of, something beyond what science and modernity have left us? (There are other manifestations of this as well that lay at the root of the various forms of fundamentalism, including the political ones.) Some seek this missing dimension in religion, many look for it on the Sci-Fi network and Beyond.

Freud called this sort of thing the return of the repressed. For Nietzsche, it was the eternal return. It almost certainly is a return, a deep echo, of the pagan gods buried in our walls so long ago. And those gods themselves a kind of short-hand for that sense of horror and magic human beings first experienced when, a few hundred thousand years ago, we woke into conscious awareness of who and where we were. Americans are not materialistic as much as just a long way from home and very unsure of how to get back. And from the appeal of what we broadcast to the rest of the world, we are not the only ones.