“Mikhail Bakhtin… developed a view of culture and discourse that’s been translated as the idea of dialogized heteroglossia: Many voices speak at once, rarely taking turns, more often speaking on top of each other while still responding to each other. Such heteroglossia is conflict-laden, with moments of mutual understanding subsumed into a larger swirl of winner-take-all efforts at persuasion, with shifting and incomplete rules. Within that frame, two competing forces are always present both in the whole of culture and in subsets of culture – that of spinning apart and pulling together. These centrifugal and centripetal forces aren’t always equal. In some moments the impulse to find harmony looks more powerful. At other times the scattering of meaning and agreements seems to rule. But neither force ever pushes the other fully out. In any setting, both are at work – always… (We) might benefit by rethinking ecclesiology in light of this view, with centripetal and centrifugal forces always in play, and wonder how God’s Spirit might be at work in the tension.” – Wes Avram
“As citizens our task is to resist idols and forge in our communities the honest life we seek from our politics. There is no higher calling for any of us than to resist the stories our idols sell. This is the work of our time: to insist on reality in the era of its most brilliant fraudulence.”
Reject the Idols
“Studying popular culture means that you are always thinking about fraudulence. Not because you seek to unveil the lie. No, the intellectual work is to explore misdirection as the commodity we cannot stop consuming. It has always been unclear whether we admire the maker of smoke or the destroyer of mirrors. Reality television is a genre that exhibits this ambivalence, since few viewers watch it without doubting everything it contains. They watch, again and again, because skepticism is the commodity this reality produces.
When Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) wrote Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), they were hardly neutral about popular culture and its consequences. “Entertainment is the prolongation of work under late capitalism,” they wrote. “It is sought by those who want to escape the mechanized labor process so that they can cope with it again.”
We imagine that blockbuster films or pop songs offer relief from our working lives, but Adorno and Horkheimer argued that popular culture is the handmaiden of labor. “This is the incurable sickness of all entertainment,” they explained, pointing to our need to keep consuming (binge viewing, video gaming, and online shopping) in order to cope with working. We don’t work to earn leisure; our leisure is the drug that keeps us working. “The culture industry presents that same everyday world as paradise,” they wrote. “Entertainment fosters the resignation which seeks to forget itself in entertainment.”
Critics of religion speak similarly, arguing that religion distracts us from confronting reality [perhaps religion confronts us with ultimate reality?], and religious leadership suppresses resistance in part through the declaration of our salvation. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions,” Karl Marx (1818-1883) famously wrote. The critique of religion resonates with Adorno and Horkheimer’s assault on consumer culture: A demoralized public uses spectacle to believe life could be other than demoralizing. And yet these very spectacles seem to do nothing but deliver us back to our dispiriting labor.”
‘I don’t know how many souls I have.
I’ve changed at every moment.
I always feel like a stranger.
I’ve never seen or found myself.
From being so much, I have only soul.
A man who has soul has no calm.
A man who sees is just what he sees.
A man who feels is not who he is.
Attentive to what I am and see,
I become them and stop being I.
Each of my dreams and each desire
Belongs to whoever had it, not me.
I am my own landscape,
I watch myself journey –
Various, mobile, and alone.
Here where I am I can’t feel myself.
That’s why I read, as a stranger,
My being as if it were pages.
Not knowing what will come
And forgetting what has passed,
I note in the margin of my reading
What I thought I felt.
Rereading, I wonder: “Was that me?”
God knows, because he wrote it.’
– Fernando Pessoa
“We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.”
– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.”
– Sylvia Plath
The knight in The Seventh Seal (1957), perhaps [Ingmar Bergman’s] most famous film, is a tenacious and tortured seeker, who wants to believe. His shield-bearer is somewhat cynical and incredulous, although also compassionate. Like a revisited Don Quijote and Sancho Panza of Miguel Cervantes, they face Death itself, horrendous, devious and relentless…
DEATH: You want guarantees?
KNIGHT: Call it whatever you like. Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles? (DEATH doesn’t answer.)
KNIGHT: How can we have faith in those who believe when we can’t have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing? (The KNIGHT stops and waits for a reply, but no one speaks or answers him. There is complete silence.)
KNIGHT: Why can’t I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can’t shake off? Do you hear me? DEATH: Yes, I hear you. KNIGHT: I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand towards me, reveal Himself and speak to me.
DEATH: But He remains silent.
KNIGHT: I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there.
DEATH: Perhaps no one is there.
KNIGHT: Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness.
DEATH: Most people never reflect about either death or the futility of life.