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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Necessity of Myth

The Necessity of Myth

Or should that be the inevitability of myth?

How about- myth is to history as langue is to parole?

De Saussure distinguished between language (langue) and speech (parole). 'The English language' denotes a total system of word conventions and usages: from the point of view of any given speaker, it is a 'given', it is not something they create for themselves; the parts of a language are available for use, but they do not have to be used. But when 'I' as an individual make an utterance I use 'speech'; I select from a total system of 'the language' certain words and grammatical conventions and tones and accents, and by placing them in a particular order I am able to transmit information by my utterance. [Edmund Leach-:Levi Strauss: Fontana: 1971 : 45]

For all the billions upon billions of words spoken and written in English - its 'parole' , the full potential of the language (langue) itself has not been exhausted. Parole is therefore a finite subset of an infinite langue.

History is a similar subset of myth. Myth is the potential; history the actuality.

But 'subset' implies a smaller part of a larger whole. Another way of looking at it is that a 'langue' is a set of rules (or guidelines) for the creation of 'paroles'.

Getting bogged down in the details. What I am working towards is that to have an influence on history, to change the way things are - the focus should be on myth. To keep up the counter culture theme and to carry it on from past to present and into the future; the counter culture must evade the entrapment of history.

I have just been re-reading Jonathan Green's 'All Dressed Up' as a counter point to Roszak's 'The Making of a Counter Culture'. My first reading of Green's book enthused me - it inspired this blog site. I was convinced that our 'anarcho-goth-punk' subculture was just as creative and vital as the sixties counter culture - it just hadn't been written up as history - all the attention having gone to the first phase of punk.

Now I am not so sure. I reckon Roszak's text is the more interesting since it locates the counter culture within the realm of creative mythology whereas Green reduces it to a specific historical era. Roszak is langue, Green parole. Roszak's counterculture is a dynamic, flowing, mythical, living entity. Green's counterculture a bunch of fossils isolated in a distinct geological/ historical strata.

My reading of the anarcho-goth-punk era [1979-1984] reveals it as stretching backwards and forwards in time. It isn't part of a 'dead history', it is part of a 'living myth'. A living myth which stretches back to Chris Knight's speculations about the origins of humanity and forward to what ever forms of human culture which will exist post-global climate change [ just as we exist post- the Third World/ Nuclear War which never happened].
It is a difficult (i.e. you won't believe it) point to make, but what I got from anarcho-goth-punk at the early eighties height of the renewed Cold War was an almost physical/tangible connection with 'myth' as a force greater than history. I could not, and still cannot, articulate this connection. But the strong feeling I got was 'It won't, it can't, happen'. That we were not all going to die in a nuclear war.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, historians can assure us that the Cold War was a clever playing of 'realpolitik' by adversaries who never had any real intention of pushing the button. It was all bluff and counter bluff and we won because the USSR's economic system collapsed when they tried to match the USA's Star Wars project...

Unfortunately for those of us living in a prime Soviet target (London), to convince the Soviets 'we' really meant business in the game of nuclear poker, Reagan and Thatcher could never blink. We had to believe for several years that we were all living only four minutes away from death. How stupid of us not to realise it was all a game! All those Cruise missiles were just a ploy, there was never any intention to launch them. Even though they only made sense as a first strike weapon ...[Nuclear Cruise missiles were not designed to be fired from their bases-Greenham, Molesworth- but from the surrounding countryside. They were also designed to fly low i.e. beneath radar. If the USSR struck first, the Cruise missiles would be destroyed in their bases. But if, in the period of pre-war tension, the Cruise missiles were spread out around the countryside and then launched first, they would be able to take out USSR nuclear missiles whilst they were still in their silos. This policy increased the risk of all out nuclear war - it encouraged the USSR to strike first before the Cruise missiles had the chance to disperse from their bases rather than waiting for diplomacy to work... all in all a damn risky strategy]

In the above case, history has confirmed myth. But can one really rely on myth to prevail over apparent historical inevitability? I don't know. All that myth says is that humans will survive global climate change. But in what form of human society ? History requires a more technologically complex/ developed form of human society than myth. History equates with civilisation. Most human societies and cultures have been pre-historic and 'uncivilised'. They have been closer to the counterculture than the technocracy (to use Roszak's definitions).

Survival-wise, the counterculture is better placed than the technocracy. Neo-paganism requires fewer high-energy resources than nuclear physics - but the so do fundamentalist monotheistic theocratic societies...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Student slapped down for defending Palestinian right to resist


Axiomatically, leading academic institutions involve intense and varied debate over a variety of topics, and some of that debate ranges over territory that mainstream conversation often misses. SOAS, a prestigious higher learning institution in the centre of London, would appear to have a defender of free and open discussion in head Colin Bundy. In the last month, the Director & Principal has openly defended the right of an apologist for the Uzbekistan regime, Shirin Akiner, to speak at SOAS, rejecting calls for reconsideration by former British ambassador the dictatorship, Craig Murray. He previously overturned a ban imposed by the Student Union on the attendance of Israeli embassy counsellor Roey Gilad: the students have an anti-racist policy, and consider Zionism to be in practise a form of racism. Bundy has expounded an heroic Voltairean dedication to free speech in defence of these actions.

Yet, one glaring exception renders the rule absurd: the treatment of a student named Nasser Amin. Amin had written an article for a student magazine arguing that Palestinians had the right to use force against Israel's occupation. Instantly, this issue was used alongside a clutch of others by some right-wingers and pro-Zionist students who insisted that SOAS was guilty of anti-Semitism. The broadsheets in the UK were joined in coverage of this claim by American far right website FrontPage magazine and Campus Watch, the former run by David Horowitz and the latter by Daniel Pipes, an anti-Muslim bigot. Gavin Gross, the SOAS student who had been most involved in pressing these claims, was given a glowing interview by FrontPage in which he dragged Amin's name through the mud. David Winnick MP raised the possibility in parliament that Amin should be charged with incitement to racial hatred. Finally, Bundy succumbed to the pressure and issued Amin with a formal reprimand, without even informing him of it or why he was being reprimanded.

Professors Richard Falk and Ted Honderich have referred in the past to a right to violence – Honderich has gone further, suggesting that on the basis of present realities, the Palestinians are entitled to their terror. Professor Michael Neumann uses similar arguments to Amin. These are public intellectuals, and so are in some position to defend themselves. Amin, by contrast, is a student. He is almost entirely defenceless. As a Muslim, he belongs to a community that is subject to calumny and extraordinary scrutiny of its every word and gesture. His academic freedom was sacrificed to the exigencies of an urgent political struggle by defenders of Israel to curtail the scope of anti-Zionism on campus. Some staff at SOAS spoke out on Amin's behalf, including his tutor Dr Mark Laffey, who said "It is part of the job description of an academic institution that you are willing to give offence. Our job is to seek out the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant for various groups or interests." Another member of staff, John Game, circulated an open letter condemning Bundy for giving in to such pressure. The Islamic Human Rights Commission said a word or two on Amin's behalf, demanding the Bundy explain why the reprimand was issued with Amin being given the chance to defend himself, and also demanding that the reprimand be retracted.

Yet, Bundy's impressive dedication to free expression continues to elude him on this issue. Answer came there none, and Amin still has an official reprimand to remind him of just what commonplace argument he may not articulate in mixed company. He also has an MP who'd like to see him face jail for up to seven years. And he has American rightists accusing him of "Jew-hatred" for the benefit of audiences whom he may never address. Amin, for his part, feels that the article was "selectively misquoted" by the media and that he has been misused for political purposes. Further, just when he hoped the college would defend him from "Islamophobia, bullying, racism, harassment and slander", they instead acceded to the bullying, slapped him down and made him a scapegoat on their website.

This is not an isolated story. Campus Watch has been behind the hounding of a number of pro-Palestinian academics in the United States, including Professors Joel Beinin and Rashid Khalidi. The website has a page inviting students to tell on teachers who are insufficiently supportive of Israel. It attacked a professor named Joseph Massad who was falsely accused of bullying pro-Israeli students. In part, this is happening because the issues surrounding Israel-Palestine are becoming more urgent, while at the same time a decades-long pro-Israel consensus is eroding. There is also a vast gulf between what is academically known about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the picture generally presented in the media. This has produced a climate in which pro-Zionists and right-wingers feel compelled to try and rein in academic discourse. The treatment of Nasser Amin is a small introduction to that trend, one which began in America and is gathering pace in the UK. So the story is, if you like, about all students and their right to argue points of view that are controversial in mainstream discourse.

Anyone feeling the urge to defend his or her own intellectual integrity could do worse than contact Colin Bundy and protest against the mistreatment of Nasser Amin: cb3@soas.ac.uk


2:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again we have Palestinian supporters looking to forge some kind of front against Israel but whose real target is America and capitalism. The problem I have with Israel is its short-sightedness and stupidity when dealing with the Ps too bluntly. After the Grand Mufti's support of Hitler during WWII and his wish to destroy all Jews, the Israelis owe the Ps NOTHING, however, they should be magnanimous and give them what they claim to want. What they really want of course is the whole of Israel and Israel knows this hence the deadlock.
What people like you forget is the Muslim wish to wipe Israel off the map..that's why Israel is close to the most powerful nation on earth. Its always the Ps but Israel thinks more widely. Continue with your struggle by all means but remember a people is fighting to maintain itelf against Muslims not just the Ps. As for racism...grow up please and studsy the history.
By the way I do not hate Muslims but I support the Jews and their right to exist.

6:56 pm  

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