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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/29/16

Sebastian Junger's New Book TRIBE: ON HOMECOMING AND BELONGING (Review Essay)

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However, if you want to read about the perils of the perilous inner journey of one person who was acculturated in the world-as-view sense of life, check out the poems of the Victorian Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) that literary critics refer to as his "terrible sonnets" -- not because they are terrible poetry (they are not), but because they describe inner experiences that sound terrible.

Now, in his first book Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957), Ong urges his fellow American Catholics to construct and work out and develop what he refers to as "a real Christian mystique of technology and science" (page 121; also see pages 123-125). Ong seems to believe that the Christian tradition of thought contains certain elements that could indeed be used to construct the new Christian mystique of technology and science that he envisions. He may be right about that much. But it is easier to envision this possible development that it is to do it. In any event, it has not yet emerged.

Nevertheless, Ong's repeated use of the term "mystique" suggests that he is deliberately echoing Lucien Levy-Bruhl's famous characterization of the "participation mystique" -- in Ong's 1969 terminology, the world-as-event sense of life. See Levy-Bruhl's book How Natives Think, authorized translation by Lilian A. Clare, with a new introduction by C. Scott Littleton (Princeton University Press, 1985).

Now, I would say that the mystique Ong envisions as possibly emerging from certain elements in the Christian tradition of thought may still be desirable for Christians to work on. But I would also say that a new mystique of technology and science needs to emerge not only from Christian resources of thought, but also from non-Christian resources of thought -- and preferably one that secularists could also endorse.

Such an envisioned new mystique of technology and science should accompany our efforts to work toward a new cultural mix of our world-as-view sense of life with the world-as-event sense of life remembered in the collective unconscious.

By way of digression, I want to call attention to the alleged spirit of academic freedom and tenure alleged in American institutions of higher education as analogous to certain pro-social features Junger mentions in connection with American Indian tribes and belonging. In addition, I want to call attention to how the Jesuit religious order that Ong belonged to is analogous to belonging to an American Indian tribe, as are all religious orders of men and women in the Roman Catholic Church. Arguably belonging to a church is also analogous to belonging to an American Indian tribe. But most Christian churches tend to give their members a strong sense of belonging in exchange for their thinking in certain ways dictated by the church authorities. In other words, most Christian churches tend to foster a community of affinity (like-minded people), but not a community of otherness, as the late American Buber scholar Maurice Friedman (1921-2012) describes these two kinds of community in his short book Genuine Dialogue and Real Partnership: Foundations of True Community (Trafford Publishing, 2011).

Now, Junger, rightly in my judgment, cautions us not to romanticize American Indian tribes. He says, "It's easy for people in modern society to romanticize Indian life . . . . That impulse should be guarded against" (page 13). Fair enough.

In his widely known book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (London: Blond & Briggs, 1973), E. F. Schumacher (Ernst Friedrich, 1911-1972) does not happen to use imagery of a tribe explicitly.

In his widely discussed recent eco-encyclical, Pope Francis also criticizes modern capitalism for proceeding as if people didn't matter. Like Schumacher, he does not happen to use imagery of a tribe explicitly.

In American popular culture, the Lone Ranger is a masked man who fights for the common good with his American Indian partner Tonto. If the Lone Ranger symbolically represents American individualism, then his partnership with an American Indian symbolizes what -- the psychological partnership that Jung and his followers refer to as the axis between ego-consciousness and the Self in the human psyche (in Jungian terminology, the Self in the human psyche symbolizes being in touch with the collective unconscious)? And what does the Lone Ranger's being masked symbolize?

In the title essay of Ong's 1962 book The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (Macmillan, pages 260-285), he works with the Greek/barbarian contrast to refer to outsiders inside society today. He constructs an extended comparison-and-contrast essay in which he articulates what he considers to be the Greek position and the barbarian position. What he considers to be the Greek position is deeply indebted to Pericles' "Funeral Oration" as Thucydides (c. 460-400 BCE) remembers and reconstructs it from his memory in his famous History of the Peloponnesian War. Pericles (c. 495-426 BCE) was a political leader and orator in Athens during its famous experiment with participatory democracy.

In the Hebrew Bible, there is a famous injunction to remember that you were once strangers (outsiders in Ong's terminology) in a strange land.

It's not just that the so-called outsider is inside society today. The far deeper problematic for American individualism today is that the collective unconscious (in Jung's terminology) is inside the psyches of all Americans today.

Now, in the book A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America (Oxford University Press, 2011), Grace Elizabeth Hale shows that Ong's imagery of outsiders has become rather popular. But what about his imagery involving the Greek position he articulates? Evidently, Ong's proverbial Greeks have become the political and cultural establishment against which Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have inveighed in each of their respective presidential primary campaigns.

In Senator Sanders' oratory, he often makes it sound like Hillary Rodham Clinton symbolizes the establishment against which he is campaigning. In Trump's oratory, she is "crooked Hillary." Trump likes to use epithets to characterize individual persons he doesn't like and wants to diminish. Epithets are used extensively in the Homeric epics (e.g., wily Odysseus).

While white middle-class Americans were pursuing their fantasy lives about being outsiders in rebellion in postwar America, many of them also helped mainstream American Indian spirituality, as Philip Jenkins details in his book Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality (Oxford University Press, 2004).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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