March 25, 2010

Fears and the Christians in Antioch

I don't have a favourite film anymore.

But I'm realizing I don't like when fear is used for dramatic tension. Generally.


I had this nice moment the other day.

I overheard a conversation rising up from the street below our apartment. "They weren't called anything," a male voice said. "'Hippy' was just what they got called by people later. But there was a time when the hippy scene wasn't anything. It was just happening."

As a Christian I remember thinking about this time before in the history of Christianity -from the death of Jesus 'till "they were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11). Before Antioch they just were what they were. It was just happening.

What's my point? I dunno. Something.


Jon Coutts said...

Interesting about fear's use in film. I would venture to say that it can be used to play on the viewer, or it can actually be a subject of the film. That seems different to me, and I wonder if you'd differentiate.

I like the something that you are saying here. Alas, I'm not sure anything can ever go un-named for very long. There is something great about that "just happening" though. At the same time, I don't know that I am all that comfortable with it. I always want to be able to explain what's going on. I probably need to relax a bit in that regard.

No favourite movie? Yeah, how is that even possible? Gerry comes pretty close for me though. I never really thought of it as a film that used fear for tension. I suppose it did.

Dave M said...

I hear you on the favorite movie, or even favorite band thing. When someone asks me that question I always give a different answer. Someone asked me the other day who my musical role model was. That was an interesting thing to think about.

joel said...

Sounds like you are being drawn into the abyss of the uncanny...?

Heidegger talks about the uncanny as a kind of 'homelessness' we can feel in a day to day sense.

Some of his students went on to do lots of philosophy work dealing directly with the uncanny and art.

Your resistance of labels is growing, towards what though? Something definitive? Something nameless? Something with a name, but when mentioned, vanishes?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Actually, I think Gerry is a good example of a film that doesn't use fear for dramatic tension. I mean, yeah they're lost -and there's the ending, but the film wasn't really about that for me. It wasn't a fearful experience. Fear barely entered my radar during my viewings of the film.

Fear as subject vs. fear used to play on the viewer. I see that distinction. Absolutely.

To be clear, I don't think it's bad or "wrong" or anything like that to use fear for dramatic tension. It's just, for me, I'm not so moved by it anymore. At this stage in my life.

Maybe later.

'Gerry' was such a surprise for me. I still haven't gotten over it. It was such an overwhelming cinematic experience. And so simple!

Musical role model? Yeah, the question is more useful than the answer in a lot of ways.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


The abyss of the uncanny?

I don't know that I'm really comfortable with you labelling it an "abyss." I think it's more powerful just being what it is. Ha.

yeah, I am resisting labelling. Not in an absolute sense though. I mean, I think "hippy" and "christian" are useful terms. I use them. They make sense.

But sometimes I feel like we hide behind the words. We say "Christian," and leave it at that. We think we've got it down. Whereas if there was no label to apply there'd be no way of summing Christians up. And God knows our world does too much summing up. Jumps to conclusions a little too fast. Way too fast. I think.

I heard a story about a baby that watches a beautiful creature enter the child's view. It made all these wonderful noises, and the air seemed to shudder around it. It was colourful and wild looking.

Then the child's mother comes in and says, "that's a birdy."

Birdy. And that's it. Now it's a birdy. Before it was infinity. Now it's a birdy.

Although, when I told Leah that story, she said "I never lost that sense of mystery just 'cos I learned the word." So that's interesting.

I feel like I did lose the mystery. Like, for me, naming things deadens my experience of them a little.

Or like by using these words to describe the world I make the world much narrower than it actually is.

How differently would we perceive the world if we hadn't used words to describe it. No words.

It'd be an incredibly, frustratingly inefficient world (by our standards), but I suspect that world would have something to teach ours.

I'm rambling. I don't know the answer to your questions Joel, but thanks for asking them. Thanks very much.

joel said...

Questions over answers!

Even leaving it as 'un-label-able' it still is a 'label' of sorts, so why not give it a voice?

Is the naming of something really have to diminish it's mystery, might it not, in fact, give it more mystery?

Is naming something really taking something away from it, or can something be named in a way which does not take the mystery away from it?

Is the naming of a thing really what takes the mystery away from it, or is the mystery lost because of a certain way to approach 'the naming of things'?

Have you considered that this 'problem' of yours is not really found in the 'naming of things' but more so in your take on the 'naming of things'.

Which do you want more? Do you want to limit the naming of things in general or do you want to put the mystery back into things which are named?

If you want mystery, then perhaps you are mistaken that un-naming them will create mystery; perhaps the mystery can come from other means?

Have you considered the fact that you may have conflated 'the loss of mystery in things' with 'the naming of things'?

If so, you may be fighting a losing battle on someone else hill.

Jon Coutts said...

Dead right about Gerry. Oh man that was an experience.

I think there is something to this idea of wordless and nameless experiences and I loved for a moment imagining a world where we hadn't bothered to describe (or harness or systematize) anything. That would be a great sci fi story. A world that hasn't bowed to "efficiency". Fascinating thought.

I love the birdy story. I think that I feel sort of like Leah on that one, and sort of like you. Is it possible that the problem with the naming thing is with the conveyed idea that naming it is all there is to it. Like, the mother could say, with wonder in her voice and as an invitation into infinity: "That's a birdy" or could say it like, "yeah, we've already named that, nothing new here, its a birdy kid". See what I mean? One invites, one closes.

Boyda said...

Yeah, I agree with...well, everything. I agree that it is good to question the justification behind naming things. But I also agree with Joel that it doesn't have to be this way, that things named can still contain, mask, reveal mystery, all at the same time. And yeah, I think the birdy can still be mysterious (at least to the kid), like art can still speak to us in innumerable different ways even when it has a static 'title.' Seriously, titles on art exhibits are nothing! (side point)

But to your first point, Matthew - it is definitely too easy for people to hide behind labels, to say they are Christian and then just shrink without question behind all that that entails. So labels can both contain and reveal mystery, but too many people just don't engage in the work of deconstruction.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I'm overwhelmed by these questions.

You said,
"you may have conflated 'the loss of mystery in things' with 'the naming of things."

Yeah, absolutely. But on some level it's not only that I enjoy mystery, but that I feel by naming something we have reduced it to it's assigned meaning, when there might be something more there if we could look at it without the prejudice of a predetermined idea. If that makes sense.

Like, what about ssomething like time? The more we look at it the more we are baffled, and yet we say 'Time works like..."

Is it possible to get our heads to a place where there were fewer preconceptions about how time worked.

I'm just using time as an example. Don't know if this is making sense.

I've just been realizing that if I try to set aside my culture and just look at the world as me -a lot of things I took for granted begin to look different.

I'm the child asking "why?" repeatedly. Why words? Why?

I love the idea of words revealing mystery.

Yeah, delivery is everything. That's it exactly.

And in fact that's kinda to my point about questioning words. The manner of delivery is as important as the content.

I guess everybody knows that already.

Everyone knows everything already.


You wrote,
"too many people just don't engage in the work of deconstruction."

Yes. We would all do well to question everything more. Take it apart and look at it.

Though, of course, this is a much less efficient way to live. You end up standing in the aisle at the grocery store reading the ingredients -like my Mom, instead of just grabbing the food and throwing it in the cart -like me.

My Mom's way is better, I think.

joel said...

Matthew said:
“I feel by naming something we have reduced it to it's assigned meaning, when there might be something more there if we could look at it without the prejudice of a predetermined idea.”

Okay, but who decided that ‘naming something’ would have to ‘reduce it to its assigned meaning’?

There might be something more there if we could look at it without the prejudice of a predetermined idea, but then again, might the opposite also be the case? Might a predetermined idea of a thing, open up more mystery? Might it open up more possibility, as in more possibility for interpretation (interpretation meaning, ‘the further assigning of names’)?

Going back to your ‘bird’ example; we might feel more mystery by un-naming a bird, but what about capturing the mystery of diversity among birds, or among birds in relation to other animals or organisms? Are not these ‘further’ mysteries hidden behind the initial mystery of ‘first seeing a bird’? Do not the ‘naming’ of these things also provide us with the ability to ask more questions, and therefore to mine up more mystery?

And who is to say that this initial mystery has to compete with the deeper mystery? Are we not quite capable of leaving something named and yet rebirthing the original mystery of observing it anew? I think we can.

Thus, I think you can also give mystery back to the things you want (that is what you seem to be wanting), but my suggesting is that you need not ‘un-name’ things to do so (although that also would seem to work).

The task of deconstruction is not a mere razing of structures, but a way of exploring them on a deeper level. You do not always destroy to destroy; many times you destroy for the sake of creation.

Matthew said:
“I've just been realizing that if I try to set aside my culture and just look at the world as me -a lot of things I took for granted begin to look different.”

That sounds interesting, but might you also try to look through your culture, in a way which changes the things you took for granted? If casting off your own cultural view only results in finding another ‘cultural view’ (albeit now modified), why not consider your own cultural view, not as an obstacle, but as a lens, a telescope, or a mystery-creating-point-of-view?

You might be doing this already, unaware.

The child asking ‘why, why, why’ still needs a conceptual language first to discover something to ask ‘why’ about, AND a mental/verbal language to voice the inquiry itself; even if it is mystery that is lying underneath, driving it all.

Such a ‘thing’ itself, needs to be considered as ‘mysterious’ before it can be thought of, pursued or contemplated as a mystery. Does it not?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


You asked: who decided that ‘naming something’ would have to ‘reduce it to its assigned meaning’?

Answer: Me.

I hear what you're saying. The idea that titles/names/words play a role in reducing the mystery of life is only half the picture. They can also open up a world of mystery. I see that.

I guess what I've learned in questioning the value of words is that they're man-made. And so they can be useful, or not, like any other man-made thing. We've used them to describe reality, and that makes me wonder about all the ways in which our words are inadequate. The ways in which some of my basic ideas about this reality may be pretty shaky(sp?).

Shaky? Shakey?

However, thanks to this dialogue, I'm realizing that verbal/written language is also what allows me to question my perception of reality in the first place. So I honour that. Now I want to use language as a tool for looking into deep mysteries expecting to find better, bigger mysteries hidden underneath.

You wrote,
"You might be doing this already, unaware."

Yeah. I feel like most of the things I get right are done without my awareness.

So, if I'm doing X but I'm unaware of it, is the thing doing X my subconscious? My ego? My soul?

Look at that! Word-hunting.