If you were to look to history for examples of how to get yourself out of a fix on a grande scale you’d think you couldn’t do much better than the miraculous swath of time that birthed the Rennaisance out of the Dark Ages. You could be forgiven for feeling that therein lay some treasure, a mystical clue to the redemptive flowering of Humanity rooted in some collective noble sentiment or sacrificial gesture.
It was done for them, or rather.. to them…
by a nasty little beast called Yersinia Pestis.
The author of this great Resurgence to our collective spirit, impossible without an affluent middle class, was not benevolent Popery or Charlegmane’s Universities, nor the art scene in Florence. It was Yersinia riding abroad on her mount, the mighty rat flea Xenopsylla, which made up for it’s teensiness by jumping far and harbouring pustule inducing chemical weapons that can kill quicker than thirst.
The Black Death killed over half of Europe. A liberating bonanza for those it left behind and so the West flourished for a while until Yersinia was wiped out…
or went back to her reservoir for a well earned rest.
”Widespread death eroded the strict hereditary class divisions that had, for centuries, bound peasants to land owned by local lords.” Louisa Woodville
Like sex, death is a great equaliser. It meant a temporary end to the stranglehold of landlords by the sudden dip in demand from surviving peasantry who, flush with inheritance, could now negotiate wages and had both the time and the means to better themselves, to fulfill personal ambition and potentials previously impossible.
Da Vinci’s mother Catarina was of peasant stock, as was Bruegel, Goya, and Titian.
Unfortunately we can’t have the fabric of society further rent by such upstarts whose contributions, whilst gratefully received, have a way of making people think that is not congruent with their governance.
And so the Deepening State must work to erode the Individuation of its citizens despite the consequences to culture, indeed, must make such a sacrifice in order to consolidate power that now depends on having people at a disadvantage.
What art came out of Nazi Germany? Or music from Stalin’s Russia? Not a lot. Stalin made musicians compose in groups so as to prevent any one individual from shining to brightly. Result? Decades of dreary band music. Shostakovitch was made to apologise to the Russian people publicly for the poor state of National musicianship….
Stalin was not just aware of his impact on Russian culture. He planned it, a deliberate, plaguing policy of dumbing people down.
Russian jokes play on the erosion of personal expression and identity. This one is a conversation between a foreman and a worker at a construction site. All its words are derived from the single obscene word khuy.
Ohuyeli! (have you gone mad?).. Nahuya (why) dohuya (so much) huyni (of stuff) nahuyarili (you have loaded up?) Rashuyarivay.. (unload it) nahuy.. (out of here).
Huli?! (What’s the problem?) Nihuya!.. (no way) Nehuy.. no need) Rashuyarivat,.. (to unload). Nehuyacheno.. (it got loaded) nehuyovo.. (quite well). Pohuyarilli.. (let’s go!)
Author S.-A. Kristofferson offers the tentative translation..
”Fuckheads! Why did you load so much of this shit? Unload it the fuck away from here.”
‘What’s the fucking problem? Fuck no! No need to unload. It got loaded right. Lets go.”
Another story tells the fate of a Ukrainian factory marked out for a special award and visit from dignitaries to bestow it with a Quality Mark. The bosses told the workers to mind their language and banned any obscenities. Production fell sharply. The bosses discovered that all the workers’ tools were known only by their profane names, pizdulina, huynyashka, huyutina, all loosely translated as ‘thing’.
The same went for technological processes. Zayabenit, to push or force through, prihuyuachit, to connect or bond, huynut, to move slightly, zahuyarit, to throw far away or to put in deeply….
Plague is a symbol of something. It hits where there is the greatest density, the greatest sedimentation of character, entrenched identity that cannot move with the times. Its what happens when we are cut off from both ourselves and one another.
In Camus’, ‘the Plague’, the citizens of Oran are initially indifferent to one another’s suffering because each person is selfishly convinced that his or her pain is unique compared to “common” suffering.” S Notes.
or is the plague caused by the indifference, the omnipotent fantasy of being ‘unique’… identifying oneself with persona at the expense of authenticity?
Both physically and symbolically plague is about claustrophobic ‘no-space’. Fortunately ‘space’ is about a great deal more than the cubic yardage of your apartment. It also addresses an inner condition which has to do with being able to reflect, to tell yourself off, to value the wilderness within sufficiently to want to spend time there despite its dangers.
The problem is that getting some inner elbow room means coughing up hairballs and received wisdoms that will make you question stuff supposed to be set in stone. The alternative is not to enquire, not to question, not to ask…which is where plague suddenly, surreptitiously, sets in.
When we are all boxed in and have no space, plague ensues one way or another, either in the spontaneous manifestation of Yersinia mounted atop faithful Xenopsylla, or the living death of stumbling towards a fate that is not your own.
Recognizing our potential, at any moment, to fall asleep and unwittingly become an agent of darkness is to become psychically immunized from falling prey to the malevolent bug of egophrenia.” ~Carl Jung- CW 10
…though many are bitten, become infected and die. The worst affected succumb to Cotard’s Delusion, the belief that they are already dead..
and it might be true.
“I see men assassinated around me every day. I walk through rooms of the dead, streets of the dead, cities of the dead; men without eyes, men without voices; men with manufactured feelings and standard reactions; men with newspaper brains, television souls and high school ideas.” Charles Bukowski.
And you can’t help wondering what it all means…and that perhaps if we do not die to our own grandiosity then, like grail kings of old, we will be made to die a different way.