Mid-December Meditation: Diffusing Dread through play — cosmopolitanism and the pastoral, part 1

Last night I briefly worried that a writer friend of mine – who was working holiday shifts at a Portland Macy’s – might have gotten caught in the Clackamas melee of December 11th, 2012.  Relief that she was ok was followed by grief – for the 3 people who died, including the shooter.

The story got somewhat stranger for me when another writer friend shared that their boss’s kid was in that particular Macy’s when the shooter started shooting. They hid in the dressing room for quite a long time, waiting for it to be safe to come out.  Or, alternatively, they were waiting for the shooter to come in and kill them.

That image of a young person huddling in the Macy’s dressing room like that single child survivor in ALIENS 2 has stayed with me.  It encapsulates the world we live in – where even the luckiest of us (and that person is certainly lucky) feels presently or about to be under the gun.

And we are. It’s no delusion. I read on twitter that an under-reported drone crashed onto the campus of the University of California, San Diego campus a couple of weeks ago.  What was it doing there?  No one knows.

I hear helicopters flying overhead all the time here in LA.  I keep on wondering, “What are they looking for?” and the simultaneous  “Are they looking for me and/or might they kill me and mine by mistake?”

At the same time I am thinking about all this, I am reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s words in Astra Taylor’s book, EXAMINED LIFE.

Kwame Anthony Appiah courtesy http://trustmovies.blogspot.com/2009/02/astra-taylors-examined-life-at-ifc.html
Kwame Anthony Appiah courtesy http://trustmovies.blogspot.com/2009/02/astra-taylors-examined-life-at-ifc.html

Appiah argues that the only possible ethical response to the moment we are living in is a cosmopolitanism that regards the entire planet as our community, that despite or even because of our differences “we share what you might call a moral nature” (Taylor 101).  Appiah says we have to think really big in terms of our common humanity:

“You cannot retreat to the hundred [people of our ‘tribe].  You can’t be partial to some tiny group and live out your moral life there; it’s simply not morally permissible.  But you can’t abandon your local group either…. So what we have to do is learn to do both.” (Taylor 113).

It’s a great concept.  As an urban person, I tend to think that cosmopolitan means sophisticated and that you go to the opera and actually like it.  But Appiah’s definition is truer to the sense of the word: a citizen of the cosmos.

But what does this concept mean for us?

As a writer I am inevitably attracted to artistic significances and solutions.  While I realize that practical solutions to our many problems are crucial, I still need to think about how what we can imagine can empower our actual means to change things.

So I and my friends at Magically Real HQ wonder – what is the aesthetic antidote for this kind of anxiety that I started off with?  The anxiety that isn’t terror but knows that terror is right around the corner.

As a writer and an intellectual, I look for clues.

And right off the bat, I have to say that there are a few interesting things going on in popular culture.

Ad hoc communities like NaNoWriMo for example.  NaNoWriMo had almost 350,000 people participating, talking, laughing, sharing first and final lines of their books, and in general encouraging and sharing with a non-purposive purposiveness that would have made Emanuel Kant proud (or was it purposive non-purposiveness that he liked?  I can’t remember.).

The image of writers frolicking in bowling alleys and coffee shops from Mumbai to Milwaukee, from Tokyo to Cape Town to Cape Cod to Mexico City to Stockholm would please Appiah, I think.  It’s pretty darned cosmopolitan.

And there’s something underlying it that’s festive and sweet –

I’m thinking that festive, playful aspect is a variation on something called the pastoral.roadwhitehouse

According to the Princeton Encyclopedia Of Poetics, the pastoral originated as a kind of poetry that celebrated an imaginary Golden Age, in which the loves of shepherds and shepherdesses play a prominent part.  It wasn’t a “real” world or a “realistic’ world, but an idealized, simplified one, played out against the backdrop a beautiful external nature. It was also a kind of poetry that explored ideal human relationships (love in particular).

What the heck does this have to do with contemporary culture?

A lot.

Stay tuned.  And while you’re at it, think about any song, story, TV show, video, movie, novel, short story, comic book, poem or artistic utterance that resonates at all with the above description.

I’ll wager you can think of a few…

courtesy http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pastorale.jpg
courtesy http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pastorale.jpg

2 thoughts on “Mid-December Meditation: Diffusing Dread through play — cosmopolitanism and the pastoral, part 1

    1. We aim to please (and surprise). Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!

      On Thursday, December 13, 2012, Stephanie Barb Hammer @ Magically Real wrote:

      > > New comment on your post “Mid-December Meditation: Diffusing Dread through > play — cosmopolitanism and the pastoral, part 1” > Author : jpon (IP: 71.205.1.167 , c-71-205-1-167.hsd1.mi.comcast.net) > E-mail : otnip@thirdreader.com > URL : http://www.joeponepinto.com > Whois : http://whois.arin.net/rest/ip/71.205.1.167

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