Six asides about culture (and Havel, reblogged)

Six asides about culture (and Havel, reblogged)

Who among us can know what may seem today to be marginal graphomania might not one day appear to our descendants as the most substantial thing written in our time?

Vaclav Havel

A premonition of blogging? No, but part of a profound essay on culture as the freedom of the human spirit.

Read more at http://wp.me/p6tMLx-Dx

(I am experimenting with curating my own material here. I hope readers don’t mind)

Turn and face the strange…

Turn and face the strange…

About a year ago I wrote a post Time might change me, but I can’t change time. It was prompted by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s A foot in the river: why our lives change and the limits of evolution, and frustration with a dose of bland management rhetoric about change.

Today I finished rereading Fernandez-Armesto’s book, again prompted to reflect more deeply on change by a defiant reaction to urgings from senior bureaucrats to change with change. I also learnt that I had misheard the refrain from Bowie’s song, and substituted one “change” for the more mysterious “trace”.

What more might I say about change beyond the slightly dyspeptic remarks of a year ago?

Fernandez-Armesto’s book is valuable because it is a deep reflection on what is really meant by change, and how change happens, especially in the realm of culture. Organic change occurs through evolution, selection and inheritance. But cultures do not evolve. The changes that occur in cultures follow no uniform pattern of descent, progress, or adaptation for survival., He rejects the common stock of metaphors that give shape to changes in cultures over time, and in their place portrays a chaotic, pluralistic world, with vectors of change shooting in all sorts of direction.

But he does agree with our bureaucratic leader friends that the speed of change is quickening. He speculates however, that these changes may slow or even cease. The great successful cultures, he remarks, are those that have endured with little change for thousands of years. Those cultures that have run furiously after the lure of change have brought on their own collapse. Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s ruin.

The striking thing about these reflections is how they emerge from a deep reflection on biology and culture, and an attempt to think on change across those disciplines, so long divided. He presents the now well-established evidence that culture is not a uniquely human treasure. Other creates have culture, especially our fellow primates. No other species has yet imagined such a bewildering diversity of cultures. And to differentiate in culture is to change chultures.

It might interest readers to note the chain of propositions that Fernandez-Armesto sets down so helpfully at the outset of his book.

  1. “culture is a by-product of faculties of memory and anticipation evolved in some species”
  2. “those faculties predispose cultures to change”
  3. “humans’ faculty of anticipation is exceptionally developed and contributes to making them highly imaginative”
  4. “humans are the most mutable of cultural creatures because in their case peculiar features of memory and imagination make them fertile in ideas (which I understand as ways of re-imagining the world)
  5. “ideas are the main motors of change in human cultures”
  6. “the pace of change is a function of the mutual accessibility of ideas: the more that ideas are exchanged, the more new ideas ensue; and cultural instability increases accordingly.”

Our biology, especially our brains, bestow on us a faculty of imagination; and with that imagination we unleash a crowd of change on the world. Imagination feeds on its own artefacts, its misprisions, its deceits, its delusions, its random deviations. Change is not a driver. It is not the final cause of external reality. It is culture’s wild child.

“Culture stimulates imagination further still, partly by rewarding it and partly by enhancing it with psychotropic behaviour. We praise the bard, pay the piper, fear the shaman, obey the priest, revere the artist. We unlock visions with dance and drums and music and alcohol and excitants and narcotics.”

Change is not an external necessity, to which we must loyally submit, but the coils of the “imaginative animal.”

Imagination is the motor of culture. We look around us. We see the world. In our mind’s eye we see it differently – improved or made more conformable to some imagined model or pattern ideal of order; or, if our taste so inclines us, we envision its destruction or reduction to chaos. Either way, we recraft our world imaginatively. We act to realise the world we have re-imagined. That is how and why cultures change.”

So we come to a more genial response to the stern lectures from managers on changing with the change that beset us. These changes are so often so petty, and yet insisted upon like a martinet commander demanding conformity with some new marching order. But they are but one imaginative reordering of the world. I choose another dream with less fury, less tempest, and deep roots in the great world-tree.

 

The many cradles of civilizations (list)

Civilizations and natures

From time to time, I am tempted to be a prophet of a doom, and like Cassandra abandon myself to “the awful pains of prophecy… maddening as they fall” (Agamemnon); but something in my temperament, holds me back to a more tempered and sane view. History is neither progress nor complete decay. In some times, the archives do burn; but manuscripts are saved from the fire, and cultural life finds a way to go on. There are always losses, which I mourn, and there are so many splendours to celebrate and gardens to cultivate.

My favourite wise companion in maintaining a sane and generous view of our global history is Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. In people and in civilizations, he writes:

“vices and virtues mingle, in the greatest saints, and in the most politically-correct common rooms. For every good intention, there is a frail deed: each provides the standard by which the other is measured. Civilizations, compared with other types of society, certainly have no monopoly of virtue. But a true pluralist has to relish the diversity they add to life.” (Civilizations (2000), p 30)

His experiment in a new way of writing a universal history of civilizations is remarkable for its wit, the range of its allusiveness, and its compelling experiment: to write all history as historical ecology. Civilizations have no common characteristics, but share a process: the effort to transform the natural environment. Humans, unusually, if not uniquely, among animals, have populated all parts of the earth, all types of environment and climates. Our history is inseparable from these many natures – and here too Felipe Fernandez-Armesto insists food is central to the human story, as our most daily and intimate encounter with nature. And, “wherever humans can survive, civilization can happen.” (p 27)

The list: 17 cradles of civilizations

So, in CivilizationsFernandez-Armesto tells the story of how civilizations have adapted, transformed, and remade 17 natural environments. Only a few of these belong to the classic story of the cradles of civilization, and in many of these environments, he celebrates many little-known treasures worth preserving from destructive fire. Here they are complete with his evocative chapter titles, and some brief illustrations of how the world can be explored with this enigmatic balloonist.

The Waste Land (Desert, Tundra, Ice)

1. Ice Worlds and Tundra (The Helm of Ice). The Sami of Arctic Scandinavia created a civilization from the great herds of reindeer. The reindeer supplied most of the needs of life, and indeed their name, jil’ep, in the Nenet language means life. These ways of life were recorded in Olaus Magnus’ Description of the Northern People (1555), the “unacknowledged work of genius” of a Christian bishop who, in voluntary exile from protestant Sweden, travelled to the North to convert pagan souls but still stooped to understand the twenty forms of snow described by the sami.

2. Deserts of Sand (The death of Earth). There is the tantalising mystery of the Garamantes in ancient times in the Fezzan in the Libyan interior, and speculation that the modern day nomads of the Sahara, the Tuareg are their successors. The Tuareg use an alphabet which is very similar to an ancient Libyan writing system, and is used magically, transmitted by women, and to cast spells on household objects, but not to record the ballads and stories of war spoken by the men. Tuareg is an Arabic term meaning abandoned by God; they call themselves Imohag or free men. They continue to practise their martial code,  fighting for Qadaffi and in Mali.

Leaves of Grass (Grasslands)

3. Prairie and Savannah (The sweeping of the wind). Where we learn of old Mali, near the upper reaches of the Niger, and headwaters of the Gambia and Senegal Rivers, a great trading state controlling the passage of gold, and access to the great market and scholarly city of Timbuktu. Here Ibn Battuta described the majesty of Mansa Musa’s court.

atlas catalan image with mansa musa

Image from The Catlan Atlas (1375) showing Mansa Musa holding a globe made of gold. Biblioteque National, Paris

4. Eurasian Steppe (The highway of civilizations). In 1034 the scholar-administrator and poet, Ou-Yang Hsiu, advocated standards of merit, and, in response received the reward that was at hand for the powerful who ran patronage networks in the bureaucracy. He was exiled to Yi-Ling at the mouth of the Yangtze gorges, where he observed the remoulding of Szechwan. He sought a conservative revolution by instilling the “perfection of ancient times” through reforms to the examination system, and he and his like advocated the true, humane diplomat’s policy – “If indeed Heaven… causes the rogues to accept our humaneness and they … extinguish the beacons on the frontiers, that will be a great fortune to our ancestral altars.” (p. 120)

Under the Rain (Tropical Lowlands and Post-Glacial Forests)

5. Post-Glacial and Temperate Woodlands (The Wild Woods). On the Northern shores of the Great Lakes, the Iroquois built distinctive social spaces, the longhouse. The Iroquois built these longhouses, Fernandez-Armesto notes in a small piece of efflorescence of the cultural drive, out of elm, not for practical but aesthetic reasons.

 

6. Tropical Lowlands (Hearts of Darkness). In the jungle or rainforest of the Peten region of Guatemala was the great Mayan city of Tikal, in which despite the profuse growth there was monumental building from about 400 BC, and inscribed names and memorials of kings from AD 292.

Image source: UNESCO

The Shining Fields of Mud (alluvial soils in drying climates)

7. The Near East [if you live in Europe] (the lone and level sands) Where Fernandez-Armesto takes us to the “the garden of the Lord” that used to exist at the ancient city of Jericho, back eleven millennia ago when it looked over an alluvial plain and not a salted sulphured desert.

8. China and India (Of Shoes and Rice) Where we meet the gentleman archaeologist, Charles Masson, stumbling on the ruins of the Harrapan civilization in 1826, and fooling himself he had rediscovered one of the lost cities of Alexander the Greek.

The Mirrors of Sky (Highlands)

9. Highlands of the New World (The Gardens of the Clouds). Before the Incas, at a vast height, fed by maize and potatoes, lay Tiahuanaco and Chavin de Huantar, a place of pilgrimage thousands of years old.

10. Highlands of the Old World (The Climb to Paradise). We encounter the isolation and the martial culture of the New Guinea Highlands, itself an independently evolved place of agriculture. Here in the 1980s a Kerowagi elder tells an anthropologist interviewer: “We thought no one existed apart from ourselves and our enemies.”

The Water Margins (Seas)

11. Small Islands (The allotments of the Gods) The wonder of Polynesian navigation is told, including the remarkable map produced by the navigator and holy man, Tupaia, who sailed with Captain Cook.

12. Seaboards (The View from the Shore) Here we learn of the mystery of the sea peoples who raided Ancient Egypt, the Vikings and Phoenicians, and navigators of the Atlantic Rim, including the old Celts who edged out to the outer British Isles.

13. Maritime Asia (Chasing the Monsoon) We rediscover Palembang on Srivijaya, which prospered on Chinese trade for sandalwood and frankincense. Surely proof that wealth has always been built on “experiences”, and the material economy has always been saturated with symbolic significance.

14. Greek and Roman Seaboards (The Tradition of Ulysses) “In spite of the unique contribution made by the ancient Greeks to the rest of the world, we should beware of idealizing them, as so many historians have done in the past. What was most enduring in their heritage was, in its day, the most eccentric: Socrates was condemned to suicide; Aristotle was driven from Athens and died in exile.” (p 425) So true; we create legends from shadows.

Breaking the Waves (Oceans)

15. Oceanic Civilizations (Almost the Last Environment). Fernandez-Armesto retells Ibn Battuta’s travels across the Muslim Lake of the Indian Ocean, and points to the regularity of the monsoonal wind-system as the basis, if such a metaphor is possible for a wind system, of the seafaring traditions of the Indian Ocean. His awareness of the direct effects of varied wind systems on the history of exploration and global exchange is also the basis of one of his many aphorisms: that in the history of the world there should be less hot air, and more wind.

16. Making of Atlantic Civilizations (Refloating Atlantis). Where with deep scholarship of exploration and navigation, he points to the many attempts to launch sea-borne empires in the fifteenth century. What distinguished the Western European seaboard’s creation of the Atlantic civilization was, despite all the founding myths of Western civilization, the accident of being in the right place, so having access to favourable winds and currents.

17. Atlantic Supremacy and Global Outlook (Atlantic and After) In this last chapter, he contemplates the limits and limitations of the Western Civilization floated on this Atlantic environment. So, he zeroes in on the “bewilderingly paradoxical” twentieth century, with superb flowering of culture, creativity and freedom, matched by the most terrifying destructiveness. “It promised so much and betrayed so many. The big mystery of the twentieth century is: why did civilization yield? Why, in other words, did progress fail?” (p 543)

It is an awkward question to end on, and the basis for what may be a true conservative argument, that our values can never be firmly based in progressive beliefs, since progress is an illusion. They all misrepresent a more chaotic experience of change, full of loss and gain. And this means that faced with the many difficulties that our societies and cultures encounter we need to avoid the willing delusion that we are moving with the spirit of the times, and turn to our homes and gardens, and flawed traditions and treasured archives, and take care of them.

So Fernandez-Armesto concludes Civilizations, in a paragraph that resonates with the themes of this blog:

“After all the disillusionments with which the history of civilizations is studded – the triumphs of savagery, the bloodlettings of barbarism, the reversals of progress, the reconquests by nature, our failure to improve – there is no remedy except to go on trying, and keeping civilized traditions alive. Even on the beach and in the shingle, il faut cultiver notre jardin.” ( p. 566)

 

 

Finnegans Awwwake agoin

KellsFol292rIncipJohn.jpg

Out of a whim, I opened again, as if for the first time, that great scary book of twentieth-century literature, that dream book of all language  and literature, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. For the first time in my life, I got past the second page; I bought it dutifully in my twenties, knowing it was the uncontrollable and infinite jest of Joyce’s late life, but despite all my pretensions I could not persist with its polysensical language. This time, though, I read through the first twenty pages and made some kind of peace with this war on words.

The image that let me enter the maze, despite all the warding off spells of those first pages, and the first encounter with bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner
ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk! – the thunderclap marking the fall – was that Joyce conceived his work a bit like The Book of Kells, as a masterpiece of miniature elaboration. The compounded words, the echoes and shouts of 85 languages, the joyous variation of names and myths and quotation, the puns, the penetration of ancient ideas with modern demotic potty language (penisolate wars) and the ideas of the modern fall (jung and eerily freudened), the puns that make you laugh before you understand, and the proliferation of meaning were all intricate illuminations that made this artwork uniquely identifiable and yet universal in its celebration of the glory of language and literature.

Finnegans Wake would seem at a glance the most esoteric of works, the ultimate symbol of a book that might consume the life of a modern scholar. It would take a lifetime to read this work, and still it would not be possible to know what it was all about. Beckett said that it is what is about. And so some think it was a cruel joke – the ultimate fodder for a Joyce industry of academics, who dedicate their lives, with other people’s money, to making one sense of this polysense. The book cannot be explained, you would think, it can only be admired or explored. But its sheer inexplicability, its reputation as a text only known by a few rare graduate literature students would seem to lock this wonder away in the closed and dusty parts of our burning cultural museums.

But, no. The book that can defeat any single reader is reborn by the network of readers of the world wide web. So we read that the Wake was the book the web was invented for. A thousand lives of scholarship – or should we just say readership? – can live forever on a single web page. So I discovered, after reading my twenty pages, that the whole marvellous thing can be read online, complete with glosses, and notes and explanations and hints for this gargantuan and rabelaisian cryptic crossword. So in just the first word on the first page – riverrun – I learn there is a running motif of a letter from a reverend, a running river (the Liffey, or, the beautiful to say, Anna Livia Plurabelle), an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan (‘In Xanadu… Where Alph, the sacred river, ran’), a hint of Italian (riverranno, meaning (they) will come again), a hint of French (rêverons: (we) will dream), and of French again (reverrons: (we) will see again, (we) will meet again).

And this joyous celebration of literature’s greatest wonder is open for all to see and to build on. The Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury allows all to comment, and so add meanings that others have not seen, like a never ending twitter feed. The waywords and meansigns project sets the Wake to music. A visual artist is meticulously illustrating each image of the work, so circling back on the Book of Kells and turning this modern gospel into an illuminated manuscript again, named Wake in Progress, itself an allusion to Joyce’s working title of the book, work in progress. And so do we not see here the commodius vicus of a true cyclical view of history and culture? Do we see how paradoxically the great invention of modern mathematics and science has allowed a return to “religious, truthful, and faithful” pursuit of Giambattista Vico’s “poetic wisdom”, as practised by the illuminators of the Book of Kells, by Joyce, and by the elucidators of the wake? And this is happening beyond the walls of the academy, returning poetic wisdom to a deep if rare popular culture.

So can we say then that, even if the archives are burning, the great flowing riverruns of culture give back the eternal life of words to those who live and wake outside the ashen towers?

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A list of 21 books that shaped me

This list may never end, or so the green dream of the solitary reader goes:

1. A book of modern verse whose name I cannot recall but it was from its fawn paperback that I first absorbed, reading and hearing verses as a child, the taste for modernism.

2. A teach yourself Russian book, which I never got much past da and nyet, but created a vision of an Other land in my memory.

3. Wisden, and its statistics and spirit of English summer wistfulness from which I elaborated a now defunct philosophy of sport.

4. A now forgotten historical young adult fiction or chivalric romance of the crusades that fused in me a love of history.

5. Braddon’s Year of the Angry Rabbit which I confused with a political world of apocalyptic possibility and corrupted cynicism.

6. Trollope’s Palliser novels that gave me a preternatural sense of political and bureaucratic life, but left me for a long time a denizen of the nineteenth century.

7. Anna Karenina, the first great novel I read in my teen years, in a penguin paperback edition that had for me a magically impossible image of aristocratic skaters in winter Moscow or St Petersburg.

8. Alfred Jarry’s Pere Ubu, which I heard, not read, on ABC Radio National’s Radio Helicon, back when there were true arts programs on the radio, and its energy of pre-war cultural breakdown and artistic rebellion returned me to the twentieth century.

9. Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation, for reasons I have elaborated on elsewhere on this blog.

10. E.P.Thompson The making of the English working class, out of whose tradition of rescuing the poor stockinger from the condescension of posterity I conceived in rootless error my failed early academic research career that sought to recover the lived experience of the workers of nineteenth century Australia.

11. Anthony Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory, which took me to giddying heights of abstraction but still taught a sophisticated discipline in conceiving and perceiving social phenomenon. Blessedly, it also innoculated me from the academic vice of Marxist nostalgia.

12. Weber’s Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, that showed me both the uncanny power of ideas and how even a sociologist can write to seek salvation from personal torment.

13. Thomas Bernhard, The Loser, The Lime Works, Concrete, Wittgenstein’s Nephew and others – of all the great post-second world war modernist authors who critics recommended to me, Bernhard intrigued me most, with his musical obsessive rants of intellectualised outsiders.

14. Proust, In search of lost time, and I still feel like Proust searching for redemption through art or culture – beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all there is to know and al that ye need to know on this earth – and to escape the force of self-defiling habit that is among the banal evils of the world.

15 Szymborska’s View with a grain of sand, which made me realise I could write poetry again.

16 A book of luminous things: an international anthology of poetry, edited by Czeslaw Milosz, which sustained my spirit and mind through many dark years of disconsolate wandering through the outer corridors of power.

17 The Tempest, as imagined through Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books, which reanimated my enchantments and made me spurn my own Milan and find again my precious books in my own solitary isle.

18 Simon Schama, Citoyens, which brought me back again into history, and cured me of the latent violence of political radicalism.

19 Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s Millenium that introduced me to global history and made me in mid-life an explorer again.

20. WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn that mesmerised me with its melancholic mental events, and made me rethink whether I need ever write within the shackles of a genre again

21. Roger Scruton, The uses of pessimism that revealed to me the conservative disposition I had long cloaked in discontent with what life had dealt to me.

Time may change me but I can’t change time

Roger Scruton writes, in How to be a Conservative:

Whatever our religion and our private convictions, we are the collective inheritors of things both excellent and rare, and political life, for us, ought to have one overriding goal, which is to hold fast to those things, in order to pass them on to our children

A fair and elegant summation of a true conservative view. And one that increasingly I hold dear. In the task of governing, which Oakeshott compared to steering a ship across a shoreless ocean, this guide is more reliable than any substantial aim, any goal of an enterprise, and any hollow rhetoric about change.

Change is the moral imperative of the consultocratic courtier. It is the restless impatience to make a difference, and then to move onto the next lucrative contract, that is entombing real life in so-called system reforms. Change is touted to conceal the empty slogans, the ignorance of even the quite recent past, and the hussling, bullying promotion of fellow courtiers. Speeches are ornamented, after a search of a quote book, with Benjamin Franklin’s “when you are finished changing, then you are finished!” And this piece of all-American bunkum is really meant as a threat. In the same way, Malcolm Turnbull’s evocation of the pentecost in an Armani suit – “there has never been a more exciting time to be alive” – is an advertisement of profound neglect of the human heritage, wrapped in recycled McKinsey powerpoints, and concealing the true and insolent threat to  ceaselessly redesign free and responsible lives into agile agitprop. You wonder if the only constant is change, whether the changes that mesmerise the courtiers are really change at all.

It is all a far cry from the deeper argument about change set out in Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s A foot in the river: why our lives change and the limits of evolution. Humans, Fernandez-Armesto explains with vivacity and wit, are cultural animals; not by any means the only cultural animals, but surely the most splendidly and chaotically various in our ever-shifting cultures. Our faculties of imperfect memory and exceptional anticipation give us gifts greater than hunting in packs, or farming, or the modern curse of the project plan. They give us imagination; and when imagination sets to work on human culture it creates, fissures, imitates, errs, develops: it makes lives change. Driving all this cultural change is a reworking of Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and the simple observation that the more opportunities for exchange of errant, new and traditional ideas, the more cultures change. So in today’s circumstances of exceptional ease of exchanging ideas, good and bad, there has never been a sustained time of more rapid cultural change.

But unlike the consultocrat courtiers, Fernandez-Armesto does not mistake all change for good. Some changes bring blessings; some birth rare and excellent things. But some change brings burdens, losses and a dark tide of sorrow. Change brings excitement, and it brings deep unsettling threats to loved lives and cherished institutions. The quickened pace and chaotic form of change in our times stands opposed to most of human experience, and perhaps frays the edges of our evolved brains and instinctual hearts. So A foot in the river helps us move beyond the cheap tricks of the courtiers and Malcolm’s civic religion of investors.

The excitement of innovation is but one emotion evoked by this annual collapse of the Tower of Babel. “Within living memory the world seems to have transformed over and over again, inducing ‘future shock’, fear, bewilderment, and resentment. Meanwhile the increasing urgency of the accelerations of change and the ever more disturbing effects on people’s sense of security, well-being, and confidence in the future have glared through the headlines.” So among us all the restless search for some new kind of kick fights an instinct in favour of the familiar.

When people feel the threat of change, they reach for security, like a child clenching its grip on a comforter. When they do not understand what is happening to them, they panic. Grandes peurs lash society like a flagellant’s scourge. Intellectuals take refuge in ‘postmodern’ strategies: indifference, anomie, moral relativism and scientific indeterminacy, the embrace of chaos, je m’enfoutisme.

Being done with change, in this more subtle view, is never finished with; but more like the moon following the sun. These words from a true sage are not a counsel of despair, nor a retreat to the mysterious, as in Heraclitus’ runic phrase, all things change. Fernandez-Armesto’s book helps us to understand change; not to stop fearing it – in characteristically wise words, he says, after all, there is plenty to fear – but to begin to respond intelligently, with the faculty that is the source of the change itself, our imaginations.

So this history of change, and of how time changes me, but I can’t change time, might guide those of us who want to govern our communities with those rare and excellent things in our culture that are cherished by those with affection for civic life, but despised by reformers, consultocrats and courtiers. Those things can be destroyed in a day, and are worth fighting to preserve against the depredations of folly. Of the callow champions of change, Heraclitus also spoke: “People dull their wits with gibberish, and cannot use their ears and eyes.”

The disappearance of stories from the world

If Snorri Sturlusen had not turned his court poet ear to the old stories among his people, which the Church urged them to forget in favour of just one book, then the stories of Freya and Odin, Loki and Yggdrasill would have disappeared from the world.


Yet these stories survived. Their conquerors were followers of the book, and learned enough to know retelling a story is not a declamation of faith in its magic. They did not burn or bury the stories, but gave them new life in Christian robes.

Other stories fall into ruins, and from ruins into illegible dust. Some lonely wandering stories never know life even as a ruin, but disappear from the world like a suicide slipping silently into an icy river.

We mourn the disappearance of languages from the world, and bemoan the destruction of the artefacts of Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, everyday, quietly without a word, stories as beautiful as Freya’s Brisingamen slip from our modern grasp. The unifying stories of culture have shattered, like a new Babel’s tower, and from the looted altar a thousand confused robbers run alone into the desert, where they will die alone, unheard, unbidden by the ones who know.

So, the leopards become part of the rite.