Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Hagiography of Heroism: Conclusion

The paper has thus far linked heroic archetypes explored in Tolkein’s novel – constructed itself as a pseudo-epic and drawing on mythical archetypes – and their reflections in contemporary reality. The paper does not intend to suggest that any of the three examples were conscious acts of mimesis or for that matter required any knowledge of the novel. Instead, just as Tolkein’s novel drew upon, re-created, re-presented and transformed earlier archetypes, so do the three mentioned examples desire to perform the archetypes in real life. They are neither alone, nor far from common, in reality, as human will always refer to archetypes as reference models of idealised behaviours and identities.

There reason to explore these narrative archetypes is one that bears further study from within the disciplines of political science and IR. Much of the recent discussion from disciplines studying non-state actors have focussed on narrow boundaries of religious or political ideology, or to personal greed (falling in line with false greed-grievance dichotomies). Thus, the motivations and activities of these delinquent actors are linked to psychological distress and trauma and consequently causes are sought in areas as far ranging as political emasculation of the Third World male, culturally ingrained oppressive social practices, gender prejudice, and finally, the new catch-allcategory of religious (especially Islamic) fundamentalism

Instead, as the paper has suggested, while economic, political and military gains may form the overtly expressed motivations for these non-state actors, many are also driven by the underlying desires to perform identities constructed from archetypes of long historical and cultural standing. Another motivation for at least a section of the active participants in international arenas linked to or dubbed as crime or terrorism: that of individuals seeking personal gratification of living up to, and indeed being transformed into heroic and desirable figures.

Prior to concluding, one last point must be made. The archetypes embodied by The Lord of the Rings are by no means limited to cultural production of Hollywood and its other mass media subsidiaries in the “First World.” In passing and very briefly, reference must be made to cultural icons such as Che Guevara, whose marginality, willingness to battle and final “heroic” death allows a similar desirable archetype to be created and emulated in much of Latin America. The positioning of narrative allows contemporary political figures and stories to be interpreted in archetypal forms, often in mutual contradiction by rival societies: so while Fidel Castro may well be Saruman locked in his unassailable tower for US, he is conceived more as an aging just king like a Theoden in his weakened besieged state.

Similarly, other cultural industries, ranging from Indian commercial cinema to Nigerian Hausa videos interpret and position the archetypes quite differently and in contradiction to the hegemonistic discourse emanating from Hollywood, thus reaching audiences that can encounter similarities and therefore re-position, re-present and re-affirm themselves through and in the narratives. In this context, a final mention must be made of the recent Turkish film, The Valley of Wolves, which narrates the current US war in Iraq from an anti-US perspective. With directorial and spectatorial sympathies firmly entrenched on the Arab/Iraqi side, the film neatly overturns the Hollywood stereotypes to create a narrative similar to innumerable Schwarznegger/Stallone films. However, the film still recreates and reflects the heroic archetypes the paper has discussed, providing an interesting insight into how archetypes can and do travel cross-culturally.

In conclusion, the archetypes subconsciously posit a desirable identity for emulation by the community in a moment of collective crisis. Not surprisingly, the performance of this desirable identity also includes a hagiographic, and self-hagiographic function that insists on its re-membrance and re-counting, thus emphasizing and recreating its desirability for the future generation. That the desirability is guarded, transformed, and transmitted in the shadows of our collective subconscious makes its call all the more seductive, hard to explain and irresistible.

Perhaps then it is not a ring after all, but these archetypes that are referred to in Tolkein’s opening verse, that can “rule them all…and find them…bring them all…and in the darkness bind them.”

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