Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hagiography of Heroism: Part 3

However, returning to the idea of the desireable heroic ideals – we are left with three primary types: the weak but “chosen” hero who shall succeed in biblical fashion over the greatest odds; the exiled king whose return shall restore the kingdom, and by extension, humanity to harmony, and to some Edenic realm; and finally, the heroic suicide whose apparent willingness to scapegoat status facilitates the survival of a grateful community. All three forms of heroism are of course supported by a host of minor braves, much like the martial champions are backed by apparently ubiquitous but mostly irrelevant army in innumerable old and new works. What makes these three forms of heroism interesting is that they build on previously known, recognized and admired ideals. As construction of heroic ideals, they reinforce certain ideal behaviours and performances. If we consider the inevitably mimetic nature of human action, then the mimetic structure of consciousness acts as a blind mechanism that constrains people to behaviour constructed by prior models (Girard, 1977).

Furthermore the context of heroic action in Tolkein’s novel also reconstructs, re-presents and re-enforces previous models. Tolkein’s heroes are beyond the confines of state-ist hegemonist boundaries of behaviour and desire. Instead, the novel privileges individual desire, motivation and judgement, culminating in delinquent action articulated in violence against the corrupt, decadent and evil “state.” So the Hobbits must journey to the heart of darkness to achieve their final act of destruction, against the very foundations of the “state.” In an oddly Biblical symmetry, Frodo’s act of destroying the ring at the very foundation of Sauron’s empire echoes other acts of bringing down the “very foundations” of an apparently “unjust” state – by Joshua, by Samson, and in constant flow of violence by the biblical tribes of Israel against primarily peaceful – but non-Jewish – communities in Jerusalem.

Similarly, Aragorn – the king in exile – takes on the empire with a ragtag army of the marginalized. Even when cloaked in terminology of righteousness, his actions are hardly more than a quest for power, for the overthrow of a current state structure and its replacement by his own. His quest for power leads him to providing constant provocation, intrusion, attack and ambush of state forces. In each instance of apparent “ambush” of the heroic party, we need only shift our focus to realise that it is Aragorn and his companions who insert them into primarily stable territories and force a destabilization through their acts of violent delinquency.

Even in the third instance, the final ride of Rohan requires Theoden to break a longstanding treaty of peace with his neighbour Saruman. His decision to go to war is once again constructed in terms that privilege his recovery of personal power against the apparently debilitating controls of an encroaching domineering state.

The justification for violence by the “forces of light” – Hobbits, Elves, Wizards and People - throughout the book – that war approaches – sounds eerily like older threats of the same. If there was ever a case built for “pre-emptive strike”, Tolkein makes it, privileging the view from the criminal margins against the hegemonistic discourse of the trans-national state systems arguing for the maintenance of peace. As such the novel places the clash of good vs. evil in mythic terms where the legitimacy of the “state” is questioned and posited as evil, controlling and repressive. In contrast, individual desire, performatively demonstrated by violent acts of delinquency is constructed as an appropriate, even desirable, goal for mimetic behaviour.

Such an idealization of delinquent violent destabilization of course raises the question: why do cultures idealize such desires and behaviours as heroic through representations in traditional lore, religion and mythology as well as mass media? Moreover, this question in turn requires us to question the role of delinquency in society. The work of Emile Durkheim, writing in early twentieth century, probes precisely this link, and provides an important starting point to begin to contextualize the heroic delinquency discussed earlier. Durkheim argues that since all societies have crime, then crime, deviance and rule breaking are socially universal, so deviance may indeed be “normal,” and in fact serve some social purpose or function. Durkheim of course argues that deviance can be punished (in case of marginalized crime) and thus re-affirm social hegemony by reminding the members of the rules of acceptable behaviour. Punishing deviance can also bring members together binding the community together against internal and external “enemies” of the order. On the other hand, when deviance challenges the existing rules and is widespread, it can serve as a useful tool for societal change (Durkheim, 1938).

Durkheim’s propositions open an interesting window into how heroic delinquency is constructed, received and interpreted by a community. The idealisation of such delinquency allows a society to draw its national/ethnic boundary, desire specific communal goals for itself - often through the triangulation of mimetic desire through imagining an “Other” as a rival. Such idealization powers not only internal social change but also imperial exercises abroad.

Thus far the paper has established some heroic archetypes and attempted to contextualize the delinquent violence that emerges as a logical course of action for achieving such heroic status. Moreover, a theoretical context for the performance of the underlying desires has also been proposed. However, an extra step is now required – from the world of storytelling to the real one.

This leap is often pre-empted by many apparently “scientific” disciplines where many assume that what happens in fact and in fiction are mutually exclusive and contradictory. While the relationship between fact and fiction may not necessarily be an obvious one, there is a fundamental purpose for the human practice of storytelling. “Firstly, it provides a uniquely revealing mirror to the inner dynamics of human nature. But secondly, by laying bare the unconscious foundations which underlie so much of the way we view the world, this can in turn cast an extraordinarily revealing light on history, politics, religion, philosophy and almost every aspect of human thought and behaviour.” (Booker, 2004, 571). Indeed, all of the fields listed above are in themselves exercises in storytelling, which is why the paper now takes the three primary heroic archetypes from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and finds their peers in contemporary reality, thus linking what appears to be a highly successful pseudo-epic to specific desires and performative actions based on those desires.

Yet, these real world heroics are merely mimetic performances of the great stories. In their trajectories, they are merely the unfolding of action powered by determined striving to achieve the heroic ideal. In many cases, the stories are incomplete, due to the continuity provided by time and reality, and can only be fully narrated within the construct of the archetype upon their conclusion. To assume a clean fit with the archetype when the stories are unfinished would be impossible. However, some shared elements at the initial stages of these real-life sagas do point to the archetypes, and the desire to mimic the same. A word of warning: stories turn on points of view – making one man’s hero into another’s villain. The same applies to these examples discussed below. Neither a moral nor political value judgement is intended as the paper attempts to delineate the role of the archetypes in real life delinquent heroics.

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