Friday, December 26, 2003

Romance


I'm listening to some wonderful Russian liturgical music. I love this music because of its texture--the thickness of it and close harmonies--and because it's low. I'm an alto. I'm taken also by the visual arts of the Russian Church--dim religious light, guttering candles and gilded icons. I used to read Dostoyevsky to fantacize that world, where there was this pervasive religiousity and everyone was always at an emotional fever pitch.

The trouble is that the concommitant of all this lovely stuff is filth, ignorance and superstition. Isaac Bashevis Singer describes it in The Slave--the world of Eastern European peasants scraping for minimal subsistance--illiterate, filthy and brutal. Of course we can create a sanitized Episcopalian version of it, with all the appeal of Disneyland or Marie Antoinette's royal cow shed. We can duplicate the aesthetic surface, but unless there are authentic peasants around, lighting the candles because they believe it will give them babies or make the corn grow it isn't the same thing. The cost of that though is having people who are ignorant, bigoted and poor to light those candles in the simple faith or Dostoyevsky's fat merchant's wife.

In the same vein, we'd like to live on the edge of wilderness, in houses on large lots where deer and bunnies come to our gardens. But we don't want our children or pets to be mauled by bears or mountain lions. We want safe, marked hiking trails where we can enjoy old growth forests without the danger of being mauled or eaten, where we can camp in REI tents and sleeping bags.

We might as well be honest and admit what we want--and not impose our decadent tastes on the natives or make them serve as props in our romantic fantasies. It would be a shame if traditional societies were disrupted and wilderness were lost, but the price of romance is too high--ignorance, brutality, predation and the nasty, brutish, short life of people in the state of nature.