Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sacred space

Eliade talks about modern man as a creature mired in practicalities, leading a profane existence that breeds confusion because all things are relative, and all contexts are always in flux. Admittedly, as a Westerner I feel beset sometimes by aggressive advertising. Billboards everywhere encourage me to buy, to use, to discard, and for a few extra cents to supersize my experience. Temptations are everywhere and they are juicy, cancelling for a time all other voices in my head that whisper about health and wellness. But some people hear no such voices. So I imagine they are easy preys for temptations. American advertising stirs, dares, pokes, lurks and stalks. An ad will linger, through some mnemonic and subconscious legerdemain that only advertising people know, on our mental taste buds long after we've ingested it. What is the most effective thing that displaces the memory of an ad from our mind? Another ad. They never shut up. And so it is that time off from work does not give me the respite my brain needs and I return to work just as lethargic and fed up as I left. I often long for a vacation from advertising.

And yet, according to Eliade, modern (nonreligious) man is also capable of creating his personal sacred space, despite his pragmatic and unsentimental environment:

"There are, for example, privileged spaces, qualitatively different from all others — a man’s birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in his youth. Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are the “holy places” of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary daily life."

I do remember certain firsts as landmarks in my life, far more memorable than other subsequent similar episodes. For instance, the first time I traveled to Belgium - also the first time to Western Europe - everything was magical. The streets sparkled under the incessant drizzle, the French-speaking people were chic and picturesque, as if teared right from pages of Vogue. The bread was fluffy, the pastries light as air, the beer more flavorful than the richest mulled wine I'd ever had. I idealized everything.

And then there I was, my first time in the States, on the shuttle ride from Atlanta to Macon. It was like a journey to another planet, and I was full of trembling excitement to hear a Southern lady at the back of the bus speaking in her native droll, talk which a few months later I found especially irritating. The lush, humid heat of the green Georgia summer was exotic and intoxicating, like a mind-altering drug, and this heat too I later grew averse to. Yet in my mind, that first ride to Macon was like going to Wonderland, and I now realize that a starry-eyed, 20-year-old me experienced, in that beatific heat that steamed up the windows of the white minivan, a shard of sacred space.

No comments:

Post a Comment