"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Who put the ham in hamartia, part I

I have been asked before about the meaning of the title of my blog. It arose in the context of that group bike ride I went on last summer in which I was immediately "dropped," or in other words, left to enjoy the solitude of the open road, with time to contemplate how physical / athletic endeavors have periodically served as a fine antidote for my hubris. And as every literary geek knows, "hubris" is one of the classic types of "hamartia." Of course nowadays you don't have to be a literary geek at all to know this; you can read it in 30 seconds on Wikipedia. However you still can't read *Oedipus Rex,* *Antigone,* *King Lear,* Tony Morrison's *Beloved,* or even watch the film version of Edith Wharton's *The House of Mirth* in 30 seconds to get a more complete idea of how a tragic flaw can really ruin your whole day. When they talk about a "tragic flaw" in the literary canon it is usually writ quite large, something that results in the hero eventually getting vaporized in his / her own personal mushroom cloud.

I don't view my sometime delusions of Olympic grandeur on quite so dramatic a scale. But I can't resist a pun, especially one with some bite to it.

However, I've also been interested in the broader interpretation of hamartia as suggested in the Wikipedia reference: missing the mark, error, or sin. Seems less grandiose than some overriding tragic flaw. A tragic flaw can also be the underbelly of a redeeming virtue. It is such a miracle to be human, and such a mess. So many opportunities for juicy paradox.

In the Bible, Jesus' discussion of motes and beams seems basically an illustration of hamartia / hubris though I haven't done any research to verify if this is linguistically supported by the Greek text. Maybe it isn't. But it makes sense that the "beam" is a big ol' dollop of "overweening pride" that warps one's vision of self and others. Jesus says cast the beam out of your own eye first, then you can see clearly to remove the mote in your brother's eye; but this is one of those easier said than done things. Seems that the phenomenon of seeing the motes could itself be symptomatic of having a beam in your eye. Maybe there is a secret in the analogy, that once you can actually see "clearly" the only "motes" worth worrying about are your own.

With this in mind, I can't claim to view or judge so-called "Christian" Dominionist politicians with any particular clarity or enlightenment. However I sure as hell don't trust them to extend me the same courtesy, because they are a bunch of flaming hypocritical nazi wannabes. And then there are the "Christian Reconstructionists." Not to point fingers but these people are straight out of Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale." They are the Taliban. It's true, I heard it on NPR!

A tragic flaw of liberals is their desire to be fair-minded even when they are enraged to the point of irrationality. One of those paradoxes I was talking about.

1 comment:

WP said...

More explanation is required by this liberal to understand the fatal flaw while being fair minded. I do try to keep the rage under the red line for the most part. Anger does overwhelm me at times, such as when a young Hispanic mother, 3 mos. pregnant, tells me she was berated by a racist customer at a Utah McDonalds for showing up to work on May 1 when all Hispanics were supposed to be striking. Her manager asked her to work, as it would have shut the store down, if she and other undocumented employees had not come to work that day. She complied as others did and for her loyalty to her manager and her $8.50 per hour she was called things I would rather not write here. The potential burger buyer, after his tirade, left the store and went elsewhere, probably trying in vain to get a burger from a skin head or a Klansmen.