Lyotard’s mention (see previous post) of the role of the diachronic axis in spreading out theoretic problems has an immediate relevance to considerations of the theory of evolution.
The recent invention of the notion of linear time (in the 1700 and 1800’s) provided an intellectual resource for geologists and biologists in order to construct new models of life.
The classic popular book by Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield “The Discovery of Time” provides a good account of this.
The diachronic axis, by being greatly extended into the past, provides a means of explanation of features of the world. Everyday secular events taking place over a long time account for what we now encounter.
This sharply contrasts with how First Peoples interpret experience. In Central Australia, for example, certain hills may have been formed in the Dreaming by a particular ancestor – and carrying messages relevant to life’s regulation.
And, of course, it sharply contrasts with the ‘special case’ provided by the myths relating to a small part of the planet in The Bible.
One of the problems for Christianity is the highly localised character of its sacred landscape – a Holy Land – in a part of the Middle East.
By contrast all of Australia appears to have contained sacred sites – Europeans find it easier to dismiss this from their minds and ambitions since it is truly inconvenient for those who seek to expropriate (as a fetish) ‘the land’ while totally disowning the people so clearly part and parcel of it.
It is clear from reading the account of his travels and observations in South America that the young Charles Darwin was already well versed in interpreting features of the world by these new means. It is a pleasure to read his account and to share this seeing the world through fresh eyes.
Darwin and Captain FitzRoy famously disagreed on such matters, with the Captain seeking explanations in “The Book” and the Deluge.
Similarly, the young Darwin’s musings on how the sheer cliffs of the Blue Mountains were formed display this ‘modern’ mind busily at work. Ditto for his explanation of how coral atolls formed. Time is available to account for such matters. Linear time, extending backwards.
An older Darwin also berated those who sought to interpret life in relation to cycles and not genealogy.
That is, there is a systematic privilege placed upon ‘the linear’ mode as the only true one.
But, if we regard linear time as merely one mode of what is glossed as ‘non-linear’, what then of more eternal considerations?
In raising the question of the place of myths of eternal return (see previous posting) in relation to Lyotard’s reflection on the role of the diachronic axis (and totalitarian systems of legitimation) another curious feature emerges.
Ways of life, such as those of Australia’s First Peoples, which have systems which do not privilege a theoretical diachronic axis (one way – ‘upstream’ – or another = ‘downsteam’). They also lack life formations which cede and concentrate power in an imaginary centre elsewhere.
By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church, as a sort of shadowy Roman Empire Mark II, insists that all power in located in one man, The Pope, and in one privileged place – Rome. It does this in the name of a universal “Catholic” religion. A top-down structure with a single God on High, mediated by a single privileged person.
Is it not possible to imagine an alternative “Catholic” religion which acknowledged the true locus of divinity to reside everywhere – that is, in local relationships both between people and with their actual surroundings?
And this is very close to the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples – whose Being was signified in truly profound ways as part of a cosmic life order.
Newly returning life is fitted into its place in local arrangements formed as a result of global considerations and wide-spread alliances. Local ‘chapters’ had certain cosmic maintenance duties bestowed upon them. In Central Australia, for example, one group may be responsible for rain, another for fire (with complementary opposite links and responsibilities between them).
The modern nation-state is a sort of secularised version of a church, with its Ministers, and its capital cities and law-making places based on a false notion of ‘centralisation’. That form of ‘centralisation’ is a concentration of power in one locality at the expense of others – it does not centre life, it inevitably decentres our Being.
With bushfires raging in Victoria, and floods in north Queensland, the ‘mythic’ poles of the burnt world and the drowned world take on a more immediate significance than is usually the case.
Life, in an orthodox indigenous Australian system, is endlessly recycled soul-energy.
There is no eventual redemption and nirvana. Looking after the world and living properly is not an option which can be put off since the live of an individual is short and, once over, the neglected task of no consequence.
Life always returns … but to what?
The answer appears to be that when our form of life ceases to perform our cosmic maintenance responsibilities, a well-tempered cosmos begins to run amok almost, as some have already noted, as though trying to rid itself of an imbalanced parasite.
Modes of Being – such as those necessary for the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples – place our form of life in a different position, vis-a-vis the rest of life, to that which characterise “modern man”.
Maintaining relationships (of all kind) in good condition is a key task.
How we relate is of greater importance than attempts to control and fashion life to satisfy our narrowly conceived best interests.
The dismissal, by modern minds, of ‘animists’ as primitive savages fails to allow room for a truly profound relationship of intelligent life (of our kind) with a far greater form of intelligence – a living cosmos – in which we are part of a sort of meta-neural system for the flow of messages.
Considerations such as these are relevant to crafting new forms of representation.
Such considerations may not have been possible in Darwin’s day – when he arrived in King George Sound (so recently named compared to how First Peoples would have known it) he part sponsored a corroborree of White Cockatoo Men and others.
His mind already corrupted about the role in life of Australia’s First Peoples by the land and resource appetites and ambitions of British colonists (as well as prevailing imperial European stereotypes) and more fascinated by the question of the margins of life at the inanimate/animate threshold, the great myth-maker failed to realise the great potential which existed for a genuine dialogue between peoples from opposite sides of our home planet.
It is partially due to the work of Charles Darwin that we, now, are in a far better position to partially rectify (if not ‘complete’) the shortcomings of modernity.
Neglected for far too long, this dialogue will not be realised in one blog posting.
For that task, a host of self-others is required – and, in finding new voices, new songs, new cosmologies we abandon linear conventions governing how we should proceed.