Tuesday, 27 May 2014

So speak, you dead: thoughts about archaeology. 4 ― mythos and logos

Dyrham Park near Bath, Gloucestershire.
The "Darlington Hall" of the 1993 film"The
Remains of the Day"
photo: Trevor Rickard 

It is said, that no one is a hero to their butler. The reason is, that it requires a hero to recognize a hero. The butler, however, will probably know well how to estimate his equals.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Kazuo Ishiguro's novel and its film adaptation, The Remains of the Day, the butler, Stevens, is the consummate professional who inwardly struggles with the changing norms of his time. In times past, his real counterparts had no voice of their own ― we hear of them usually only through fiction. Sometimes, as in the relationship between P, G, Wodehouse's character, Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, it is the servant who is really the hero.

I knew a girl who, with her family, had escaped from Saigon on an American military helicopter shortly before the city fell. She was Annamese and descended from the Vietnamese aristocracy. She showed me a photograph of a painting of her great grandfather. He wore a dragon-robe and held a jade sceptre. In modern times, the very wealthy family were typical: her mother ran the business, her father was in the military. All of the children each had their own chauffeur. One day, she wanted to visit a boyfriend and her chauffeur, knowing that such behaviour would be completely unacceptable to the family, refused to take her. She told her family that she had asked him to take her to the market to buy some mangos and that he had refused. The chauffeur received his chastisement in silence and she knew that this would happen. After being held in the U.S. for some time in less than ideal conditions, her family came to Canada. It was difficult for them to adjust. She told me that her aunt had never even dressed herself before and  did not even know how to tie shoelaces. It was with shame that she told me the story of the chauffeur, a shame that she did not know at the time of the incident. She adapted to her new life, even though she had been a novelist writing about Vietnamese subjects in French and that life, too, was now over.

Odysseus and his men blinding the Cyclops

Odysseus, too, had his struggles. He epitomizes the hero, but his wife and son, too, represent their ideals.His men, on the other hand, did not measure up to these ideals and they perished.

Too often, when I see something about the Odyssey, it is the voyage that is emphasized. Sometimes people want to "reconstruct" the route. If mythology is mentioned, it is mainly to do with those whom he encounters on his journey back to Ithaca. The main points: the ideal husband, wife, and son are mentioned less frequently.

Today, we seem to have lost contact with the real hero. He is not the the man who beats up the bad guys and gets the girl (although we can apply that to Odysseus return). Whether the butler, Stevens, Odysseus, or chauffeur in Saigon the hero expresses what was considered the best behaviour of their time and place.

I also see the health of a civilization being measured by a line: at one end is Mythos, the introverted and creative and at the other end is Logos, the extraverted and the law. It could also be expressed as psyche and matter and the things to do with those things, or even the unconscious psyche and the conscious matter. I made the following N-gram so we can see how each has been doing since 1800. The data comes from mentions of each (case-insensitive) in Google Books. The ideal would be a perfect balance between the two:

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