To be or not to be

I love The Unicorn by Rilke, a fact I have mentioned before. It goes to the absolute essence of human credulity.

O this is the animal that does not exist,
But they didn’t know that, and dared nevertheless
To love it…and Because they loved it, it came to
be a…pure creature.
They always left a space for it,
and in that space, clear and set aside,
it lightly raised its head, and hardly needed to be.

We live in a world of make believe and erroneous assumptions. For example Americans firmly believe they enjoy one of the world’s great democracies and that they are a leading light in bringing freedom to foreign climes. But it is a society which is dominated by money and roughly half of it sees no reason why the other half – the poorer – should be supported in any way by State largesse. Nor does it question unduly its history abroad which is riven with appalling self-aggrandising policies, wars and sinister interventions in far off places the vast majority of its population couldn’t find on a world map. In Ghana here, cultural differences become apparent after a few years. Romantic love,  which drives much of present day western advertising, social networking and daily fantasies, hardly exists at all in a country that sees its people more concerned about relationships which provide food and shelter than ones that put stars in their eyes.

Religious people believe in an unprovable God. Here, in west Africa the evangelists encourage adherents to pray for worldly goods like houses, cars and washing machines. Religion as pure capitalism.

The point of these few examples is that the more you travel and explore the psyches of other nations and the day to day rituals and beliefs of their populations, the more you realise that everything we do and believe is constructed by human imagination and has no great basis in fact. There is little that is universal.

Good writing reveals the absurdities, false assumptions and personal belief systems of its characters. Sometimes this is called irony and sometimes it is more direct and polemical. The paradox is that a good writer lures you into yet another world of erroneous assumptions and persuades you to believe it, just as you believe the one in which you are currently living. Reality is a grain of sand that promotes a pearl. But the pearl is precious only because we believe it to be. The pearl is fiction.

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