"Toda obra humana es deleznable, afirma Carlyle, pero su ejecución no lo es."
Jorge Luis Borges, prologue "Los Conjurados".
It is inevitable to relate The Name of a Thing with a sense of time, past, present, and future, and in relationship to Australian’s First Nation towards an archaic history. The present state of this relationship, and the promise of action towards reconciliation, cannot be detached from an integral approach when re-uniting its parts. It is not that one part of a society becomes attached to another, it is more about what was there in the first place, and the access to memory.
In archaic and primitive societies myths are not an invention, they are real tangible stories that hold together the narration of existence. Myth provides for the texture of time. A time that is as related to dream and illusion as to our senses. It is the essence that cut’s short Prospero’s wedding speech in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” to affirm that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”. In contrast to our current time struck dependency of life, if we look towards the wisdom of archaic cultures, there is a time-less center ground to the community that is the ritual.
Rituals are ingrained in the very essence of our existence, today more than most concealed in marketing tricks, a product’s launching, mundane ceremonies of every kind, to the extent of reducing our knowledge to clicking “like”. In turn the hollow void we city dwellers feel daily is in part due to the negation of our past and ritual beings. We have replaced our experience towards the sacred with consumption.
The yearly presentation of the new iphone has become the pinnacle of our concentrated sacralisation of a product. Andrew Greeley refers to “the cult of the sacred automobile” already back in 1962: “One needs merely visit the annual automobile shot to realise that it is a highly ritualised religious performance. The colours, the lights, the music, the awe of the worshipers, the presence of the temple priestess (fashion models), the pomp and the splendour, the lavish waste of money…. all these would represent in any other culture a clearly liturgical service…”
In every archaic culture of the world “going back” to the origin of things participates in the conscious Time of life. Today, we have relinquished this level of activity to psychology or the manic pursuit for christmas presents. For Australia’s First Nations knowing the origin of an animal, an object, a plant is to access their power. The Dream Time is the mythical time of creation, and takes us to the moment of creation itself.
A ritual is most usually the way for a culture to access a certain myth, and to remember. Memory is inexorably tied to the ritualistic capacity of shamans, artists, poets. The greek goddess Menmosyne, personification of memory is, according to Hesiod, omniscient: she knows “all that has been, all that is, all that will be.” And it this need to remember that is the main responsibility of a ritual passing from one generation to the next for thousands of years. It is a story as real as life itself. The sin of a culture is to “not remember” the origin of things. For this is analogous of falling asleep. And sleep, as we know, is also a representation of death. Remembering is what bonds mankind to its surroundings and allows him to transcend it.
Kaurna Elder, Lewis O’ Brien suggested as guest lecturer at the University of Adelaide back in 1997: “It’s older than the pyramids and anything you want to name… You walk this land and you will be affected the same as what we are. And they have been… Because if you’ve got all these Dreaming spirits are lying in this earth, they’re going to affect you, whether you like it or not. (…) You can’t rub it out in lots of ways because it’s real. It exists. And the power of the Dreaming is at its most powerful here.”
It is the responsibility of the collective community, not only the individual, to remember the origin of things. To know the origin of a thing is to access its immanence, to have control over it, and to progress beyond a life’s time frame. As Mircea Eliade explains in his book, “Myth and Reality”: “… ritual abolishes profane, chronological Time and recovers the sacred Time of myth.” It joins the beginning to the end. Ritual access the primordial time in which a myth is not an idle tale but an active force. Through the ritual, the master of ceremony has the active responsibility to access the origin and present it to the community as experience. It is by recovering the past that we can fully live the present and provide for a future.
Subsequently, Eliade also tells explains the importance of language as the structure of “going back”: “… the World reveals itself as language. It speaks to man through its own mode of being, through its structures and its rhythms. (…) Every significant cosmic object has a history. This is as much as to say that it can “speak” to man. Because it “speaks” of itself - above all of its “origin”, the primordial event in consequence of which it came into being -the object becomes real and significant.”
Placing ourselves in the center of our project, as artists and storytellers, researchers and travellers, is to represent this process and relate to things. A thing has an origin as it was created: “a power clearly manifested itself in the world, an event took place”. So if “the origin of a thing accounts for its creation” then the Name of a thing accounts for its emanation.” And this is the level of subtlety, poetic breath, and territory where we are living our process for the Name of a Thing’s constitution. It relates to its environment through clear structure and access the universal also towards the origin, to the primordial time, to that which is perennial and moves beyond our life’s span.
To remember is to heal. To master one’s past and provide substance for a clear present. It is a creative act. Through the ritual, myth elevates man.
As Ruth Nanda Anshen, writes in her prologue back in 1963 as editor to the World Perspective Series books from which much of the information of this article has been taken: “There is in mankind today a counterforce to sterility and danger of a quantitative, anonymous mass culture, a new, if sometimes imperceptible, spiritual sense of convergence towards world unity on the basis of the sacredness of each human person and respect for the plurality of cultures”. The essence of Anshen’s pronouncement is not based on wishful thinking, but on “the unshaken hear of well -rounded truth”.