Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Starting with the death of gods.....

Speaking of Apollonian, nihilism and war, have you seen "Wonder Woman" yet? It asks a similar question of what it means to be a human in a corrupt world whose values are no longer rooted in a transcendent ethic because the gods are literally dead....
There is more in this question than meets the eye, especially since the premise of "Wonder Woman" is that Themyscira, the island of the Amazons, is a place hidden from humanity (men, but let's keep terms clear) and gods (so Ares won't find it).  In the story told to Diana, Ares warred with the gods and only Zeus, finally, was able to defeat him, but at great cost to Zeus.  Ares was not destroyed, but Zeus was (exhausted, basically, but cause of theocide need not detain us here).  Diana is also told she was made from clay by her mother, and given life by Zeus (a sort of inverse of the Pgymalion story.  Diana exists as an object of love, but not an object of sexual desire,).

And where are the gods?  Not killed by men, a la Nietzsche, but killed by war with each other; as the story makes clear at the end, only a god can kill a god.

Are the Amazons gods?  No.  They don't seem to age, though.  Diana is the only child on the island, the only one who matures into adulthood; catches up with the rest of the inhabitants, in other words.  Raised on a hidden island with eternal (if not immortal) women all around, she knows nothing of men (literally) although she's learned in anatomy (as she makes clear to a naked Steve Trevor; she isn't even curious about his physique, except as it is a valid representative of all males, and still her curiosity is only clinical.  Sexual desire is really not part of her make up, another inversion of both the Pygmalion story and all of Ovid's Metamorphoses.  Then again, it's mostly men chasing women in Ovid, so.....).  Anyway, one of the central points of Diana's character is that she is innocent.  She speaks hundreds of languages, is not shocked or surprised by modern weaponry (well, maybe the first time, as she sees the deadly but bloodless power of movie bullets, but she catches on quick to a defense against them) except in the scene where a village is gassed; even then, she is shocked by the needless death more than by the method of inflicting it.  It is the act that is appalling, less so the method.

Her innocence is her moral compass, and no doubt the reason young girls (as reported, anyway) are taking to Diana's character as a defender against evil.  But her innocence is also predicated on her ignorance.

She believes she is merely an animate lump of clay, a Pygmalion (or Adam; there's little difference in the origin stories on that point).  Turns out she is more ordinary than that, and more extraordinary, too.  She also believes humankind is good, and is corrupted by Ares; but Ares is much more in keeping with the conception of the Greek gods.  He is an influence, an instigator, but not the source of evil.  Humankind is quite capable of being evil without Ares, and while World War I is a fine example of a particularly evil form of combat (the slaughter in "No Man's Land," the corrupting poison of "mustard gas"), we all know it only gets worse a generation later, and the film's ending makes clear there's no Ares around to blame for that.  Diana loses her innocence about such matters ("innocence" in sexual terms is never on offer, which is refreshing).  She learns humankind is far more complex, capable of selfless acts as well as evilly selfish ones; that the whispers of gods may be influential, but they are not originating causes, probably not even proximate causes.  Ares fans the horror of war, but he lays no claim to have started it.

If these are the gods who are dead, do we miss them?

That's a cheat if we leave it there, because it ducks legitimate questions.  Those will be considered a bit later.

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