Ever since transom’s post on The Great American Freak Out I haven’t been able to think about current affairs in other terms. We stand transfixed by disaster. It almost seems like we feed on it, hope for it…it wasn’t until today that I started to wonder if we don’t secretly want it.
I’ve been reading Jules Michelet’s La Sorciere recently, and it’s shifting my perspective on the our seemingly neurotic appropriation of disaster in the media. He idealizes pre-feudal Europe much like Rousseau does, but with a very different outcome.
Michelet suggests that the serf, who has been betrayed in his social contract with the lord, secretly longs for the return of the wild. Before the castle and boundary stones, before knights and wars, life was hard but it was life. If the serf belonged to anything it was to the land.
It is here we encounter the marked difference between land and lord. There is reciprocity between land and serf. The forest and river are certainly not the serf’s property, but in a way, they belong to him even as he belongs to them.
As the lords extended their lordship, city replaced forest. Michelet’s shocking logic is that the serf began to long for a great reversal. Forest over city. Magic over law. Wilderness over civilization.
Our seemingly neurotic desire for distasters may not stem from a death instinct, or a sublimated desire for control. It may be something as simple as a desire for return. A desire for reversal. A hope that the unexpected event will crush this juggernaut of civilization that we feel powerless to overcome. This desire is certainly beginning to manifest itself in our artistic sensibilities. Smashing Magazine has a great photo spread up right now called: The Beauty of Urban Decay.
Are we longing for a return of the wild? Is it so simple as that? That we hope for disasters not because we want to die, but because we want to live?