Greeks and Bhuddism
The children have been reading, no, devouring, the Percy Jackson books. The central theme of these is that there are in this world ‘real’ Greek Gods and more particularly their children, demi-Gods, who inhabit both the normal mundane world and the super-powered world of the Gods. Now being a lover of Greek myths I found it fascinating that my children (6/9/11) should be so taken with the stories.
The eldest had asked me what I knew about the myths and I was tongue tied as my knowledge is largely of a comparative/anthropological nature and it is to Robert Graves that I owe my personal attachment to the stories. I disappointed my daughter because I wasn’t able to retell the stories and my accounts of the relationship of Greek myths to other mythologies let alone accounts of the use and significance of the myths in the post-Greek world was not what she wanted.
I watched the children play Greek myths. What this involved was each of them taking on the role of the child of a deity and thus having part of the powers associated with them. What a brilliant way to play!
I’m writing this having watched the film “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” yesterday evening. The film contains a lot of action scenes where teenagers fight each other or monstrous creatures. It seems impossible for fight scenes to take place without appearing that they are based on teenage mutant ninja turtles. The strength of the orientalised fight style, the karate/kung fu action style is astonishing. In the film, the Gods had withdrawn to their realm because they attachments they felt to their children with mortals threatened their effectiveness as responsible for the balance of the world, they were becoming too human. The idea that the Greek Gods were, in a Bhuddist manner, escaping from the cycle of attachment, is present and illustrated by the Jackie Chan sword fighting.
For the children, the Gods become entertaining through their positioning in their children and humanised as well. The demi-Gods have that same position as the X-men or other super-heroes, that of being always tragically human at some level.
Of course the Gods themselves only ever had part of the powers of which they were supposedly masters. They too were afflicted by all too human energies of love, lust and jealousy, pride, vanity and so on. The movement towards domesticating the Gods through their children is as the author of the books knows rooted in the stories of Hercules. The reformulation of this story of human endeavour, so beloved of the renaissance humanists, as a child’s entertainment, teen fiction or what ever label it carries, is something that is a repetition itself of a trope seen in the Victorian period when the myths were popularised and propagated through the state and private education systems.
The day before I had watched the film “The Last Airbender” with the children. In this film the dominant current of the mystical-Buddhist-warrior reigns supreme. The air-bender or in this film quite simply the Avatar, has powers that are effectively the control of mind being the control of the material world. This ancient conceit is found in so many forms of entertainment for both young and old that it must be counted, as does Zizek, as a major element of ideology. In a society where our consumption and our role as consumers is identical with our production and role as producers, there is something significant that we can read here. I’m so sorry to remain some sort of boring theologist but the films are sacred in a very real sense. They are reterating and re-enacting the idea that there is salvation, that there is a way out that is half-Bhuddist through self denial/the ending of attachment but that always maintains the essential and confused emotional presence of the human subject to their emotional life and, importantly, made better by that.
The God, the Avatar, can only succeed with the assistance of the emotional human subject. That is not Bhuddist at all but is a form of post-Christian thought. God has been defeated (that is the point of Paradise Lost) and needs a faithful person/people to save us once again.
The Greeks make a fine place to set all these ideas, for them to find expression. The Greeks were themselves both in and out of the East and the West before indeed such idea existed. They become perhaps a place and people who can challenge the Bhuddist orthodoxy of the current capitalist order! Now there’s a line!