Knowledge to be applied in our lives(film): Embrace of the serpent(Guerra, C. 2015)

Forgotten lands:

Ciro Geurra’s dreamlike film, Embrace of the Serpent is full of sentiment, surrealism, terror and disarray. He does this by editing the film in an ethereal black and white haze of mysticism that casts a hypnotic veil over the audiences eyes. However for me, what this film more importantly shows is how the realm of mystical experience is rarely gazed at in the western world. We might think of the concept of the dream in this film as forgotten lands that still walk through our psyche’s at night, that still speak to us when reductionist materialism fails to generate feelings of wholesomeness. The central focus of the film is on a character called Karamakate who we are introduced to as a young adult and an old man. He is the last of his clan and seems to be the last person keeping the dreamscape alive and shows this by his faith in the dream but also by harbouring a cynicism of a world that may no longer exist. Quite aptly, the metaphorical destruction of the dream is shown through the destruction of his group due to the production of rubber, a material substance used for many reasons other than dreaming.

So what is the dream?

The dream represents the most precious aspect of religion. The ability to connect to phenomena in ways that are transportive and transfiguring. After all the word religion derives from the latin ‘religare’ which means to bind, to link and reconnect. I am not saying that this quality of experience is only a feature of religion or that any form of religious belief is necessary for this sense of transcendence, it is only that I Believe words like God, Religion and revelation have been useful polywords for a canon of experience that doesn’t have so much of a footing in the material world. In many ways Karamakate is symbolic of this effervescence that never seems to fully compute with the other main characters, two travellers from the west. Specifically, the scene in which Karamakate gives Yakruna to the traveller, he asks of the plant to show the man ‘everything it sees’ and ‘everything it feels’, which then cuts to a number of swooping birds eye view shots showing the majesty of the jungle and the interconnectedness of all phenomena that transcend appearances in consciousness. In the appearance of dualism there is every reason to, at times, know what it means to transcend this. Of course, I believe this has been the best use of religions but of course it often rarely features. crusades? slavery? fundamentalism? Yet lets not throw out the baby with the bath water. Lets promote freedom of choice, freedom of voice, fraternity and what the best of religion offers, a collection of transcendent experiences that all of us can attempt to have more of. Whether we call it God or religion does not matter.

Knowledge to be applied in our lives(Why pleasure is not enough): Civilization and its discontents(Freud, S. 1930).

Freud in Civilization and its discontents¬†is pessimistic of the human condition in essence. His account of society is that most people follow the simple programme of the pleasure principle as a means for deriving meaning in life. Further, in Freuds view the ‘intention that man should be ‘happy has no part in the plan of creation’ but merely is an ‘episodic phenomenon’ that requires the universe to be tailored to your needs. However, Freud does not discount pleasure as something futile but recognises that the satisfaction of the ‘drives’ can be rewarding all the while understanding that such an ephemeral phenomenon like pleasure cannot be the sole basis for a meaningful and happy existence. Equally, looking at the state of western, consumer capitalism, there is no surprise such an agenda for meaning has been pushed. Namely, Coca Cola’s ‘choose happiness’ or Johnnie Walkers ‘Joy will take you further campaign’ have both played a part in the collective distortion that pleasure does simply equal happiness.

What this clears up is that pleasure is a fleeting, ephemeral form of joy that we can distinguish from happiness. However, once we admit this, many more possibilities arise that are not as closely related to the pleasure principle. Freud even offers a useful example of engaging in creative and intellectual pursuits, this is primarily because it is an endeavour that is stretched out over much time that cannot be achieved instantaneously and thus delays the gratification of pleasure. This is certainly a wiser pursuit than hedonism.

Yet, the reason why I have taken an interest in Freuds civilization and its discontents is not due to his own thesis’ on what makes for a good life but because of his excellent point made about the current state of wellbeing for many in the developed world. There is seemingly a great rise in living conditions and abundance(see: OurWorldInData), yet modernity seems to be malnourished when it comes to what accounts for a good life. This is not to say that many aspects of medical and technological progress have not improved our lives, they definitely have, but rather that there are crucial aspects of the past in which the developed world is lacking. Namely, Hegel states in the phenomenology of spirit that each epoch has had wise and important insights into the nature of experience. My goal is to recover these aspects of the past to inform individuals on how certain aspects of culture, thought and phenomenology certain communities in history fostered, can be useful tools of knowledge to live better in the present. Future posts will be aimed at addressing this through thought, art and film, as well as music.