Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Heroes #1 - Homer

Another theme for this blog will be to profile various cultural bad-asses who I feel embody healthy masculine values. NB: if you are having problems getting your head around the idea of even discussing something as airy-fairy as "masculine values," or your default is to fall into some reductive argument about how such things don't exist - do me a favour - bugger off! I am sick and tired of having to justify what I feel is a timely and essential dialogue, so give me a break. I am not going to argue with you. I have real work to do. Man's work.
Right, back to it. Homer is my first hero. Now this is controversial. Firstly, we know nothing about the guy. He may not even have existed. And secondly, he is probably as much responsible as anyone in western culture for perpetuating unhealthy patriarchal values. And this has to be recognised.
However, what I think is important about him, is what I like to call the "poetry of the masculine." What I mean is, that I get a rush just reading him. Some of his passages are so unashamedly male, both in style and content, that I can feel my testosterone levels increase. It's like a gym workout for the soul. It's empowering. And though we might not actually know anything about the fucker, I have to say that I am positive he did this all on purpose.
I am reading the Illiad, translated by Robert Fagles. I highly recommend this. The poetry is terse, lyrical, with each line bursting across the page like a flame. There are any number of passages I could quote from it that illustrate my point. However, I want to stress that I think Homer was a lot more subtle than even Plato gave him credit for. I don't think he was advocating a kind of warring mentality at all. I think he was interested in meeting the realities of human temperament head on. Achilles is famously both wise philosopher and petulant mummy's boy. He's strong, powerful, supreme in the craft of butchery, but he has the emotional age of a child. The poet's job is to paint a picture of the world. He's not there to say what's right and wrong.
I think that Homer writes exquisitely about bloodshed. But this is not an affirmation of violence. It just is what it is. So, I'm not saying that the passages about war, and blood and death, are what we should be looking to. What I am saying is that the masculinity of the poetry is something that has been lost in contemporary society. What I love, and this will come round again when I discuss Hemingway, is the unashamed expression of male energy in the words and the rhythm of the poetry itself. It is thrilling.
Now. What we need to do in modern society is separate the content from the form. Whereas, what has in fact happened, is that feminism has forced us to throw the baby out with the bath water. Not only is it frowned upon to raise violence and combat up as a source of entertainment, it is now no longer possible to channel any kind of forthright masculine energy, without being somehow chastised or forced to feel guilty about it.
I am the biggest critic of patriarchy. I think that a culture which breeds men to be expendable cannon fodder is a culture that leads to domestic abuse, alcoholism and war mongering. It is a culture that perpetuates its own pathologies, and I want nothing to do with it. However, we have to step back and recognise that there is something there which we might call a masculine energy. And it is something that barely exists in contemporary culture, and if it does at all, it exists as a joke, an archaic amusement.
What is this masculine energy? Well, go and read Homer. Don't focus on how shocked you are by the violence, but observe the passion, force and unrelenting creative power of the poetry. There is no better example of what I am talking about than that.
Perhaps what is needed is a new way to express this energy, rather than the insidious cultural emasculation that insists on cutting off this energy at every juncture. There are female poets and there are male poets. But the male poet is a sacred archetype of masculinity, and it should be something we encourage in our young men.
A Nietzschean return to Homeric values does not mean a return to patriarchal values. It means simply that we embrace the creative power exhibited in the poetry of this time. And the fact that man's relation to his environment is one of awe, humility and courage. We are not meant to be like Achilles, but to understand the relationship between him and the inevitable wrath of the Gods. But above all, we should embrace the crashing beauty of the masculine experience.
Okay. Fuck. Yes, I am crazy. But I don't care. I know I'm right.

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