Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; 9:7-9
Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks.
Against Organic Unities and Underlying Metaphysics
The English, as Nietzsche would say, are some of the most insufferable moralists on earth. All acts must be elevated or justified by some high ideals or noble ends.
It is here where the idealisation of the English Romantic Trio, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, has pretty much ruined most of our fun. Their determination to elevate or subsume every empirical phenomena or triviality into a moment of divine revelation of the True, the Good, the Beautiful has robbed us of our ability to just enjoy them for the transient frivolity they are. Not eveything needs a connection to some awe-inspiring platonic principle nor be integrated into some Grand Romantic Narrative or Organic Unified System. This zeal to sacrifice eveything to the gods of the platonic heavens effectively destroys the space of the penultimate, a space where we can be human qua human as creatures of this world, in all its triviality, finiteness, limitations, and yes, even transient pleasures.
Why can’t these people just bloody leave us alone to let us enjoy life without all their totalitarian philosophical systems or worldviews? If I want to drink beer, can’t I just enjoy it simply because it tastes nice and not because it exemplifies some higher truth about theology or religion or how the Christian faith sanctifies creaturely comforts to the glory of God? If I like a work of art or play or story or whatever, can’t I just enjoy it for its intrinsic merits in relation to temporal or penultimate human concerns without the need to subvert it by forcing it into some idealised holistic system or metaphysics or theology or whatever? Can’t I just bloody enjoy fantasy because it is about magic or orcs or how life is like penultimately without needing it to be some typology of the Christian religion? Why can’t something be fun without it being meaningful?
Just because something is beautiful, nice or wonderful in this world doesn’t mean I have to somehow relate it to some elevated theological or metaphysical system or ideal principle. Can’t I just enjoy it for itself? Even if we must relate it to God can’t we just thank God for these gifts in the Hobbesian sense that God gives us nice things to satisfy our desires and then just leave it at that? Chesterton’s remarks about how “In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together.” is a piece of pretentious theological posturing. Can’t someone enjoy his pipe and pint in peace without him attempting to theologise about it?
It is here where I think the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams are rather apt:
Jacques Pohier’s remarkable and haunting book, God in Fragments, brilliantly sets this out under the rubric, ‘God does not want to be Everything’. Pohier recalls Aquinas’ startling denial that we ought to love things or persons as means of loving God or as leading us to God: we should love them for their ‘autonomy and consistency’, for what the free love of God has made them. ‘God is the reason for loving, he is not the sole object of love’. it is God who makes it possible to love things and persons for what they are (because to believe in a free creator is to believe that nothing in the world can enslave us by being ‘God’ for us). But what is more, to treat God as ‘Everything’, as the immediate totality of meaning for each and every subject in the world, is to misunderstand the nature of our unconditional dependence on God. God establishes the worth, the legitimacy, the right to be there, of what is in the world, and in that sense gives meaning; but precisely what God does not do is to intrude into the integrity of this or that aspect of being in the world as a justification or explanation for specific events. If the explanation of every event, every determination of being, every phenomenon or decision were simply and directly God, then life of creation would not be genuinely other than God. God grounds the reality and, in the theological sense, the goodness of the world’s life, but does not answer specific ‘Why?’ questions. To think otherwise, Pohier suggests, is for us actually to reduce God to ourselves, to define God as the answer, not to our ‘need’ for reality or identity, but our needs for control and for a world we can chart in relation to the centrality of ourselves… If we need God simply in order to understand and accept our very reality, then our relation to God in particular circumstance will not but one of need in the ordinary sense, [it will be] a desperate effort to make God supply this or that desired gratification, physical, intellectual and spiritual. We should instead be capable of receiving God as pure gift, unexpected good news, as the absolutely uncontainable, the irreductively different; as God
–On Being Creatures
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it in these much more practical terms:
For a man in his wife’s arms to be hankering after the other world is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste, and not God’s will.
We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us; if it pleases him to allow us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allowed our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives, God will see to it that the man who finds him in his earthly happiness and thanks him for it does not lack reminder that earthly things are transient, that it is good for him to attune his heart to what is eternal, and that sooner or later there will be times when he can say in all sincerity, “I wish I were home.” But everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead – nor keep dawdling a step behind.
It is of course significant that the English trio only lived after the emergence of English Romanticism and its development in the Victorian Age. Just as the Victorian churchmen ruined many a churches by renovating, or perverting, them into their idealised projection of what gothic churches looked like in the past, so does the romantic trio now ruin our fun and our arts with their tyrannical and oppressive metaphysical, theological and philosophical system.
Fortunately English Romanticism hasn’t ruined everything as the English retained a posture of levity, even irony, towards “larpy”, ostentatious, and fun stuff as Roger Scruton explains:
While they [the English] loved ceremony and tradition, the English also knew them to be human inventions… The English love of ancient custom, precedents, uniforms and formalities were tempered by an irresistible urge to laugh at them – not maliciously but gently and ironically, by way of recognising their merely human provenance. The empire reached its summit of pomp at the same time as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the operas which affectionately satirised its ruling offices: the peerage, the judiciary, the army, the navy and even royalty itself.
Again, however, we touch on a deeper and more spiritual trait: the English love of nonsense. Language has something official about it: rules of grammar, etiquette, style and pertinence constrain everything we say, and in speaking we enter a public and official world where we cannot invent the rules. The English spontaneously rebelled against this state of affairs, and from the earliest times took delight in speaking nonsensically and out of turn. Following quickly on the triumphs of Gilbert and Sullivan were the nonsense poems of Edward Lear and the two ‘Alice’ books of Lewis Carroll -books which for many readers capture the spirit of Victorian England far more effectively than the works by which the Victorians hoped to be remembered.
… By means of such nonsense the English expressed their dual attitude to forms and dignities: the desire to respect them and the desire to send them up. They knew that grandiloquence and pomp were a social necessity; but they also recognised them as a human invention, consisting largely in theatrical disguises worn by people as shy and private as themselves.
–England: An Elegy
One of the main characteristics of the English trio is the complete lack of a sense of nonsense. To be sure they like humour, wit, cleverness, etc. However their wit and cleverness is always directed towards some larger goal or purpose or ideal. They can say something ridiculous but it must always mean something or reveal some profound truth or whatever. There isn’t the sense of utter nonsense like the stories of Lewis Carroll or the poems of Edward Lear. It’s just fun or funny, it doesn’t have to mean anything. (This sense of nonsense is something which only cultures with a strong sense of the penultimate has, like Hong Kong comedy or Japanese anime (like Azumanga Daioh) where sometimes its just funny but makes very little holistic or narrative sense.)
Who cares if the rituals or customs of the English, like the British monarchy for example, is larpish, medieval, and no longer organically connected to some medieval vision of society or expressions of ideals which few today actually believe in? They are quaint and nice to look at, and still serve some symbolic or social function today. Why can’t we just recognise them for the human constructs and inventions they are which we can reconfigure to serve penultimate ends or functions of our specification as and when we require it? Why must they necessarily be deductions or expressions of something much more elevated or “real” or whatever?
Conclusion: It’s not LARPING if you Intend to LARP
LARP is short for “Live Action Role Playing” where people will dress up in medieval or historical costumes to reenact battles or historical events. The term LARPing can also be used in derogatory ways to refer to people seriously engaging in past practices or sincerely professing old ideals which are no longer realisable today.
However if one engages in past activities with a spirit of irony, not intending to revive some past spirit or ideal or stroke some existential sense of continuity with some people group in the past or whatever, but simply because its presentist empirical benefits, or simply because it is fun, then it isn’t larping, one is just having fun.
This brings me to what provoked these series of reflections. I was watching the video below of a Christian youth group learning an 18th century English dance.
Are they larping? Attempting to revive dead practices which has long past? Trying to recreate the Regency period? Some of them may actually intend so, but why can’t we just learn and enjoy these things because it is fun, quaint and it is much better, and cheaper, than getting drunk at a night club? Why can’t we just engage in old customs or practices simply because it is quaint, or fun, socially useful, without needing it necessarily be some moment of platonic epiphany?