The Interstitial Zone (Part 5)

What Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magic, and the Esoteric Can Teach Asian America About Love

(10 min read)

DARE TO BE MAD

“Navigation brought man face to face with the uncertainty of destiny, where each is left to himself and every departure might always be the last.  The madman on his crazy boat sets sail for the other world, and it is from the other world that he comes when he disembarks.

In a highly symbolic position, he is placed on the inside of the outside, or vice versa.  A posture that is still his today, if we admit that what was once the visible fortress of social order is now the castle of our own consciousness.”
— Michel Foucault

“How about a magic trick?  I’m gonna make this pencil disappear.

TA DA!  It’s… it’s gone.”
— The Joker

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The Joker putting a smile on my face.

The myth of Pandora⁷⁸, the First Woman, and her Jar of Hope⁷⁹ first appears to us in the writings of Hesiod in the 7th-8th centuries Before Christ.  In his epic Theogony, Hesiod recounts the tale of an unnamed woman, the Mother of all Female Kind, who was sent as a punishment to Mankind by Zeus after Prometheus the Titan granted them the gift of Fire.  This ancient Greek misogynist portrayed her as a bedazzling figure created by Hephaestus, the weaponsmith of the Greek Gods, and bestowed with every manner of charm, wile, and mystique in order to enchant mortal Men.  However, mentally and emotionally, she was made of “sheer guile, not to be withstood by men”. Pandora was sent to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus as a trick by the Gods, with a large jar as her dowry (which, due to textual corruption in the 16th century, became a box).  When Epimetheus accepted her as his bride despite the warnings of his brother Prometheus, she ends up scattering the contents of her jar, releasing “burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men”, diseases, and a “myriad other pains” (perhaps an ancient form of capitalism), resulting in the Earth and Sea being “full of evils”.  According to Hesiod:

“Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
She remained under the lip of the jar and did not fly away.
Before she could, Pandora replaced the lid of the jar.”

It seems somewhat of a contradiction that Hesiod would have Pandora keep back Hope for Mankind, while also releasing all the Evils of the World.  That’s because the myth of Pandora that we see in his writings is a distorted, idiosyncratic account. In some pre-Hesiodic myths, it is actually Epimetheus, not Pandora (who is known as the All-Giving), that opens the Jar, making Man the source of all the World’s Evils, and not Woman.  This seems to conform more to actual material History⁸⁰ and present reality, although sadly, it was Hesiod’s version that appears to have taken root during the Hellenization of Western Asia. This influenced both Jewish and then Christian interpretations of scripture and indoctrinated them with enormous Unconscious Bias against women.  Eve, like Pandora, is an Imago of the World-Mother, who is often depicted naked to celebrate the primordial Nature of Her Sex, while simultaneously being blamed as the origin of all of Man’s Sins. Smells like insecure, toxic, patriarchal Occidental masculinity to me⁸¹.

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At Mak Café, December 2018

The Hesiodic myth did not, however, obliterate the memory of the all-giving goddess from the prior religious Greek cults that worshipped her.  In another one of Aristophanes’ plays, The Birds, he mentions a cult to “Pandora, the Earth, because She bestows All Things Necessary for Life.”  These older myths also have very different accounts of how Pandora was created and the nature of her Box.  In some, she is married to Prometheus, who creates her out of clay before breathing life into her. This is consistent with different texts where it is actually Prometheus that is the Creator of Mankind, who he made from water and dirt.  This is also the version that was honored in Aumale de Corsenville’s Pandore, in which Prometheus, having already stolen fire from Heaven, creates a perfect woman, “artless in nature, of limpid innocence”, for which he anticipates divine retribution.  However, his patron Minerva (Athena) descends to announce that the Gods have blessed Pandora with many other qualities, and that She will become the Model and Mother of all Humanity.  This play was performed on July 2nd, 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, a theatrical clarion call for Gender Equality in the West.

The conflict over the contents of Pandora’s Box also arise from diverse interpretations, which cast the nature of Hope in different lights.  Since in Hesiod’s writings, the Gods placed all things in her Box out of Malice, Hope could also be seen as just another, if not the greatest, Evil – Futility.  This is the interpretation by the ultimate Nihilist and Anti-Christ himself, Friedrich Nietzsche, who argues in Human, All Too Human that “Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew.  To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.” In this dour interpretation, Hope, and Life itself, is a cruel, absurd trick.  It is interesting that Nietzsche chooses to base his opinion on Hesiod’s sexist text, although it is known his former teacher Schopenhauer was also a rank misogynist.

In a radical departure from both Nietzsche and Hesiod, the 6th century B.C. Greek poet Theognis of Megara stated that Hope was actually the Final Good of Mankind, rather than its Despair:

“Hope is the only good God remaining among mankind; the others have left and gone to Olympus.  Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men, and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the Earth.”

This poem seems to hint at an older Pandora myth in which the opening of the jar still remains a curse.  However, that’s not because it contains Evil, but rather Blessings. In this fable, it is again a “foolish Man”, not a Woman, who opens the Box (like the variants where Epimetheus is the culprit), which causes all Good in the World to flee and escape, with only Hope left remaining, “promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away”.  In a Renaissance engraving by Giulio Bonasone, Epimetheus as Pandora’s husband is shown holding the lid of a large storage jar from which the Roman Virtues are flying up into the air: Security, Harmony, Fairness, Mercy, Freedom, Happiness, Peace, Worth, and Joy. In this alternate take, it is Man’s Savage, Ignorant, and Blundering Curiosity that makes him lose sight of these things, while Womankind keeps Hope alive.

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Bonasone’s Epimetheus Opening Pandora’s Box

Regardless of which strains of these metaphysical texts you believe, the bottom line is that there is no Hope without both Men and Women, regardless of which of us is to blame for all the present Troubles in the World.  This brings us to our Final Question for Asian America: given the bitter acrimony and division that exists between adult Asian men and Asian women in America over the issues of emasculation, fetishization, and dating White guys (no matter how much it gets internally suppressed and buried in real life for the façade of pan-Asian unity), how can we possibly keep Hope alive for the Future of Our Shared Community, especially when we are so downtrodden, wretched, powerless, and invisible in American Society?

Well according to our good Russian friend, Peter Kropotkin, the best way is to animate ourselves with the Spirit of Revolt⁸²:

“There are periods in the life of human society when revolution becomes an imperative necessity, when it proclaims itself as inevitable.

New ideas germinate everywhere, seeking to force their way into the light, to find an application in life; everywhere they are opposed by the inertia of those whose interest it is to maintain the old order; they suffocate in the stifling atmosphere of prejudice and traditions.

Political, economic, and social institutions are crumbling; the social structure, having become uninhabitable, is hindering, even preventing the development of the seeds which are being propagated within its damaged walls and being brought forth around them.

The need for a new life becomes apparent.  The code of established morality, that which governs the greater number of people in their daily life, no longer seems sufficient.  What formerly seemed just is now felt to be a crying injustice. The morality of yesterday is today recognized as a revolting morality.

The conflict between new ideas and old traditions flames up in every class of society, in every possible environment, in the very bosom of the family.  The son struggles against the father, he finds revolting what his father has all his life found natural; the daughter rebels against the principles which her mother has handed down to her as the result of long experience.  They perceive the necessity of a revolutionary whirlwind which will sweep away all this rottenness, revive sluggish hearts with its breath, and bring to mankind that spirit of devotion, self-denial, and heroism, without which society sinks through degradation and vileness into complete disintegration.

But… there is a wide abyss — that abyss which, for the greatest part of humanity, lies between Reasoning and Action, Thought and Will — the Urge to Act.  How has this abyss been bridged? By what miracle were these men, whose wives justly called them cowards, transformed in a day into heroes, marching through bullets and cannonballs to the conquest of their rights?  How was it that words, so often spoken and lost in the air like the empty chiming of bells, were changed into actions?

The answer is easy.  Action, the continuous action, ceaselessly renewed, of minorities brings about this transformation.  Courage, Devotion, the Spirit of Sacrifice, are as contagious as Cowardice, Submission, and Panic.

When a revolutionary situation arises in a country, before the Spirit of Revolt is sufficiently awakened in the masses to express itself in violent demonstrations in the streets or by rebellions and uprisings, it is through action that minorities succeed in awakening that feeling of Independence and that Spirit of Audacity without which no revolution can come to a head.

Men of Courage, not satisfied with words, but ever searching for the means to transform them into action – Men of Integrity, for whom the act is one with the idea, for whom prison, exile, and death are preferable to a Life contrary to their Principles — Intrepid Souls who know that it is necessary to dare in order to succeed — these are the Lonely Sentinels who enter the Battle long before the masses are sufficiently roused to raise openly the banner of insurrection and to march, arms in hand, to the Conquest of their Right.

Whoever has a slight knowledge of history and a fairly clear head knows perfectly well from the beginning that theoretical propaganda for a revolution will necessarily express itself in action long before the theoreticians have decided that the moment to act has come.  Nevertheless, the cautious theoreticians are angry at these madmen, they excommunicate them, they anathematize them.

But the madmen win sympathy, the mass of the people secretly applaud their courage, and they find imitators.  In proportion as the pioneers go to fill the jails and the penal colonies, others continue their work; acts of illegal protest, of revolt, of vengeance, multiply.

Indifference from this point on is impossible.  Those who at the beginning never so much as asked what the “madmen” wanted, are compelled to think about them, to discuss their ideas, to take sides for or against.  By actions which compel general attention, the new idea seeps into people’s minds and wins converts. One such act may, in a few days, make more propaganda than thousands of pamphlets.

Above all, it awakens the Spirit of Revolt: it breeds Daring.  One courageous act has sufficed to upset in a few days the entire governmental machinery, to make the colossus tremble; another revolt has stirred a whole province into turmoil, and the army, till now always so imposing, has retreated before a handful of armed peasants armed with sticks and stones.  The people observe that the Monster is not so terrible as they thought. They begin to dimly perceive that a few energetic efforts will be sufficient to throw it down. Hope is born in their hearts; and let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always Hope, the Hope of Victory, which makes Revolutions.
— Kropotkin’s “Mad Man” Theory of History, The Spirit of Revolt (1880)

Of course, my fellow Koreans are well aware of the cultural Power of Madness, which we collectively call the Han⁸³.  We often unleash it to unseat or overthrow our homeland governments like the administration of our most recent ex-President Park Geun-Hye⁸⁴ — the eldest daughter of the U.S.-backed military dictator Park Chung Hee — who is now currently serving 24 years in prison for scandalous corruption (America take note, this is what my people were doing in 2016).  You’d have to be crazy to think you can win in the face of all the Mightiest Evils in the World, which is why it was Hercules, the Madman, who killed the fearsome Great Serpent of Lerna and freed Prometheus, the Creator of Mankind, from Zeus’ punishment. Extraordinary feats and labors require an extraordinary mindset.

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Hercules, the Original Madman

We the Yellow People, Men and Women alike, must therefore become collectively crazy enough to storm the Bastille, arms locked together in solidarity, and not be content with grinding out monotonous, mundane, ordinary, everyday lives devoid of all Magic — trying to do a little good here, volunteering at a soup kitchen there, helping each other out at our jobs (if that) — while surrendering all real Personal Responsibility and our real life Destinies to a cadre of dumb, selfish, elitist, neoliberal “authority figures” and house slaves peddling Yellow-blindness and “bootstraps” in media, politics, business, and especially entertainment.  We have to be stark raving mad enough to take a chance on each other and believe in True Love and Victory over White Racism, despite all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, challenges, and hurdles that stand between us in Real Life⁸⁵. That is the nature of Hope, the only thing keeping our Community from dissolving into bitter nothingness and Eternal Serfdom. When Asian Americans collectively begin to Hope for a Shared Future Together⁸⁶ — and are willing to bravely sacrifice themselves or their comfort to achieve it — that’s when we will no longer be “Model Minorities,” but become “Role Model Minorities”: Symbols of Hope — An Inspiration.

On my planet, that’s the letter S.

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Supermen and Superwomen of Asian America, Rise Up Again

(Part 1)
(Part 2)
(Part 3)
(Part 4)


Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]


Endnotes:

  1.   https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora%27s_box
  3. https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1243&context=crsj
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scold%27s_bridle
  5. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/kropotkin/spiritofrevolt.html
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_(cultural)
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/30/south-korea-park-geun-hye-arrest-warrant
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1536504218812869
  9. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.ft.com/content/83c1c6b6-02b9-11e9-9d01-cd4d49afbbe3

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