Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What I Heard in Niagara Falls Part 2

It has been quite a while since I was in Niagara Falls already and the motivation to talk about it is fading. But here are some things which stuck with me from various sessions I attended at the Mid-Atlantic Popular / American Culture Association conference:

The Songs of Bob Dylan:
Talk about them all you want, you still can't do much better than just reading, better yet listening to, the lyrics. Of the incredible songs that were discussed I was blown away again by "Masters of War."

The Neo-Colonialism of the "Anti-Colonialist" Film Blood Diamond:
Within the critique of colonialism, the white man is still called on to save the day for the stereotyped black man. Point well taken.

Redeeming Grizzly Man:
This was the most fascinating of all the papers I heard. It was entitled "The Sacred Abject in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man," and it was Robin C. McCullough of York University's attempt to find a "meaning" for Timothy Treadwell's life against all the criticisms that have been weighed against it. I understand the impulse. You want the guy to win, even though he lost.

In this case the Ms McCullough sought past the typical "evangelical" reading of the grizzly man which said that he put his hopes for personal salvation ultimately in the wrong place---the bears---and it ended up in his own death. She inquired about the inherent value of a useless death as the highest of protests against a culture hell-bent on capitalist, materialist definitions of usefulness and saw Treadwell's as a sacrificial death of the highest order. But this was not as compelling in her eyes as the view of Kristeva, which find Treadwell's gift in his longing to be one with the bear, to be inside the bear, and therefore within nature and all. In this view the fact that male and female ended up as one within the bear is a victory.

I don't agree with these points of view, but I find interesting and intriguing ideas in them. I think the evangelical reading can even include the others to some degree. After all, isn't it in Christ that male and female are said to become united in perfect communion in the future? Isn't it a martyr's death against the powers of evil that we are called to? Whether Treadwell had any of this is not my point. I just thought it all quite fascinating what this presenter was able to pull out of that film.

Chesterton's Sense of Place:
One of the presenters in my own session was a geographer who finds Chesterton's sense of "place" to have been one of his great strengths. His point was that in our travels we too often miss out on the encounter with the "other" and settle for a displaced experience of our own home. In other words, we'll travel to Singapore and eat at McDonalds. I'll go to Niagara Falls and shop at Walmart or sit in a casino. Chesterton had a knack for emphasizing the romance of the place he was in. Thus he wrote no myths. Just stories set locally, and yet as fantastic as myths.

The Falls Themselves:
At first when I saw them they were as unimpressive and surreal as a postcard. But then you get down there and you remember that there is no substitute, no virtual reality, that can replace the real thing. Every chance I got I walked down and around to the horseshoe falls. They are spellbinding. Watching water cascade over the lip mesmerized me for the longest time. At night it was even a bit scary. I'd just sit there at the edge and watch it all go over. Engulfed in mist I'd be soaked head to foot and all I'd hear was the crashing sound coming up from below.

I didn't even notice that the person next to me was proposing to his girlfriend until she was screaming and they were making out. Turns out I'm on a whole lot of cameras just dopily staring at the falls. But I just went back to watching the falls. I couldn't take my eyes off them. Truly magnificent.

They say that there are more negative ions around the waterfall and that might explain the dizzying effect. I don't know. All I could think was that if there were waterfalls before there was a Fall of humankind I don't see how there could not have inevitably have been a death. Seriously, I've been pondering that. No precipices in Eden? How does that work?

I stayed with the parents of a friend. People I'd never met. His dad drove me wherever I needed to go. There is nothing quite like old-fashioned out-of-the-goodness-of-your-heart-expecting-nothing-in-return hospitality. It is a blessing to the soul.

. . . And that is what I saw and heard in Niagara Falls. Didn't step foot in the wax museum to serial killers, I am very proud to say.


Bryce Ashlin-Mayo said...

Sounds fascinating...I'm jealous:)

joel said...

Hey Jon, some check out my ithaca site for Ben's conclusion from our conversation way back when...

Tony Tanti said...

Good stuff Jon. I found that Treadwell stuff intriqueing when you told me about it.

Nice comment about Hospitality, it`s a bit of a lost art these days I think since we live such private lives. I experienced similar Hospitality while staying in Edmonton last week from my brothers and also from the son of the Hospitalitizers who showed you around Niagara.

Jonathan Grand said...

What do you mean "fall of humankind"? I was confused by that. You mean, if people have a negative effect on the ecosystem?
What does that have to do with waterfalls?