Saturday, March 20, 2004

Killing Time

Kill is a volleyball statistic (so is dig... a murderous sport, indeed).  And I'm crouched in my noisy office today, hiding out from the poundacious, bangtastic bongo and hoot that is intercollegiate men's volleyball.  Balls careen off the uninsulated walls; the splat of every hard spike is drowned by a basal oooh-aaah.  And three matches are playing out within ear shot.  Good thing I've got terrific work-study students to relieve me from being more proximate to the events, as in at the courtside.

After seeing Non Sequitur this morning, I've been having a look at human and animal image-dispositions at the following web sites: Nature | Wild America (Mungry: the speculatin' critter in the upper left! Will he eat the berry?) | CBS's Survivor Series.

But then I got caught up in comparing the alterations to the page designs from Borneo to All Stars.  The banner graphics (the program's logos, if you will) tell a story, perhaps even tapping into grand narrative of colonialism or something like it.  All of this could be the disturbing side-effect of too much coffee this morning, a McDonald's sandwich turning a pirouette in my tummy or the slap-racket in my percussion-tank office, but I have time to play around--so that's what I'm doing.  Here are the graphic insignia, sequentially ordered, from the Survivor series.

1 | Borneo2 | Australian Outback3 | Africa4 | Marquesas

5 | Thailand6 | The Amazon7 | Pearl Islands8 | All-Stars

And here's some of what I see.  Borneo: no humans, no animals, light colors, watery lower panel.  Australian Outback: a darkening, a roo in the rising sun, bouncing left, heat waves in lower panel. Africa: a giraffe following the roo's path, scraggly acacias on each side, grassy lower panel.  Marquesas: jutted island, some kind of Tahitian mask (civilization?), watery lower panel. Thailand: temples surrounding a decorated elephant, red lower panel.  Amazon: gigantic serpent and a toucan, serpent integrated into lower panel. Pearl Islands: ship silhouette, skulls, gold coins piled thick in the lower panel. All-Stars: human form, torch-bearing, generic natural landscape in the background. What do you notice?

When I began thinking about these panels as a narrative sequence, while also thinking about groovy assignments for the introduction to humanities class I teach, I also thought about Perry Miller's Errand Into the Wilderness (which I haven't completely read in the strict sense of page by page, word by word; know him for some of the sensational rhetoric stuff).  Found a web site from CU-Denver that summarizes Miller's central theme in Errand thus:

"The End of the World" (217-39) William and Mary Quarterly 8.2 (April 1951): 171-91.
In this concluding "piece," Miller sums up his thesis:
"Can an errand, even an errand into the wilderness, be run indefinitely? To this question, it seems, Americans must constantly revert.... Can a culture, which chances to embody itself in a nation, push itself to such remorseless exertion without ever learning whether it has been sent on its business at some incomprehensible behest, or is obligated to discover a meaning for its dynamism in the very act of running? ... In the civilizations that emerged out of the primordial wilderness of Europe, this assurance solidified into the Christian eschatology; in that form it was brought to America, most energetically by the Puritans. Officially the doctrine of an end to the world has, of course, been professed by every denomination within the country, even when, as lately, some have striven to interpret it metaphorically. What will America do - what can America do - with an implacable prophecy that there is a point in time beyond which the very concept of a future becomes meaningless? Protestant America, as well as Catholic, has an implicit commitment to this event. What then happens to the errand?" (217) [emphases mine]

I don't have time to brush out the kinks or to trick around with much more today.  Weather's too nice outside to keep puzzling over whether the grand narrative loosely suggested by the graphic sequence answers or somehow engages Miller's questions, and this crummy tournament is winding to a finish--last matches start at 2:00 p.m.  There seems an interesting way of reading this sequence of images (and their telling, and the series of programs itself, perhaps) through Miller's notion that Christian civ. must foretell a material end whose details are unknown and that the promise of wilderness' end, of the cessation of travails and conquest, compel, in the purveyors of dominant culture continuation, an attraction to rhetorical/artistic refashionings of the grand narrative of conquest--as redesigned through an increasingly human-centered tale.  

In simple terms, and because I fear that none of this makes sense, here's what I mean to suggest is the answer to Perry's question, "What happens to the errand?". My answer:  Survivor.  Quite a ramble spun out of a funny non sequitur.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at March 20, 2004 2:02 PM to Dry Ogre Chalking