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Return to tradition; or, the only way out is through
What does it mean? I don’t know, but it’s provocative—gets the people going.
The only real interest afforded by these ideas is to show that there are people whose minds have ceased to be content with modern negation, and who, feeling the need for something that our period cannot offer, see the possibility of an escape from the present crisis only in one way: through a return to tradition in one form or another. Unfortunately, such ‘traditionalism’ is not the same as the real traditional outlook, for it may be no more than a tendency, a more or less vague aspiration presupposing no real knowledge; and it is unfortunately true that, in the mental confusion of our times, this aspiration usually gives rise to fantastic and imaginary conceptions devoid of any serious foundation.
What then is the direction proper to those that profess such a tendency? Guénon declares rightly that the path can never be backwards, only forwards. Yet as McConaughey tells us, time is a flat circle—the only way out is through. This is obvious in the language we use: direction, tendency, etc. The first step (again) is necessarily a movement of some sort. Where to? For ours is not a tendency in the sense of tending this way or that, as if a broken shopping trolley; it is more a restlessness like that which compels homeless men in Vancouver to race shopping trolleys down hills.
These men have escaped, they have travelled through and out—yet something is wrong. They live in the bush and collect cans. One is an alcoholic estranged from his children, destined to die alone. Another left his family and lives in a caravan growing plants and flowers for the people he knows. All spend far less time participating in the rituals of consumer culture. They have no money, can afford few luxuries and spend little time shopping, and work only a few hours a day. For them, in other words, the magic by which our world is real has lapsed with its rituals.
The postmodern state of mind is already homeless, accepting that is the way out. Yet still most cling to dead ships and surrounded by strangers, drift along with them. Some few escape the gravity well that is our rotten order; some lucky, some not. Finding oneself in prison or an asylum, for instance, is not a good way out; nor is dying an alcoholic in the bush, falling drunk into a stream and drowning. What is necessary is some means of support—in other words, community. But for this to be possible, there need be coherence that all might move together as one. Devout communities, as that of Noah; families, whether de jure or de facto.
Today the deluge is again upon us, yet the sea is revealed as symbol: this is a metaphysical flood, one by which traditional structures have been washed away. The world is a sea in which influencers make waves, political parties drift left or right, etc. The deluge is at once aesthetic, epistemic, ethical—all is adrift. When Ivan Karamazov said ‘anything is permitted,’ what he had in mind was this: the unchained tectonic movements of democratic positivism; it may not be permitted yet, but still it may someday. The point is that there is no longer any mooring.
The ark landed on Mount Ararat; or from another perspective, Ararat rose from the waters to meet it. As the latter has it, this was not chance—Noah and his family emerged as the nuclei around which a new faith community formed. This is the return of solid ground, as developing from the lived practices of a small few that planted themselves as seeds of a new generation. See how plants prevent erosion by rivers and at beaches, the lived habitus of a community act as this but for the metaphysical order. Written culture is only a lubricant excreted by this lived tradition as it nears death; song was once its breath.
There is no possibility of the order except as realised in activity, as an actuality underlying and above all human thought. All else beyond this, where ideality differs from the actuality it claims to represent, is the typically modern alienation of signifier and signified. We may more or less understand our experience, perhaps as constituted by inferior aspects; yet our lack of sight does not change the general shape which lurks below. This is the necessary point of any new mythology: to highlight the structure that lies below modernity, that of human nature as qualified by the environment we have created. The wish is that this new myth may shed light on its true face, offer us a name; that it might thus effect the necessary rectification for any with eyes to see it.
Of course, what matters in the end is not what we see but the next step. Take the world as a case for triage: what can be saved? While the profane ingredients can be found in libraries, the binding agent requires a knowledge more symbolic than rational:
The humble ark which enclosed the Law, the ancestral ark their nomadic forefathers had transported across the desert, had moored itself to this summit of Zion, put out roots, sprouted up, dressed itself in cypress wood, gold and marble and become a Temple. At first the savage desert God did not deign to inhabit a house, but so much did he like the smell of the cypress wood and incense and the savor from the slaughtered beasts that one day he lifted his foot and entered.