Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is anything sacred?

The Book of Mormon poster.jpgAll that remains for the summer (ie. the next 72 hours) is the completion of a piece about The Book of Mormon Musical. I'm busy tying myself in knots as I try to define what I mean by 'sacred stories'. In his essay ‘Is Nothing Sacred’ Salmon Rushdie poses the following questions: ‘Do I, perhaps, find something sacred after all? Am I prepared to set aside as holy the idea of the absolute freedom of the imagination and alongside it my own notions of the World, the Text and the Good?’ (Rushdie, 2010, p.418). After much deliberation, Rushdie concludes that ‘nothing so inexact [as literature], so easily and frequently misconceived, deserves the protection of being declared sacrosanct. We shall just have to get along without the shield of sacralisation’ (Rushdie, 2010, p.427).  Christopher Hitchens is more strident in his rejection of the sacred: “No, nothing is sacred. And even if there were to be something called sacred, we mere primates wouldn't be able to decide which book or which idol or which city was the truly holy one. Thus, the only thing that should be upheld at all costs and without qualification is the right of free expression, because if that goes, then so do all other claims of right as well” (Hitchens, 2009).

I'm trying to decide whether I can have my cake and eat it. I'd like to weasel my way around a definition of sacred stories that embraces any hierophany (manifestation of the sacred) including the non-religious stories that take place in privileged profane spaces such as a person’s birthplace or the city where they met their first love, as ‘Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are “holy places” of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary daily life’ (Eliade, 1957, p.24). I'd also like to believe it's possible for those who hold certain stories, writings and/or ideas sacred to allow for the fact that others may find them risible and/or entertaining. It should be possible, right? Even if, as Rushdie himself notes, it can be 'astonishing to learn that your beloved is not as attractive to others as she is to you' (Rushdie, 2010, p.415). 

When buying up advertising space in the programme of The Book of Mormon Musical and plastering 'I'm a Mormon' advertisements all over London Tube stations and buses, the Mormon Church adopted a pragmatic approach to the send-up of its sacred text; an approach that emphasized the esteemed and enshrined nature of The Book of Mormon but avoided calls to boycott the musical and accusations of blasphemy. I think of this as the 'this is sacred to me' approach and I quite like it.

That's where I'm at today - there's a good chance I'll wake up in the night and, with just 48 hours of summer remaining, realise I'm completely wrong - this piece has got me tied in knots, but it's taking my mind off the novel, which is probably a good thing.

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