Off the beaten track

I sometimes find when you stumble across a suggestive image it keeps cropping up wherever you look. Here is an interesting twist on the train metaphor I suggested a few weeks ago from Northrop Frye’s short book Creation and Recreation; the train ride of “culture” and “nature” takes place at night, and perhaps for that reason is much more unsettling:

Our envelope, as I have called it, the cultural insulation that separates us from nature, is rather like (to use a figure that has haunted me since childhood) the window of a lit-up railway carriage at night. Most of the time it is a mirror of our own concerns, including our concern about nature. As a mirror, it fills us with the sense that the world is something which exists primarily in reference to us: it was created for us; we are the centre of it and the whole point of its existence. But occasionally the mirror turns into a real window, through which we can see only the vision of an indifferent nature that got along for untold aeons of time without us, seems to have produced us only by accident, and, if it were conscious, could only regret having done so. This vision propels us instantly into the opposite pole of paranoia, where we seem to be victims of a huge conspiracy, finding ourselves, through no will of our own, arbitrarily assigned to a dramatic role which we have been given no script to learn, in a state of what Heidegger calls ‘thrown-ness.’

I think the latter bit about scripts and stories would be interesting in conversation with Balthasar’s Theo-Drama, Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine and, of course, McLaren’s wonderfully-titled The Story We Find Ourselves In. “All the world’s a stage…” and we’re improvising to the best of our ability.


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