Our Extended Arms

A black and white photo of a girl taking a selfie on her iphoneTo open the Introduction to my 2003 collection of essays, The Discipline of Religion —  a book concerned with, among other things, investigating the links between the invention of and social uses for privacy, on the one hand, and, on the other, the practical, governing role played by the discourse on belief, experience, or faith — I wrote as follows:

it is 1988 and I’m at home, living just outside Toronto, watching a television special on the Olympic torch relay across Canada to Calgary, the host of that year’s winter Olympic Games. I recall seeing a young boy, lucky enough to be selected to carry the torch for his designated distance, running through the crowded street with the torch held out over his head, obviously excited. His father runs alongside with his video camera, matching his son’s pace, documenting the event for posterity. The boy looks at his father, and into the camera, and says, “I can’t wait to get home and see this on TV. ” I recall thinking to myself, “You’re living it now, kid, so why do you have to get home to see it on television?”

This is likely one of the first memories I think I have of an occasion when the intertwined nature of the past, present, and future became apparent to me, i.e., when the present’s continual invention of itself was obvious, via its contrived distance from an imagined past that is no longer here or a hoped for future that has yet to appear. Continue reading “Our Extended Arms”

From the Archives

babyThe degree to which we, today, draw upon events in the archive that we know as “the past” and then use them for contemporary purposes is evident whenever you look at an old picture — particularly a photo of a person or situation that, long after the pic was snapped, came to signify something that we now hold dear (whether as representative of something valuable or maybe even dangerous). I think of this each time I see those slick sites that allow you to smoothly scroll between an image from the past and then how it looks in the present, with people in either period or modern dress appearing and disappearing against a seemingly stable backdrop. So too with the curious juxtaposition of an old photograph held up to match a current background. Just what do we do with the gap that we in the present can see between before and after, then and now — or do we even “see” such a gap? Do we instead see the past seamlessly leading to the present, or perhaps the past not just informing but even haunting the present? For behind statements of difference, such as “It looked like that then but it looks like this now,” there is a presumed sameness: the eternal “it” that just changes shape.

For instance, what do you make of Adolf Hitler’s baby picture, above? Is it even possible to view it as just another baby or is there an evil lurking there…? Continue reading “From the Archives”