more of the human condition…

There’s something about getting a book as a gift that absolutely delights me. Holding the package and feeling the weight of it, and seeing by the shape that it must certainly be a book inspires all kinds of conjecture on my part. What could it possibly be? I’m very rarely disappointed, too. Any book is good!

When I was a little kid I used to get history books for Christmas. It’s a little weird, I know. Don’t hate on my parents. 🙂 I still have one of those books, so old that it just barely includes the moon landing. The contemporary history (by that I mean the last 100 years) isn’t as interesting to me as the ancient cultures, so as far as I am concerned, the book is timeless. A part of me is also amused that some of the language in the book might be quite dated and politically incorrect. Score one for clarity (I can’t stand political correctness).

My favorite part of the book, as I said, is the section on ancient cultures. I could read about the cave dwellers forever. The Neanderthals fascinated me. The Cro Magnum amazed me! From there to read about the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Phoenicians was an exercise in pure joy. I probably know more about the Egyptian and Nubian cultures than is useful, even after watching an episode of Stargate.

I suppose that my interest in history led to an appreciation for anthropology and sociology. Even though my field is in literature, I cannot escape the influence of history (and sociology and psychology) on literature. In fact, it is so tightly intertwined that often I don’t see where one leaves off and the other begins.

I often come across some random readings while I am working on lesson plans or research. I forget that even though cultures are old and times have changed, we are bound across the years by the bonds of our humanity. I ran across this piece this morning, and it has weighed on me all day:

“It is easy for us to lose ourselves in details in endeavoring to grasp and comprehend the real condition of a mass of human beings. We often forget that each unit in the mass is a throbbing human soul.” W.E.B. Du Bois from The Souls of Black Folk

I get it. I often talk about the human condition, here, because it’s what I love to write about, but in my literature classes, because what else is going to capture the human condition but the art with which we express ourselves? It amazes me that no matter what era, what culture, what continent, we struggle with our place in the society, and alone, with our place in the universe.

Du Bois, to place him in context, wrote at a time in American history when the Black man was considered no man at all. Part of the rationalization that led to such a condition was the focus on the group, the mass, rather than the individual. We can do much to dehumanize by not seeing the individual. Perhaps that is why gifted photographers eschew the big picture in disasters and tragic events, and focus instead on the eyes and the close ups of the victims. It humanizes the experience.

I am amazed and really not at all surprised that 100 years later, Du Bois’ words still ring true.

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