Ubi sunt: where have all the heroic gestures gone?
By “heroic,” I mean an act that is in keeping with the enormity of the situation at hand. A heroic act, so understood, may not be virtuous or honorable (though it may be). It may instead be thought of as “grand,” “epic,” “magnificent,” “larger than life,” “bold,” “almost unfathomable.”
Medea’s killing her children Euripedes’ tragedy was heroic: by killing her children, she wounded herself in order to inflict even more hurt on Jason, the betrayer. So was Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” So, I think, was the coinciding of David Bowie’s death with his final album Blackstar. And, of course, any game-changing act whose purpose is to change the course of climate change would count.
One thing that worries me about modernity is how, cleansed of the sacred, we all seem, like good disciplined creatures, to facilely get in line and to stay in line. We don’t ever want to ruffle any feathers, least of which our own, even when death intimates its imminent arrival. We do what’s said to be good for us.
Yet this just won’t do, for the bounds of the secular ordinary, the all too familiar, must be broken if there is to be any real transformation of being. If there is to be any revelation of the depth of our character matching the revelation of the truly mysterious, the unassimilable.
Something, cracking open, bursting apart, severed and writhing, screams like hell to be free. The heroic act, like the Apollonian form, gives shapes–and sublimity–to this guttural Dionysian howl.