About a month ago I came across a meme suggesting that veganism was part of a conspiracy to pervert human DNA with the unfortunate result that Christians would have their rights to salvation revoked on the basis that a tortuous transformation of their genes would leave them no longer human. Of course, the very notion is incongruent with the Biblical narrative. Humanity is apparently a transient state; indeed, an undesirable and fallen state prone to vulgarity, misery, violence, and tragedy. This life shines as a single spark between two oceans of infinite darkness on either side; A single day between two unclouded nights. Humanity, according to the proliferation of countless cultures, is a condition that must be disciplined, cultivated, and transcended. And yet ‘to be human’ is a fairly new concept, dating back only a handful of centuries to the Renaissance fashioned by the influence of the enlightenment thinkers from Newton to Hobbes; from Locke to Kant.
But it might have been in response to Darwin’s recomposition of the natural world that we wrest with humanism’s last vestigial refuge. To be human was not a thing at all until Darwin penned it as a species of distinction, rising from the egalitarian kingdom of beasts and organisms. To be human was to have reason; or a soul; or consciousness, depending on how you described ‘it’; That presence, that embodiment and identity; Descartes ‘cogito, ergo sum.’
Reflecting on Foucault’s rumination, “It is a fact that, at least since the seventeenth century what is called humanism has always been obliged to lean on certain conceptions of man borrowed from religion, science, or politics. Humanism serves to color and to justify the conceptions of man to which it is, after all, obliged to take recourse”, we must conclude that humanism -and more to the point- being human is its own dogma, riddled with its own prejudices and assumptions.
What we fail to see clearly is that though religious and historical accounts remain the same, our perspective, indeed, our human perspective changes like a tide upon the shore. Everything is recognizable as the same as it always was, yet the way that we crash upon the evidence changes the shape of what has lasted since ancient times. And so, it still changes.
Likewise, in my personal and professional life, I tend to have my feet in two separate territories. On a weekly basis, I am involved in both religious dialogues through Torah study and the more academic investigations of critical theories and cultural philosophies. And where these two engage and influence the other the intellectual and spiritual landscapes can sometimes appear breathtaking.
Since the 20th century, there has been no small evolution in which our reliance on technology has impacted our life beneficially. For decades machines have penetrated our flesh and become a part of or anatomical make-up; pace-makers, pressure ventilators, robotic appendages; Surely it is not our anatomical composition that makes us human. And, in recent years, with the onset of the digital age, the lines between reality and virtual reality are increasingly merged. Elon Musk recently revealed that our memories will soon be able to be stored digitally; and what are we if not simply our memories? It is only a matter of time before our DNA can enter into digital reality, complete with our memories and our own consciousness interacting in cloud-based paradise for generations to come.
And with this particular deconstructed reading of the religious narrative that removes the concept of ‘human’ as a thing in need of being saved, one begins to ask what a Christian theology is more precisely desiring to save? What will be us if we are not what we have previously defined as human? Since the birth of my daughter, the temporality of life has weighed heavily on me. As she experiences everything as new, I’m now at the age that I can meditate on those things that will never be again. The beauty and the heartbreak of trying to capture moments in those frozen prisons of our imagination are the bricks in the walls of Eden. Always sought, never found, it is both the triumph and the tragedy of being human. But sometimes we can set in motion the memory of eternity. And technology has aided that eternity in unusually prophetic ways.
Not unlike a minute-and-a-half YouTube video of a toddler innocently dancing around her lounge, the world only as big and loving as her experience within it, thus far.
These are thoughts that have been developing into a project with Bibliothek productions under the auspices of Magdalene Minnaar, that, although over a year into the project, at this moment is still too early to reveal. However, because of the topics and orchestration within the project, and with the ‘Galeca of the Dark Death’ suite utilizing prominent sections of electronics, I have turned a focus in the past few months to a study and experimentation building my own electronic instruments from out of a digital abyss.
To test particular orchestration combinations, I chose a religious text that stands as one of the oldest cells of Western music; The first sung prayer of the Catholic rite; The Kyrie(Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy). This ancient prayer is refracted through a three-part electronic synthesis with a Cantus voice bifurcated into separate frequency points that expand and contract toward an equal point, rending a four-part harmony through which a more conventional melody threads its way through the texture.
If you enjoy this video, please think about purchasing a ticket for our online debut of ‘Galeca of the Dark Death’ in November, through www.quicket.co.za