Shane Alexander Caldwell is the Editor of Circus Bazaar Magazine, host of the Big Tent Podcast and the sole Ringmaster of the Circus Bazaar Company. He performs acts of international political magic on the regular.
Let us conceive a condition culled of concepts, categories, conventions and cordialities. There is no need to constrain our cleverly curated collective to the rigid realm of reality. Is there? We must free ourselves from the hubris that is the shackling of one’s self to the orbit of old obligations. Forget the nostalgia for nouns which hurts the nervous ears of a progress of which we fear so to be negligent.
Is there no ladies, no gentleman, no child or individual of any variety that could suffer an untimely death without it not affecting the whole of the crooked timber that is our little Circus?
I think not. Would you not agree?
‘No man is an island, entire of itself;, wrote the judiciously jolly John Donne in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624). Three hundred years later, those words would find their way into the fantabulous first line of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Although contrarian, born Catholic and coming complete with courtesans and kids, John Donne was a man of his time, writing his delightful devotions under the long shadow of the clergy that captivated him as a cleric and during the catastrophe of the Thirty Years’ War. Never likely to be mistaken for an anthropocentrist, he was in fact a devout monotheist whose worldview was shaped before the age of righteous reason and rationality that came with the enlightenment.
His poetic proclamation that ‘any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde’ is an early indication of the values of religious tolerance that emerged from the most bloody conflict in European history. Values of religious tolerance that later appeared in enlightenment thought, and today form a cornerstone of modern liberalism and its self-identity as an ideology. However, is tolerance, as we regard it through the lens of liberal ideology, better understood as a peace treaty between warring factions of Christian monotheism, rather than as an innate feature?
Circus Bazaar Magazine Edition 02 | 2023 | 02
It tolls for thee: Identity politics and the battle for Ukranian national sovereignty.
Dear audience, it behooves us to ask whether the worldviews that duly dominated Judeo-Christian understanding in the times of John Donne were really so different from those which prevail in our precarious present. Was the time before Galileo gobsmacked us with the crazy Copernican truth that the sun was the centripetal centre of the solar system any more anthropocentric than modern notions of collective human agency? Are our great secular festivals of atonement and a lazy liberalism that has outlived the loony Hit-larians and Leninists any less monotheistic? Maybe, just maybe our dashing deity survived the great decapitation and now exists in exile as an expert in escapology.
People, the great Russo-Ukraine war is upon us—a merry microcosm of a global conflict with the capacity for catastrophe. It is performative, pernicious, and notably un-peculiar. As such, monotheistic notions of liberal identity now reign sovereign over all that it casts its gaze upon, both at home and abroad.
Never before have these eyes seen so far and wide!
Do not speak its name.
Do not look it in the eye.
For those now standing before the face of this disseminated deity of death-defying historical deeds, will see two faces staring back: one demanding the acceptance of an ideal; the other beseeching tolerance of conflicting ideals. Yet now, the latter sadly and solemnly shies away, for fear of its overzealous sibling. With not a hand of time past, which has learned that it may swing freely until another’s nose is left bloodied—but instead, an invisible hand left unshackled from sensible sentiments and swinging deeper into realms once occupied by rival but related gods of a polytheist past.
Shall we be forgiven for thinking, with the intolerable scourge of a worrisome war once again intruding upon us, that it is in our very nature to seek to avoid identification with the unidentifiable? That we shall wash away the spilt blood of our fellow man with the cloth of good conscience? Is it not good? Is it not right and just that we shall improve one’s own continent, country, or county with the deadly defeat of a foe? That we are not lessened by the deaths of men who are not of our own ilk? But that we are made better?
And has not this capacity for cognitive clowning and conspicuous conquering caused a crowd of courageous characters to create the most colourful of carnivals? Dashing democratic dominions that chastise the chains and actualise the sovereignty of self? Science and civilisations that lengthen our lifespans and liberate love from the land of lords? Who are we to cheekily challenge the titleholder of telos when the totality of its triumphs trends towards such a tremendous techtopia?
Dear audience, in this era of exculpation of ecclesiastical epistemologies, have we flippantly failed to hear the judiciously jolly John Donne’s bell? Does it still toll for thee and who exactly represents thee today?
Recall the tumultuous truth, that we are created before life, just as we are destroyed after death. That despite poetic rhymes by clever clerics, in life we are in fact islands. Islands that inhabit a larger world but always remain one and unto ourselves. For in life, above all else we are bestowed with a self. To speak and act and represent one’s own identity independent of any ideology that may act to dull our animal senses. Even a slave possesses a natural capacity to act upon his or her own desires, despite the risk of great danger. I know of no death that was not the result of life, and no peace that was not the result of war. As such, life is war and it is only in death that we are returned, not only to the earth from whence we came but also to thee, who will fight to be custodian of all that we were. Death is a peace in which we will all one day rest. It tolls for thee.
What of the collective agency that a merry monotheism of any anthropocentric flavour bestows upon us? What product, what spectacle of the sciences, what climax, crescendo or grand finale will signal our yearning for peace and rest? What bell is big enough to deliver us the right to speak for so many dead with the bias of the living? Will it take hundreds, thousands or millions of bells to be tolled at once for us to hear it from within the embrace of our digital daemons? A Cannae, Gettysburg, Lützen, Somme or Stalingrad? A Hiroshima or Nagasaki in order to explain to us all what punishable sins led to our collective salvation?
Are we not devising devilishly new and innovative ways to toll that bell? To explain its use to ourselves? Has that bell not grown smaller yet larger and louder with time and knowledge? Have we not invented elaborate new rituals and shields, dial-a-yields and even autonomous campanologists to make it fit for tolling?
Dear audience, every man’s death diminishes us all … unless it does not. But the death of us all is the death of us all.
Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls.
It may toll for no one at all.
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Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of all Ages, we are honored to present to you the second edition of Circus Bazaar Magazine. It tolls for thee: Identity politics and the battle for Ukrainian national sovereignty.
As always, penned from the crooked timber of humanity.