Monday, 11 November 2013

Harold Jellicoe Percival’s funeral and Remembrance Sunday as a “magical act”

Yesterday’s Remembrance Day service drew a full house at our local church. We were a few minutes’ late and found ourselves at the back, surrounded by ankle-biters, which wasn’t ideal – it’s hard to appreciate Fauré’s Requiem while, a few feet away, some oblivious rug-rat is scapering around the font, pulling a clackety wooden train in his wake. Still, when we finally trooped outside into a glitteringly clear, sunny autumn morning to hear the Last Post expertly trumpeted, our priest intoning:
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
…followed by two minutes silence, and rounded off with us all singing “O God, our help in ages past” – well, you’d have to be an intellectual or a Guardian reader to remain unmoved.

The Remembrance Day service is an example of what the philosopher R.G. Collingwood called a “magical act”.

In his 1938 masterpiece, The Principles of Art, Collingwood drew a distinction between several types of art, including: art proper – in which the creator is expressing something inside himself, without the aim of arousing specific emotions in his audience; entertainment art, whose soul purpose is to arouse specific emotions in the audience while they are experiencing the film or novel or whatever – i.e. the emotions aroused are discharged (or “earthed”, to use Collingwood’s term) at the point of consumption; and magical art, which is also designed to arouse specific responses – but the emotions are meant to be stored up within the audience as energy to be discharged later, in the form of desired social behaviour. One form of magical art, for instance, would be wartime propaganda films, which are intended to create energy to resist the enemy (to be released in acts of sabotage, or firefighting, or munitions work, or hand-to-hand combat, or bombing enemy positions etc.).

What goes for art goes for non-artistic participative acts as well: “The primary function of all magical acts, I am suggesting, is to generate in the agent or agents certain emotions that are considered necessary or useful for the work of living…” According to Collingwood, In a military context “…the function of magic is to develop and conserve morale… A tribe which dances a war-dance before going to fight its neighbours is working up its warlike emotions. The warriors are dancing themselves into a conviction of their own invincibility.”

Of course, magical acts abound in every area of our lives.  Why do we hold funeral services? To symbolically mark the passing of a loved (or hated) one, and to prepare ourselves for life without them. We attend sports events so that we can re-energise our membership of a community. The upper-classes used to go fox-hunting to train them to be brave, adventurous and decisive – i.e. the qualities needed for leadership.

When it comes to the magical act that is the marriage ceremony, Collingwood is particularly persuasive (remember, this was 1938, when shacking up together wasn’t really a viable option):
“The pageantry of marriage has nothing to do with the fact… that the principals are in love with each other. On that subject it is dumb; and that is why many persons deeply in love detest it as an insult to their passion, and undergo it only because they are forced into it by the opinion of their families. Its purpose is to create an emotional motive for maintaining a partnership of a certain kind, not the partnership of lovers but the partnership of married people, recognised as such by the world, whether love is present or not.”
Remembrance Sunday reassures us that if we’re called upon to make sacrifices on behalf of our tribe, those sacrifices will be appreciated by the wider community. I don’t know if it’s just our impression, but the desire to honour those who have fought on our behalf appears to be growing with time. Maybe that’s because British troops are still dying in far-flung corners of the globe. Maybe it’s also an opportunity for the British people to protest – in a characteristically quiet, dignified manner – against the seeming determination of its ruling liberal elite to erode this country’s tribal identity by denigrating its history, stuffing the place with foreigners, handing over sovereign power to unelected European bureaucrats, placing local traditions such as Christmas and Easter on a par with alien festivals such as Eid and Diwali, and forbidding Britons – on pain of imprisonment - from expressing in word or deed a preference for their own kind.

I suspect that commemorating those who died to keep us free has – quite unconsciously - become a means of storing up the necessary energy to resist those who seek to empty our national life of meaning.

I’ll leave the last word to Collingwood:
“A society which thinks, as our own thinks, that it has outlived the need of magic, is either mistaken in that opinion, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in its own maintenance.”

1 comment:

  1. Frederick Henry Vickers is buried in Lytham St. Annes cemetéry. He died at the grand old age of 88. Behind his grave is another for the “Davy” Family. They all appear to have experienced deaths at a young age. Does anyone know the Davy Family? The brother of Frederick Vickers was called Alan Vickers. He emigrated from Blackpool to live in California after the end of the second World war. Alan Vickers lived in Downey, California, the same town famed by the Carpenters. Strangely enough Frederick Vickers died 24 hours before the divorce from his second wife was complete. The grandson of Frederick Vickers is Robin Drinkall, famed for the book Lancashire Hotpot.