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You could probably say that Thomas Hylland Eriksen's new book Seven meanings of life (Kagge Forlag) is a kind testament from his hand, as it sums up a long life and much insight. In recent years, his life has been put to the test with cancer, which provided further life wisdom for this social anthropologist or pilgrim – as he has traveled the world observingly, or here in Norway in particular has shared his knowledge through lectures and books.
Let me read the book against another "pilgrim" – Dante Alighieri Alighieri and The Divine Comedy (The divine Comedy), from over 700 years ago. The comedy is another "testament" of a life lived, in which the otherworldly Christian picture of reality from the Middle Ages dominates. It stands in an interesting contrast to the secular rear of this side Seven opinions. But are they that different?
For example, mediator Hylland Eriksen the myth of the two wolves. A grandfather says to his grandson: “I have two wolves in me fighting for dominance. One is evil. He is anger, envy, grief, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, grudge, inferiority complex, lies, false pride, arrogance and selfishness. The second is positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, harmony, humility, goodness, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and trust.”
Dante, on his part, describes i The comedy the first of the three kingdom of deathno, itself hell (Inferno) with the folly and wickedness of sinners: gluttons, misers, spendthrifts, perverse, haughty, blasphemers, violent, suicides, thieves, sorcerers, flatterers, seducers and traitors. These are punished with eternal torment.
For Hylland Eriksen, it depends on which ones circumstances as a feeder ulvone – for example the current growth in arms sales in the USA due to lower trust in others during the pandemic.
Dante described the sinners in one part of hell as wanton—drunkenness, gluttony, and love-delusions—while those in the lower, worse hell were positively evil. Break up with Gods order led to monstrous but just punishments in this cabinet of horrors Dante created. Dante's pilegrim (the young version of himself) simultaneously shows in this fictional underworld his compassion for a number of dead Italian ancestors and famous personalities, so he also had his doubts about God's punishing justice.
The pilgrim travels through the darkness of hell, out and up the mountain of purgatory (Purgatory), where many other minor sinners must fight for forgiveness, and finally arrives in the third realm of the dead – the paradise with the angels and God's heaven.
This male-dominated narrative from Dante's time received a renewal in Florentina Holzinger in spring at the Volksbühne in Berlin showed us The comedy with a dozen naked women roaming the underworld, as well as a ridiculously clumsy Dante (see image above).
Because then we can ask ourselves how useful such a thing is kristen narrative is today, in the world of anthropologists and developed democracies. For example, wasn't Dante too one-sided that only those who confessed Christ could be saved (unless they had ended up in the limbo of hell) – that is, a condemnation of other religions? Quite different from the diversity Hylland Eriksen presents.
Dante's dead figures in Hell were at the same time individualistic sinners who only thought of their own good (see Henrik Syse's foreword to Asbjørn Bjornes' translation of Inferno into the national language) and deserved the punishment that followed.
Hylland Eriksen gives us an alternative in his first chapter "Relationships" in Seven opinions. Meaningful relationships also come with it the returns, so "a meaning of life is to give and receive in a stream that flows continuously". He also adds that the relational networks can be defined through "competition or solidarity, individualism or ecological compounds”. As we know, competition and individualism do not exactly lead to it fraternizationa world now needs – with environmentchanges and war. For Hylland Eriksen, the more philosophical life in solitude – without binding relationships with, for example, children – is not a complete life. And if the relationships end: "When the threads become invisible to you, you are completely alone. That's when life becomes meaningless.”
Is Putin himself Lucifer, who deserves the punishment of being eternally frozen in an ice well?
Rather than Dante's Enlightened paradise as the big meaning tells Hylland Eriksen about when he traveled out into the world as a young man on a January day, where he then "experienced a feeling of freedom that was so dizzying and intoxicating that it can still be recalled. [...] These months were some of the most intensely meaningful in my life". He therefore did not need to dive into hell, and then climb the mountain of purgatory to meet the light or his God via a beautiful Beatrice.
Reactions are also the point of the artist group Alt Går Bra, which via an interview
research revealed that people's meetings are the most important thing (see previous MODERN TIMES), i.e. togetherness down here on earth.
In the chapters that describe life's seven meanings, one of them is "Scarcity" – where he mentions the boredom from growing up in Tønsberg, which created a productive sense of scarcity: He then vacillated between "the long-haired, colorful, ecological optimism of the hippies and the depressiveness of the industrial gray post-punk" . It is also not meaningful to be a big spender in a frictionless society where you get everything you point at. Disappointments, recognition and ambitions should follow if you are to experience that life has meaning. You need crises and you have to develop, and the filter you use towards the world should be constantly cleaned – according to Hylland Eriksen.
Time and Odysseus
In his chapter "Slow time" we remember with the philosopher Martin Heidegger that we er time, and that time is precious, scarce, relative, money, incomprehensible and like the sand in the hourglass. In addition to a chapter on the joys of the moment, we also get "Dreams", where I think of Dante again. As Hylland Eriksen points out, the dream life in many cultures is an alternation between "this world and another world, which can be the realm of the dead or an alternative world". Dreams are thus a source of insight into both the world and yourself. As Dante's fictional world has been for many writers and intellectuals after him (see also about Kristin Floods Inferno on page 54.)
Dante's description of Odysseus is also interesting: Odysseus dreams of a new or different world and sets out to sea with his boat and crew – thereby breaking God's ordered laws. They crash. He ends up in hell. In his book From Hell to Paradise (Gyldendal, 1965) asks Olof Lagercrantz whether, based on human hubris, God should rather let Odysseus be the person deepest in hell, and not Lucifer ("evil himself, king and ruler of hell"). But to move beyond the given creation or a social order, stands for us today as a symbol of a desire for adventure and a thirst for knowledge. So a Hylland Eriksen, or perhaps Dante himself?
For his part, Odysseus, according to Dante, is aware that he is defying the will of the gods, as he is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of knowledge: Progress, where the way is dependent on power, even if the goal is annihilation. God's world "is a mind-boggling clockwork that will one day strike the mighty doomsday blows", as Lagercrantz writes. If knowledge, self-will and free search can be more important than "salvation", sometimes a Faustian desire for knowledge or a desire to conquer hits back at man.
The violence, torture and terror of the Ukraine war continue without a thought about whether one ends up in hell for such sins. Is Putin himself Lucifer (who deserves the punishment of being eternally frozen in an ice well)? And what about the more "guilty" Stoltenberg (does he know what he's getting into?), or the cynical Biden with the US/NATO's possible interest in weakening Russia and Europe in order to even relatively grow stronger?
Today, several such kingdoms of the dead are populated where large Western arms supplies prolong the war with only more dead – with no real winner in sight. Totalitarian Russia and "rebellious" Ukraine also have a number of souls here in safe Europe cheering – where progress's goal of victory covers the sins of arrogance, hubris, seduction and lies.
We are likely to end up with a tragedy, a hellish realism, an escalation out of control. As is well known, tragedy begins in the Aristotelian way in the good and peaceful and ends badly – while comedy (Dante) is the story that begins in misery and ends well (in paradise).
In this interplay between light and darkness, I can add last year's issue of the journal Vagant about Dante, where they point out that we all know the fear of death: "It is he who is at stake from the first moment in The comedy. The forest in the first song is the one 'that no one has ever passed through alive'. […] Dante was intensely concerned with death, it is what drives him, both as a philosophical and theological problem.”
The fear of death
The awareness of death from the many songs is also a theme for Hylland Eriksen. The seventh meaning of life, "To let go", is telling enough in such a context.
Hylland Eriksen ended up with cancer in a ward reserved for the terminally ill.
Hylland Eriksen tells about when he ended up with cancer in a ward that was reserved for the terminally ill. He observed that the fear of death was as great in the elderly as in the young. It seemed that instead of being grateful and full of days, the elderly struggled with their inability to make amends – having wronged others without being asked for forgiveness, or a crime they had not atoned for for. According to the nurse, the despair at dying was also due to the opposite: that someone else had wronged them, a bitter inheritance settlement or an unfaithful spouse.
In the book, Hylland Eriksen distinguishes between a good death, where one comes to terms with the impermanence of things and oneself, and the bad death, the one that comes suddenly, where one does not have time to say goodbye. Moreover, in this chapter "Letting go" he refers to death rites and the relationship of the living to "invisible forces that lie beneath the sensible world and regulate it, in short the world of gods and spirits". Yes, here is Dante's Comedy speaking, as the underworld of ancestral spirits guide so much about life even as we now live it. The social anthropologist Hylland Eriksen writes similarly about how in Madagascar they drive around for a while with the remains of the dead in a taxi: "The reason is that the ancestral spirits can cause great problems for the living if everything is not taken care of."
At the same time, the importance of being part of a larger narrative is pointed out – it can be love or solidarity. This also helps us to accept our finitude – or that you are nothing "more than this frail, perishable individual, a speck of dust that lives only for a moment." He actually repeats the word "dust fleck" six times in the book.
A time for everything
Two thinkers, 700 years apart, have written down their rich and wise world experiences – their testaments to posterity. Seven opinions ends with the acopalypse – the opposite of Dante who begins with Hell. The book was written before the Ukraine war, which is not mentioned then, but Hylland Eriksen tells us about "the coming doom of our civilization" via Roy Scranton's Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (2016). In this book, the soldier must face death, and if we are to survive, "we must learn to live with and through the end of our present civilization," according to Scranton. Hylland Eriksen also quotes him as saying that when "the scarcity of clean water, land, energy and food hits, adrenaline and testosterone will once again become the driving forces of history, he says, not human rights, faith in progress and the non-dominion discourse".
Hylland Eriksen acknowledges that he himself has not been in war, as Scranton has, and is therefore more optimistic: In Seven opinions he therefore prescribes a more humanistic education, and a more cyclical (circular) than progressive linear understanding of time. Moreover, he hopes that we, like him today, manage to live more in the moment – albeit at the same time as the cathedral and the slowly growing oak tree. And not least, that we have the ability to accept unconditional love.
Now I can't imagine that Hylland Eriksen like Dante believes in a life after death, so with his death experience from cancer he emphasizes that rather than paradise, the world here is the wonderful thing, "diverse and rich in possibilities". But in order for the circle to be closed, there is "a time for everything, also for saying goodbye".
But it probably all depends on which wolf is fed – or which folly rules the people, when a possible annihilating European war threatens us all – with eternal perdition.