Friday, January 17, 2014

A Go-Between of Worlds


A hermit does not threaten human society, of which he is at most the living critique.

The vagabond steals and scrounges. The rebel-of-the-moment declaims on TV. The anarchist dreams of destroying the society in which he conceals himself. Today's hacker plots the collapse of virtual citadels in his bedroom. The anarchist tinkers with his bombs in saloons, while the hacker arms his programs at his computer, but both need the society they deplore and target for its destruction — which is their raison d'être.

The hermit stays off to one side in polite refusal, like a guest who, with a gentle gesture, declines the proffered dish. If society disappeared, the hermit would go on living as a hermit. Those in revolt against society, however, would find themselves technically out of work. The hermit does not oppose, but espouses a way of life. He seeks not to denounce a lie, but to find a truth. He is physically inoffensive and is tolerated as if he belonged to an intermediate order, a caste halfway between barbarians and civilized people. The chivalrous hero of the twelfth-century epic poem Yvain, the Knight with the Lion, driven mad by the loss of his lady love, wanders naked in a forest until he is taken in and cared for by a hermit, who restores his reason and leads him back to civilization. The hermit: a passeur, a go-between of worlds.