The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

How Buffered Is Your Self? September 4, 2009

Filed under: books,Charles Taylor — Joel @ 7:32 pm

Taylor uses a couple of interrelated phrases that speak powerfully of our pre-modern/post-modern selves; his terms are the pre-modern “porous self” and the modern “buffered self.”

The porous self describes the common pre-modern worldview of being open to the good and evil forces of the world.  This meant that there were demons to be placated and protected against, storms to be drained of their strength by devotions to various deities, and saints to be blessed by. In short, the experience was an outer experience, one in which the person laboured to position herself in the most beneficial posture possible in reference to the powerful world around her.  The modern buffered self is completely the opposite.

We can see this sin in things like the preparation for the 2010 winter Olympic games in Vancouver, where the homeless are carted, out of sight-out of mind, to the outskirts of the city, and where the import of sufficient quantities of prostitution is allowed as long as it isn’t seen (of course that is their problem now, it has become visible).  It seems to me that the buffered self merely stuffs human desire and “irrationality” into marked boxes to be opened only in private.

Taylor marks the departure from the porous self as synonymous with the rejection of carnival (I will return to the idea of carnival later) and with the acceptance of the reformation’s dictum that all must be 100% christian; all must read the bible for themselves (interpreting perfectly through the pure lense of a childlike faith), all, not just clergy, must live up to the virtues of a syncretistic, synchronized leap of ecclesial and governmental force, diving into the shallows of the buffered, protected, reasonable self.

It seems that Taylor explicates the problem well, but feigns to consider the the issue as problematic as I do.  When he says “buffered self,” I say “death.”  Granted it cannot be as simple as this, but it is interesting that Taylor comes so close to the edge of the abyss which his own explanations open up, but seems unperturbed by such depth and darkness; he is perhaps more caught up in the grand vista that he claims to see on the other side.  The question remains whether what he sees is another city (le cite de dieu) or a pile of clouds, lit for the moment with sun and sky.


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