Kyla Houbolt, "bad idea"

That the Colosseum can be humane, peaceful, and fun for us may be a fitting tribute, though far more fitting if all colonial and imperial endeavors ceased.

Kyla Houbolt, "bad idea"

Hi everyone--lots to share. I want to understand President Biden's anti-trust, anti-corporate consolidation moves better, and I have a few articles that I'll share later about that. I also want to make sure I don't neglect the news we're getting from all over the country about climate change and the pandemic. We're in deep ignorance of our own suffering. COVID-19 infections are up because of the Delta variant and the unvaccinated, and the examples of weather and heat that are out of control are numerous.

But right now, if I say to someone "I live in Dallas," I feel like adding "I live in the QAnon capital of the world." Here's Christopher Hooks explaining how his heart is falling into his stomach as he watches right-wing con artists fan the flames of extremism while pretending to sound reasonable. You'll note CPAC is in Dallas, leading to fun headlines like these:

So yeah. Let's talk about something else.

Those who study political thought invariably fall in love with the past in some way. I'm used to nerds talking non-stop about Tocqueville or Locke, but I've known a scholar completely taken with Adorno. He imagined Adorno's disgust at Hollywood to parallel his own concerns about a lifeless, empty, mass culture. I confess I am partial to hearing your own voice in an old book as opposed to using said book to win arguments. Different sorts of love emerge in how we engage the past.

The ancient Greeks and Romans present a special difficulty. They are not only beloved by generations of thinkers, but many of those thinkers found them useful for communicating their own ideas. It is necessary to have familiarity with ancient thought in order to approach more recent debates. Moreover, because ancient thought has had this investment—e.g. Hegel's reading of Antigone now informs what future readers get from the play—the depth of old texts, myths, and history is strange. You can rightly feel everything is at stake with the death of Caesar, even as no one at the event itself could possibly understand how far-reaching its implications would be.

These issues were on my mind as I nodded in agreement with Kyla Houbolt's "bad idea:"

bad idea (from Olney Magazine)
Kyla Houbolt

they want to restore the Roman Coliseum
and build into it some kind of
retractable stage so they can
hold sports events and probably
operas there and all I can think of is
the gladiator ghosts, at least hundreds of them
and what they will do in their confusion
having their blessed boredom and well-worn
tracks of memory disturbed by
structural repairs and noisy masonry

I encourage them to find
even smaller holes and crevices
in the new stone and learn even to hide
among the atoms in the plastics that are
sure to be part of this heinous design
and to marshal their ghostly
lung power to loudly haunt
and positively disrupt any such opera
and using that plastic to materialize
during sports events and
show them
how it's fucking

The Roman Colosseum is tricky. It is a place tourists visit and enjoy. Where Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris. It has become a place of play. You'd be crazy to leave flowers there for fallen gladiators or martyred Christians. That the Colosseum can be humane, peaceful, and fun for us may be a fitting tribute, though far more fitting if all colonial and imperial endeavors ceased.

But if you're going to give it a "retractable stage," "hold sports events and probably / operas there," then I believe most would find this troubling. Our sense of history does change and transform, but it is not wholly independent of objects in the world. The Colosseum now can be a neat spot for tourists and a place movies are filmed. And, as it is now, it can serve the imagination of those wondering about the cost of empire.

i was walking on Trastevere district in Rome. it was about 16.10 in the afternoon. i saw a brown beetle in a cool street and take the shot.
Photo by Faruk Kaymak / Unsplash

There are objects you must leave as is, as if ghosts will haunt you otherwise. "All I can think of is the gladiator ghosts... what they will do in their confusion." Still, what strikes me as truly scary is a world without ghosts. Most contemporary Romans will find a repurposed Colosseum horribly tacky. The gladiators, martyrs, history and glory of the city won't be forgotten. They know a number of stones from the Colosseum are already in the churches and cathedrals scattered throughout Rome itself. They understand the centrality of the structure, and will continue to understand it, unless education completely collapses. Over here in the United States, such a threat does exist. Weakened public schools, ubiquitous grift and misinformation, and decades of Confederate propaganda have led to situations like the following:

Houbolt invites us to imagine ghosts loosening plastic during an opera, then wearing the plastic to put on a display of gladitorial prowess. It's a neat thought; I'm certainly smiling. The attempt to monetize the Colosseum ought to afford us that much entertainment. How do we do justice, though, to ghosts who may be in much more danger? Where the political will exists to pretend generations prior did not live and suffer?

In my approach, I've reached this provisional conclusion. Many will scream that the tradition is not taught well-enough, not known to the degree it can be useful. There's some truth to this, but most complaints about education are driven by panic. Misplaced faith, an assumption of perfect correspondence between our current ways of doing things, tradition, and actual moral behavior. However, if one understands the past as giving repeated examples of how not to treat others, of atrocities that ought to be avoided and must be remembered, there's much less panic and much more reverence. One lets the ghosts speak for themselves, and those who would interpret a call to justice and reflection as a quest for vengeance display their crudity, inadequacy, and ignorance readily. I feel like the ghosts in the US are letting the question of whether an education can involve no discussion of racism whatsoever advertise its grossness. The obscenity of the question will either collapse society or force a confrontation with what one must term evil. Either way, I may have to amend the remarks with which I began this post. Perhaps the past does not need our engagement. It simply commands, and we are given a choice: we can be conscious of it. Or not.