LITERATURE: Confessions – The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.  Barbara commented on the fact that some of what Augustine is writing about in his recollections of youth, such as peer pressure, exist as problems today. 

Here, in the beginning of Book III, I find more:

Why is it that a person should wish to experience suffering by watching grievous and tragic events which he himself would not wish to endure?  Nevertheless he wants to suffer the pain given by being a spectator of these sufferings, and the pain itself is his pleasure. (III:2)

CSI, Law  & Order, Adventure Games, Sporting events, Real life drama; they’re what get the ratings.  So man is still taken with the fascination of blood and guts, death.  I admit that I spent a good hour this morning checking out links on the suicide bridge–the Golden Gate–when I came across it on Michelle Redmond’s San Serif weblog.  There’s controversy, ongoing for decades it seems, on whether a suicide barrier is warranted.  1250 people have jumped and died to date.

As Augustine continues:

What is this but amazing folly? For the more anyone is moved by these scenes, the less free he is from similar passion.  Only, when he himself suffers, it is called misery; when he feels compassion for others, it is called mercy.  But what quality of mercy is it in fictitious and theatrical inventions?  A member of the audience is not excited to offer help, but invited only to grieve.  (III:2)

Interesting that while Augustine applies this line of thought to theatrical productions, therefore fiction, our contemporary tragedies are not only the fiction of theater, but the realties presented by the news media.  We know the difference between the two, and yet how different are our responses, how pure our intentions when we are not necessarily as helpless as in the case of theater?

And still, we watch.

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: Confessions – The More Things Change…

  1. I’m sure such scenes were less common then, if only because the population was so much smaller and of course there was no TV or radio, or fastmoving cars to have accidents. But we humans do sure seem to dwell on our mortality. Animals take it in stride, not having the intellectual knowledge of (the body’s) death’s inevitability.

  2. steve says:


    I would disagree that such scenes were less common for the Romans, although it is a small point. The sensuality of blood and violence in Roman culture was pretty intense. I’d say, much as is ours.

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