Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Chilean Miners


What is it that the Chilean miners represent? A paradox: we send these men into the depths of the earth, into the underworld itself, where lurk thin, hungry ghosts (and worse) in order for them to bring us things that will give us light. They sought the fire of gold in the heart of the earth, and brought fear into all our hearts. It is Promethean. It is hubristic: they went too far - they overreached - or rather, not the individuals, but the overarching system which constantly seeks to expand itself, went too far. The individuals themselves were innocent - hence our fear for them, as there is nothing, to the human mind, more terrifying than the incarceration of an innocent soul. And these were several innocent souls. They tunnelled into the bowels of the earth, like dwarves into the mines of Moria. They didn't find a Balrog, but they did unleash the monstrous media machine. When they came out, they had to wear sunglasses: again, paradoxically, to protect them from the light; and to keep from their eyes the glare of the world.

There are parallels with the BP oil spill – into the abysses of our planet we plough, seeking fuel to light our way, and what we bring up instead is gluey darkness. Beneath the crust of the earth the miners languished. Above them melodramas played themselves out. We, as distant readers, could sense the coming arc of the story: but would it end in chaos, or in order? Luckily the Phoenix was on hand, to bring them out (one by painstaking one) to rebirth. Like Fawkes rescuing Harry Potter from the Basilisk.

It was a grand narrative, exotic, far away, and yet it reminded us of our global relationships. It played on our most primal fears. Fire makes us civilised; seeking it makes us savages. Like Aeneas, Achilles, Ulysses, like all the great heroes, they went into the land of the dead: but they have come out stronger, and wiser. Already they are treated as heroes: perhaps soon they will have stranger stories to tell. In the meantime the golden flames of the phoenix light up the world, and the shadows have retreated. For now. And I - I wanted one of the miners to say, 'No. I don't want to come up. I like it too much down here, in the dark.' Maybe one of them will go back into the womb of the world. Let's wait and see.

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