Welcome to the third day of watching an episode of Kino’s Journey, talking about it, and talking about things related to it. This time the focus is on traditions and ordering one’s life.
Episode 3 – “Land of Prophecies -We Know The Future-“
Tradition is King:
It might be best to find out how things relate and where to tackle this all by seeing what stands out, what seems to not belong. Three of the stories relate to the prophecy and the poet, and one does not. So that’s a good point to start, with the story of the Country Seeking Traditions. It’s a vignette that is aptly titled “Tradition”, and I think that for once it’s clear that’s what it’s about.
Before we go forth, let me ask you a question – Is Kino a traditionalist? Are Travelers traditionalists? I think the answer is that they are. Travelers are an accepted feature in the land, and Kino in particular had said, “I am not one to make a road where there isn’t one,” in the first episode. Yes, it means she will not alter things, but also that she relies on tradition.
What is the travelers’ tradition? To a degree, it is viewing other people’s tradition, it purports to be one that isn’t. Of course, realizing their tradition is one that’s worth observing might cause some of them to change their behaviour, and their tradition is displayed exactly when they view others’. I only bring it up because travelers are wary of the city, where they are forced from the role of “observers” to the role of “participants”, but there’s a reason anthropologists call one of their tools “participant observation”, there is no real option to be merely an observer.
And then we get to the people of the land itself. Why do they need to have a tradition? Because a tradition is something that a country should have! Circular, isn’t it? But it’s about that sense of self-pride the exiled king’s descent had spoken of. It’s what the Functionalism school of Sociology speaks of – it helps us feel together, to show what separates us from outsiders. Traditions are adhered to because they are tradition, and because tradition shows us who we are, and who isn’t.
“Believing For“, not “Believing Because“:
The arbitrary and teleological nature of tradition is a good way to segue into the matter of “the prophecy”. Teleological means in this instance that the reason for something existing is based on its expected goal and purpose, rather than lying in some root-causes. That the design is based on the purpose ahead.
As a small aside, it’s clear that as a parable we can discuss about the arbitrary nature of beliefs, which are passed on from other people, and thus religion, or even science, as an appeal to the authority of tradition, and it’s right because, well, it tells us how to live, so it better be right! But while much could be said of this, I actually find it slim-pickings in this regard, so I will put it aside.
What I found most interesting about the story of the prophecy is when people were asked why it’s a prophecy, and the answer which was given was exceedingly functional, and teleological – it purports to tell of the future, of course! A history back has a 100% accuracy rating for the past, yet we don’t use it to predict the future. To predict the future, we need a book focused on predicting the future, not the past! I truly felt as if I were reading Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass here. Such a simple answer, and it makes so much sense, that you don’t even know where to begin addressing it!
But that was only what I found to be the second most interesting thing about the prophecy itself. The most interesting thing with apocalyptic prophecies is what happens when they don’t come to pass. Why did the people work in the stores when the world were to end tomorrow? Well, that was just fairy-tale logic. But why did the people of the land react with shock when they found out that the world will not end, but were relieved when they found out that the translation was mistaken, and the world will end in thirty years?
Because just like tradition, it was something they oriented their lives around. Misreading the prophecies? That can happen, makes sense. Once you ready yourself for something that is to come, it’s hard to let go, even if that thing is bad for you. What matters is that it’s something that imprinted itself on your soul, and preparing oneself for the end of the world ought to do that. They believe the world will end because they believe the world will end, and that belief unites them, and defines them.
Nothing is more frightful than not knowing how to conduct oneself, how to orient oneself, towards the future, and one’s society. Religions, cultures, societies, are nothing but systems to tell us how to act in every situation.
Repeating Truth, Setting Tradition:
And then we leave teleology, and reach the true origin of the tale. Does it really matter what the origin is? If ants were to write the words in the sand by pure chance and someone were to write them on a paper (this is actually a situation that’d been much discussed in Philosophy of Language this past century), it might not have the “reference” of the words, but those you give it to will not know that, and it’s not really relevant to them. On the simple layer of things, it just reinforces the arbitrary nature of beliefs, but did we, the viewers, really need that after the display in the first land? Not really.
So what does it give us? As its own story, and as one tied to the others? First, the whole story here is one of a Greek Tragedy. The story began with a sin, and the sin rolled over. Someone abusing his power led to the death of an innocent, another innocent burning from inside, his own demise, and then the eradication of hope, and a whole uninvolved Country. Again, some might say this is how religions are, you form them up locally, and all’s well and good, and then fate strikes down people across countless miles and untold centuries.
But it’s the tragedy that is at heart here. It’s interesting how the poet is regarded as the conveyor of “truths”, a veritable prophet with a direct link to the way things truly are. But as a reflector, he can only reflect what he feels. He doesn’t have empathy or sympathy. He is locked within his being, and from it carves out “truths”. It’s an interesting view on poets, and from where truth originates.
I do find it interesting that the poet remained locked in his existence, and didn’t find, or wasn’t shaken out of his reverie to find joy again, or something more complicated. His existence was a binary one. Why did the daughter repeat the poet? Well, aside from Greek tragedies requiring children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, she too reflected the only sort of existence she was familiar with.
But why did the Land pick it up? What do you mean? They did it because that’s what is done. They did it because it’s tradition, and tradition means doing something because it’s tradition. The original cause is not really necessary, except as an “explanation”, but the true cause is found in the future, rather than the past – to keep the tradition going.
That is also why the wistful man didn’t leave. He gets to be part of the tradition, and the land. He could leave, just as they could all decide to stop. But then they wouldn’t be the people defined by the tradition of sorrow. It’s not just the people in the forest who are slave to traditions as themselves, rather than truly noting their origin, but all those who recreate tradition each time they re-enact it, which is us all.
The episode begins with Kino musing on reality, and in the end she reflects that the only thing you can truly speak of with certainty is this, what we are currently in. Anything else opens us to uncertainties. And so, we create meaning. Were the poet’s words reflective of truth? They were treated as such, and that is all that matters.
Did a world end due to his words? Yes, but that is the exact definition of “self-fulfilling prophecy”, it was taken as truth-telling and future-deciding, and so it’s been. Kino’s existence is one that lives in the immediate this, or so she claims, yet she’s a traditionalist herself.
She did not obstruct the soldiers, though she knew the truth – assuming the last vignette came after she had learned the truth. Why not? Because she’s a traveler, and who knows what the truth is anyway?
- Some would say a king is a warder of his people, and their guardian. The exiled king’s descendents are still the warders of their lost people. They are of them, and apart.
- Speaking of “Greek”, the art-style in the poet’s sequence reminded me of the one used in Disney’s Hercules, and perhaps also in some of Gaiman’s Sandman, or perhaps it was in the spin-off stand-alone TPB about The Furies.
- The poet walking the lands, didn’t he remind one of Forrest Gump when he ran and everyone followed? All awaiting his pronouncement, of truth.
- “No one can say the world will not end abruptly.” Even in our world, it’s relatively true, certainly if one were to live in a world without satellites and telescopes. And if our lives are our worlds, then it’s even more so.
- “Someone always says something when there’s someone there to interpret them.” – Yes, that’s what communication is – and just like the “ants typing a novel” hypothetical, someone would interpret either way.
- “Are you prepared?” – “Yes.” – Makes you wonder why one travels. Why do we go to the changing of the guards in London, if we know what will happen and have seen it on videos?
- The Scholar reminds me of Kino – he experiences different traditions, without ever traveling. This also relates to observation #6 – can one be “a traveler” while only compiling the accounts of other travelers?
Questions for Discussion:
- Why do you think Kino didn’t tell the soldiers of the prophecy being false?
- I’ve had such a dream before, if you were told that tomorrow morning the world were to end, what would you do?
- Would you keep the tradition of sorrow going, as an inhabitant of that land?
- What do you think was added by showing us the origin of the “prophecy”? Would it have been different if we’ve seen someone prophesying it as such?
- Was the prophecy right or wrong? If ants happen to write a great piece of prose, is it not a great piece of prose?
Feel free to answer as many of these as you like, in whichever manner you’d like, or discuss the episode or the main write-up while ignoring these. You can follow the full travelogue here.