Superstition or spirituality?

  (10 October 07)
  by

“Lotus Land’ by the Vietnamese artist DinH Q Le is a series of ceramic conjoined-twin figures each standing in a lotus flower and arranged in a circle around a central figure. The twins wear clothing bearing designer labels – only the names are the names of big multinational chemical companies. The interpretative panel points out the significance of the style of the figures whose poses are replete with references to Buddhist and Hindu iconography. In Vietnamese rural folklore these twins are seen as special spirits who afford protection, bring luck. (From a distance they looked like cherubs.) The lotus is a symbol of purity and enlightenment. it is a survivor plant that thrives in polluted water. Unlike language a visual artwork can say many things simultaneously. This one was part of the five-month long Asia-Pacific Triennial and digesting its impact, teasing out the many strands of signification, has lasted much longer. Reading the note that in country folklore these twins are seen as ‘special’ reminded me of a book my parents were loaned called ‘Angel Unawares” around the time that friends of theirs gave birth to a Downs Syndrome baby girl. Using a biblical text, the American Christian authors were encouraging those who, like itself, had a handicapped child to see that child as bringing a particular kind of blessing. Of course the opposite response to abnormality – abort the damaged foetus, allow the struggling baby to die, put the child in an institution, keep the deformed adult behind closed doors – is everywhere too. And not necessarily always arising from the all-too-human and universal feelings of revulsion and fear towards something that is different or weak, just the realistic assessment that a mother or a family, even a community does not have the resources, material or spiritual to deal with the infant. The Japanese Nobel Laureate, Kenzaburo Oe, devoted much of his writing career to writing about his handicapped child, beginning with a novel, ‘A Personal Matter” in which the protagonist’s wife gives birth after a long hard labour to a brain damaged baby son. We follow the days of agony as the new father takes the newborn from the maternity home to the pediatric unit and then removes and delivers it to a shady clinic. But even for this short trip he has to buy clothes for the child and attempt to soothe him when he becomes distressed. At the last minute he turns around and returns the child to the surgeons who will operate. Kenzuburo Oe against prevailing Japanese social mores, based on strands of Shinto and Buddhism, had himself given consent for his son to be operated on knowing that the child would suffer brain damage which would impair his intellect and learning abilities. With his wife he went on to spend much time and effort in raising Hikari who went on to become a musical ‘savant’. Again, in the face of constant negative comment from the surrounding society. ‘Hikari’ in Japanese means ‘light’ and he did turn out to be an ‘angel’ composing music that went into the best-seller charts in Japan, without it seems any investment in advertising or promotion. So what about that bit of folklore about the conjoined twins? Is it a mere reaction-formation superstition or an enabling spirituality for a society without scientific understanding? Does our scientific understanding with its advancing biotechnologies cope anymore successfully with the phenomenon of birth defects?

2 comments

hi! actually i'm taking part in a major debate competition in my school.and the topic i have is SPIRITUALITY DOES NOT MEAN BEING SUPERSTITIOUS.i need some points both for and against the motion.i read your article and i hope you can help me find some more GOOD and RELEVANT points on the topic.mail them to me on my ID.please.

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