I'm still undecided as to the whole every culture has a canon, the things that everyone must know, the things that hold our culture together. But, as long as it's being debated, I thought about my own personal canon. Those things in our culture and civilization that have shaped me. It's partly a nostalgia thing, but also to get out from under it, to get past it, I need to be able to name those things under which I labor. So here is the mostly complete list, and in no particular order, of the cultural expressions, events, and figures,that have consciously shaped me, from which I've learned about myself/my self, others, life, the world, etc.
Boy, where do you start something like this? At the obvious place I guess.
The Baha'i Writings- They've taught me more about who I am, who others are, the purpose of life, the process of life, the nature of the universe and social change, ways to live beautifully, and how to be healthy in every facet of life, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or relationally.
Blogs-What can I say? It's a completely different and new level of relating to people. I lub it.
Fight Club- Helped me to name those things which define what it means to be a person, and a man, in the late 20th century.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac- Annual summer reading for my early 20s. It inspired me to travel, really travel, and suck the marrow out of life. Partially through the example of the Holy Goof, the mighty Neal Cassady. "The only people for me are the ones who burn burn burn like a roman candle..." Completely opened up a new form of verbal expression.
Seinfeld/Kramer- Probably the biggest comedic influence in my life (in terms of the big or small screen). Came along at a time when I was finding myself, and here was an example of how one could move physically in ways that mirror how I think.
Welcome to the Terrordome/Public Enemy- This song on Fear of a Black Planet got me into hip-hop. Before I'd listened to stuff on the radio, but this once clinched it for me. The complexity of the rhymes, both verbally and socially/politically, opened up a whole new world.
American Beauty- Taught me more about the possibility and necessity of looking for beauty in everyday life than anything before or since.
Pablo Neruda- His poem I Like for You to Be Still turned me onto poetry. I still remember reading it in the ISU University bookstore. I'd just seen Il Postino, about the years Neruda lived in Italy, and wanted to read more. I read this poem and all of a sudden I was lifted above the floor and was floating over an ocean. I'd completely lost track of time and space. I finished the poem, landed back on earth, and won a free Wizard of Oz mousepad in a raffle. That was a good afternoon. I later realized this poem was about my soon to be wife.
A Moroccan dish in Jerusalem- We'd just gotten into Jerusalem and I wasn't feeling too well. My parents coaxed me out to go to a Morrocan restaurant down the street. It was designed like a tent. The man poured fresh mint tea from a height of several feet. I ordered a chicken dish cooked in a pastry with raisins and cinnamon. As soon as I tasted it I realized this was the best thing I'd ever tasted in my life. And if my memory is accurate, it's still the best.
Gandhi- The movie. A clear example of what massive social change can look like and how it can be done.
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon- The 'bible' of the decolonialism movement. Written by a man from Martinique who'd adopted the Algerian liberation movement, this was the book that modeled to me how social analysis and change can be merged with passion and the arts.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed- Turned what I knew about education on its ear. I had an idea from the Baha'i writings about what education can and should be, but I'd never heard any of that in my classes. This book, which received only passing mention in my courses, said that education, like any process of social change, is about love. Why had no one else said that?
The Black Panthers- An American example of how one can go about changing society.
Northern Exposure (TV show)- You mean TV can be complex, funny, sad, philosophical, educational, sincere, well-written/acted, and fun to watch? Sign me up! Oh, btw, Seasons 1 & 2 just came out on DVD. Wahoo for Netflix!
Rage Against the Machine- Any of their albums. They first suggested and framed many of the questions I'm still asking today.
Ani Difranco- Stunning guitar work, insightful lyrics, honest music. Doesn't get much better.
Beethoven's 9th Symphony- I think the first time I cried because of something musical being so beautiful.
Che Guevara- One of the first historical figures I became familiar with that I could point to and say, I want to have some of what he had.
Malcolm X- The second person.
Abraham Lincoln- Amazing courage combined with amazing talent in order to cast one of the worst events in the life of the nation in a spiritual light (Second Inaugural Speech).