- “a practice or worldview handed down from past generations.”
- “a significant change in form or condition: e.g., an egg changing into an animal; a larva changing into an insect” — implying a decisive break with the past.
The new name of this blog, “Tradition & Transformation”, is an oxymoron. It would seem impossible to preserve the past and simultaneously cast it aside. And yet, it happens all the time.
There’s no such thing as an idea that arises ex nihilo:
The Latin phrase ex nihilo means “out of nothing”. It often appears in conjunction with the concept of creation, as in creatio ex nihilo, meaning “creation out of nothing” — chiefly in in philosophical or theological contexts, but also occurs in other fields.
In theology, the common phrase creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), contrasts with creatio ex materia (creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter) and with creatio ex deo (creation out of the being of God).
The phrase ‘ex nihilo’ also appears in the classical philosophical formulation ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “Out of nothing, nothing comes”, and which was considered a proof of the existence of God.
Ex nihilo when used outside of a religious/metaphysical context also refers to something coming from nothing. For example, in a conversation, one might raise a topic “ex nihilo” if it bears no relation to the previous topic of discussion.
“Out of nothing, nothing comes”. Which is to say, every thing arises from some earlier thing; every “new” idea arises from existing ideas. At one and the same time, we have tradition (existing ideas) and transformation (the “new” idea). The new idea decisively breaks with the past; yet that very past provided the raw materials which gave birth to it.
We even have a popular expression which captures this paradoxical human reality: “the same, only different”.
The principle applies in the realm of art, religion, science — every aspect of culture and human society.
I plan to make this principle the organizing motif of my blog from now on. Previous posts (since April 2005) have always been about whatever topic was preoccupying me at the moment. (Sometimes the “moment” lasted for a year or more. I am rather obsessive/compulsive in my pursuits.)
When my son Benjamin joined me as co-blogger, our primary focus was on politics. (Indeed, politics had preoccupied me for more than a year before Benjamin’s arrival, during the run-up to Barack Obama’s election.)
With Benjamin’s departure, it seemed like a good time to revisit the purpose and focus of the blog. Goodbye, punditry.
The intersection between tradition and transformation — between pre-modernity and modernity — has fascinated me for a long time. That is the case with respect to Christianity; likewise, with aboriginal culture.
At least two topics will be regular features on the blog: exploration of scripture texts, and analysis of art (particularly aboriginal art, which is strongly rooted in tradition). But I think the principle has a broader application.
Art, religion, science, and culture: old wine in new wineskins.
That’s the motif! We’ll see what emerges as the months pass. And I suspect I’ll still offer occasional posts on other topics, when I am sufficiently motivated to do so.
Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk’s “Circle of Life” was exhibited in Beyond Tradition, at the Great Plains Art Museum, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The exhibit celebrated “Native American artists active in the past 50 years whose work expresses innovations while affirming the continuity of past and present.”