Right now I am waist deep in literary theory. I am at the end of my first semester of an English grad program and assembling a term paper. I’m interested in food studies, anticipate spending a lot of long nights cozying up to Claude Levi-Strauss’ The Raw and the Cooked. So, indulge my geek-out for a minute here, but I talk about binaries, as used by Levi-Strauss, the theorist, not the maker of fine denim apparel.
Binaries have fans all across the academic spectrum. There are binary numbers, binary code, binary stars and binary relationships in theory. What makes the term so popular is its articulation the relationship of two alternatives existing in opposition to one another. Levi-Strauss pointed out man:woman, raw:cooked, and young:old. The list can go on and on. As Book of Mormon scriptorians, we are all familiar with the discussion of opposition in 2 Nephi 2. Yes, there is opposition, in just about everything.
With the political high season winding down, we are all quite familiar with the binaries that separated and divided so much of the country. Many of us are downright exhausted by it, myself included. I stress and agonize over the structural lines, fissures that edge us apart and divide us into binaries. While I realize that opposition is natural, normal and sometimes useful, its not something I find productive. As I am writing and considering binary theory with my semester research, I have to ask the question, so what? It is not enough that matter and issues exist in a divided state. For me, the interest comes in the second half of binary structure, not the opposition, but the relationship between the two, or, how they then come together.
In a New York Times summation of Levi-Strauss’ life work, following his death in 2009, Larry Rotcher explained each of the French theorist’s insights into structure and how we reconcile it. While discussing the divisive nature of binaries in The Raw and the Cooked, he concluded, “Part of what makes us human, however, is our need to reconcile those opposites, to find a balance between raw and cooked.” Even in the scriptures, Lehi declares, “Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.” God blessed common ground.
Since I revealed my love of food, even in literary studies, I give you this quote, attributed to Charles de Gaulle, as a segue. “Only peril can bring the French together, One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese.” I’ve been thinking about that along with the Mormon Moment we’ve just watched in full spectacle. We’ve seen our triumphs, history, and even garments displayed on prime time television. While I gritted my teeth for some of those expositions, I am grateful for most of it. The media and the church’s own effort with the “I am a Mormon” campaign has tried to show us in all of our 265 cheese varieties. All of our binaries were on display: white:non-white, rich:poor, single:married, married:divorced, families with twelve children: those with two children: those with none, women at home with their children: women who work outside of the home, men who stay at home with their children: men who work outside of the home, rock stars:farmers. We’ve run the gamut, and yeah, we are a varied group, but unlike de Gaulle’s estimation of the French, I don’t think we always require peril alone to bring us together; we have something better: our faith.
It is refreshing to see so many different kinds of people presented, but what matters most is not the opposing places they come from; it is what they say in the last few seconds, or last few lines of their bios: “ and I am a Mormon. ” Those words break down the binaries and bring us all together into one whole. That doesn’t erase our differences, but just brings them together, to a place of bipartisanship.
I know it may sound crazy, but we are coming to the part of the political season that I appreciate most, the election is over, and everyone gets back to work. Yes, there were wins and losses, but I struggle to feel victory or devastation on election night, no matter who I voted for. What I crave are the days ahead, when problems and struggles ahead are faced head-on by both groups, who realize the crucial importance of their relationship together to make anything happen. Independents, republicans, green partiers, democrats, libertarians, tea-partiers, and everyone else must cross the aisle, ignore the lines, and find some space in between. I go back to the quote, “Part of what makes us human, is our need to reconcile those opposites, to find a balance between the raw and the cooked.” I don’t believe that God has a political party and spent last Tuesday night in celebrating or mourning. Instead, I want to believe that God smiles on the days ahead, when we try to come together again, welcomes more bipartisanship among all of us.
The spotlight on us Mormons may be dimmer now, but I appreciated its illumination. We were able to see a broader spectrum of light, a range of Mormons of all sorts, binaries galore, yet with the centering force that holds us together. It is not just humanizing to reconcile those differences-I think it’s a bit of the divine.
Where did the Mormon Moment leave you?