Thursday, 5 February 2009

Fairy tale and cargo cult

Peril in not having a written history or knowledge base

On In our time on BBC Radio 4 this morning they were talking about the Brothers Grimm and the history of fairy tales.

Marina Warner of the University of Essex said something that casts a shaft of light upon the story of Conductive Education, particularly upon what we are told of the mythic András Pető. She was of course speaking of the fairy tale:

I’d like to draw attention to the way it’s told. This connects to its oral nature... [Fairy tales] had as a characteristic that they were very succinct, very deadpan. If something supernatural happens, nobody remarks on it, everyone in the fairy tale finds it completely normal…. There is a certain lack of affect, no remark at all, no wonder at the denounments and the terrible resolutions.

You could not have a better comment upon what little is recounted of the early life (before 1945) of András Pető. A limited number of implausible stories is told,and retold. their most implausible features unquestioned and unremarked. Why?

Nothing is written down. There’s the rub. There is minimal documentation. It is a folklore that Conductive Education has inherited from its Hungarian period. You may call it myth if you prefer, a creation myth, or regard it as the basis for a cult. Perhaps fairy tale sounds rather nicer.

That of course was the tale of András Pető, as first told in Hungarian (though it has ben subsequently transmitted to other languages too).

But what has been happening since, outside of Hungary, during the long internationalisation of Conductive Education, that is any more rational or factually based? Is there a similarly anthropological commentary that can be made upon Conductive Education’s life outside Hungary?

Try Conductive Education as cargo cult.

If myths and fairy tales and bring pleasure and reassurance, then where's the harm in that? If cargo cults offer consolation, then can one reasonably deny this comfort?

A problem (not the only one) arises when the outside world looks in, and looks for facts and information. Nobody sensible takes myths, fairy tales and cults seriously, in our harsh, evidence-based world.

Had it not been for the Brothers Grimm most of the folk tales that they recorded would have been altogether forgotten. Thanks to them some of these old tales have lived on into an unrecognisable after-life, sanitised and sentimentalised, the stuff of pantomimes and Disney cartoons.

Is there perhaps something that needs attending to here?


Marina Warner

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