Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fig Leaf Couture

Some leaves not recommended for garment manufacture

Some more leaves not recommended for garment manufacture.

Our conversation turned to fig leaves, and how one might sew them together into garments. It was my fault. I was trying to make the point that Genesis 3: 1-7 wasn’t about nudity; that nakedness was a metaphor for shame, for being “exposed” as a liar.
               “I’ve seen fig trees,” a friend said. “The leaves are about the size of maple leaves.”
               “I wonder where Adam and Eve got needles and thread,” someone else mused. How easily we slip back into the literal, as if wresting meaning from allegory were just too much trouble.
               And someone said, “Can you imagine trying to sew maple leaves into garments?” Allegory interpreted literally easily descends into comedy.
               And I thought of Peter McKay, our minister of defense, furiously sewing maple leaves together in front of reporters, trying to cover up his nakedness with a suit made up of maple leaves. This would certainly be grist for some cartoonist with knowledge of Genesis 3: 1-7.
               This portion of the Hebrew creation stories has long been interpreted as “the fall,” but the act that signals the fall is generally the bite into the forbidden fruit, the disobedience. What has followed, historically and unfortunately, is the conjoining of nudity, sex and “the fall,” a plague as enduring and destructive as the weeds, the disease, the back-breaking labour that Adam and Eve were metaphorically consigned to when they were pitched out of the garden. Hijabs, long dresses and head coverings a legacy of the notion that body covering is redemptive somehow—primarily in women, as it happens.
               God’s first question to Adam and Eve, after the “Where are you?” is “Who told you that you were naked?” and then, “Have you eaten from the tree which I forbade you?” Whole theologies, indeed several religions have been built upon this conversation and its consequences. It’s most certainly not an unimportant allegory!
               I’m sure that most people would ascribe to the notion that somewhere, sometime in the past, human consciousness began to distinguish good from evil. This turning point—the birth of ethics and morality—distinguishes us from animals and our own prehistory and can be seen as the beginning of civilization. It is surely this turning point that the originators of “the fall” allegory were trying to understand, hence the forbidden fruit that grows on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is here a deep longing for innocence, a pungent sorrow over the pain and suffering of living.
               For now, though, I save some thought for the sewing of fig-leaf loin cloths as a lesson in the allegory: the cover-up that replaces admission and repentance, the deception chosen as an escape from guilt, manipulation that poses as truthful dialogue.
What human tragedy cannot be laid, somewhat, at the feet of the sewing together of fig leaves?

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