Longing, Returning, Belonging

November 22, 2012 9:31 pm

In most cases, a tea advert should illicit nothing more than a desire to drink tea.  Tea is a plain, uncomplicated, quotidian pleasure. It stands as an immovable bulwark against class and cultural divides. After water, it is the most egalitarian beverage known to man. But most tea adverts, in essence, are about how much more soothing or tasty one brand of tea is in relation to all others. This ruins the very intrinsic meaning of tea, because then we can say things like ‘my tea is more expensive than yours, therefore it is better.’ Unlike most tea adverts, the Twinings tea advert isn’t really an advert about Twining’s tea. The Twinings tea advert is, however, an enchanting piece of animation which speaks of loftier things; of human origins, of love, of a journey, and of a return to ourselves. For those of you who haven’t already seen it, here is a link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdkcsDueSMM

The advert got me thinking about creation stories, which give us a narrative of where we come from. To my mind, the Twinings tea advert is almost the artistic culmination of ideas expressed by Plato and then the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. How did we come to be?

In Plato’s ‘Symposium’ Aristophanes relates to his audience his theory of the genesis of humankind. His theory is that in the beginning two people shared one body, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. These people had the audacity to challenge the gods, at which point Zeus ordered that they should be split in half. Thereafter, these half-beings set upon a quest to be reunited with a lost part of themselves. This, according to Aristophanes, is an explanation of why people fall in love. Humans crave to be whole again- they have a primal longing that cannot be assuaged by any other means. Aristophanes then goes on to theorise about some other -rather bizarre -ideas, which don’t need to be discussed here.

What is interesting is how similar the Platonic perspective is to Judeo-Christian and Islamic ideas. In the Book of Genesis we are told how God created Adam, and from his rib fashioned Eve.(Just before this God had made Lilith, but Lilith ran away). I have read an opinion that, according to Jewish oral tradition, the first human beings were created androgynous. This view is based on a grammatical ambiguity in Genesis 1:27-1:28 which refers to the creation of ‘them’ before Eve’s creation is mentioned.

God created the man in His image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them. (Genesis 1:27-28)

Accordingly, the idea is that in the beginning there was a man/woman being. But then came the separation as Adam and Eve were created as distinct individuals. The Jewish explanation for this separation is that the androgynous beings were separated in order to shatter the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency. It was a means of ensuring that human beings appreciated their dependence on other than themselves- and ultimately upon God- for fulfillment. 

Similarly, in the Islamic tradition, we are told how God created Adam from the earth, and from his rib he bought into existence Eve.

There is an irresistible elegance in these stories which is perfectly captured in the Twinnings tea advert. It shows a young woman voyaging alone in furious waters, being tossed this way and that. She is alone, struggling, searching. The tides carry her and in her forlorn eyes you can see that longing for a return to home. And finally the waters calm and she drifts towards a shore, where she encounters a being identical- but distinct- from herself.  In their embrace there is a cosmic triumph, as they become one.

We commonly hear people speaking about finding ‘the one’, or how their partner makes them ‘whole’. In this, I think, there is a grain of universal truth. We all harbour a longing for a return to something we instinctively feel preceded our conscious selves. This is the journey that the Twinnings advert illustrates, and it does so beautifully.

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