CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

Three stories you won’t believe—or read!! 

The next story I am going to write is about an african penguin coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I would tell you the details of this story further, but in order to surprise you, let’s just leave you with that titillating premise. The working title for it is, “Out of the Zoo I Have Called my Daughter”. I am really excited about it. It’s inspired by the dream I had last night and the entire story just came to me. Plus, it works well with a bundle of short stories I am currently working on tentatively called, “Three Stories to Concern Us”. Yet with the advent of this story, I think I am going to kick out the one I have already written and wasn’t sure about to once more spend its time in the trash disposal. I am privileged to do this.

I am taking a break from working on my novel. I am certainly going to finish it. I have said before that there is only one short story I have never finished, called “The Peacock’s Blanket”. It’s about this mother and daughter who go into a yarn shop while they are driving from Delver, Illinois (a fictional place) to New York (another fictional place). I was initially really excited about the story! The way I have in the past generated stories is by counterpointing two premises. The two story ideas counterpointed there, unfortunately, were not enough to generate a good story.

My only way of fixing it was, I guess, to make it much more complicated than it ought to have been. I started imagining their slow progression into the yarn shop and then into the apartment of the owner as the three stages of the soul, blah blah blah. You can guess why it failed—because it sucked. I just wanted to write an honest-to-God love story, but it ended up being this subtle piece of realist schlock. And I kid you not, in order to have the ending at least be interesting, I asked myself, “This might be better if the shop owner is an alien in disguise, or like a wizard who’s going to curse them and keep them there forever. I mean he’s a lonely old creepy dude who invites this mother and daughter into his apartment, surely there’s some wacko thing up beyond just his loneliness.”

Once you get to the point of asking whether the antagonist in your realist story should be an alien in disguise, you need to stop. Just stop. Go somewhere else, be someone else for someone else. No one asked you to perform your song of C-chords over and over again. In fact, we’ll pay you to stop.

But none of this misery of course applies to my newest story about the penguin, I can assure you. This one is sheer brilliance! Plus what I like about it is that it has given me a concept to work with in the micro collection. The first story I am currently putting through the editing wringer is about these two brothers and the nephew who make idols for a living in this valley. The uncle is tired of living in the valley, though, so without further adieu I might as well tell you that they try to escape. Does it work? Ah no. Does that mean something significant? You bet your bottom dollar it means something that is double-dog-baby-Bad-News-Bears.

The next story is about the penguin that comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I won’t explain further, lest I spoil the excitement like I just did with the last one, but it does end with her on an airplane flying somewhere. Oh! Where? Tell me, tell me PLEASE!

And then the next story—which is totally a different thing entirely than the penguin—begins with a dude on an airplane flying to a far eastern country, in hopes that he will begin his vigilante career there. This story is based off a friend, actually, and I am not entirely sure what is going to happen in the story yet, but I do know how it ends. And I know vaguely what happens in the middle, but we’ll see how much I balance the fiction with the nonfictional raw material of my own experience and that of my friend’s.

When Novel is Spelled Ennui

Why am I doing all this, you ask? Because frankly, I have been working on the same novel-within-a-novel since October. It’s been lingering at around 50,000 words for like a month now and I am ashamed of going back to it. It is of a form and style so strange and unusual even to myself that I have thought about disowning the entire thing. Not just the entire thing, but disowning the entire mammoth collection that I have been working on for the past three years. You might think this is reactionary and a very unhealthy thing to do for someone with such a positively successful writing career so far, but let’s be honest: those stories need so much work.

The earlier ones, especially, within the collection. I might have been excited about the entire epic, ambitious thing one year ago, but as I have grown as a writer and in my taste and in my disposition, I have grown away from those stories. It’s almost like someone else wrote them. So if I get to heavily re-writing them in the next few months, maybe that will be of advantage to me. At the same time, maybe it won’t be. What’s worse, I made the decision of making the stories so interconnected and so linked together, such that if I were to take out the stories that I most enjoy and think are the strongest out of the collection, I am afraid that they will not stand on their own.

But don’t be afraid. I will finish the damn thing…just let me…do these three stories. And then after the enlivening fulfillment of having written, edited, completed, and published a smaller thing, with the sales and the money just pouring in, then I will be ready to return to my ancient ennui. Just not yet, Lord, not yet.

Despite it all, there’s still cheap brandy

In the meantime, in all that time in between work and this writing, I am either researching penguins (a recent development as of today. I am especially fond of the viral videos of penguins slipping on the ice, or the less viewed videos of african penguins clicking their beaks against cameras, one of which was so adorable, I almost got a little teary-eyed), hallucinogenic drugs (purely research, purely (I’m not kidding (I would call myself a psychonautic if I hated myself and loved fedoras))), SEO optimization, Patricia Highsmith (whose honesty about sexuality is enough to make a grown man not be interested I guess), and mixed drinks containing brandy. I have my sights next on the Porto Flip, which is made with port, brandy, and egg yolk—though one of my friends pointed out that it is not in fact egg yolk, but egg white. I don’t know the truth. The internet said.

CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

If you were to ask me what I have been thinking about recently, it has been something like what my life is supposed to look like after the apocalypse. I believe many of us are living after some kind of personal apocalypse and we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. There is the collation of resources, the sharing of testimonials with one another, and the constant fear that some radiation might still be threading itself through our veins. Some or few of us are able to find an abandoned house or such and move in, filled with strong visions to renovate it for the sake of the lost, old world. Some of us struggle to recall the visions that motivated us in our lives before the apocalypse and wonder if it is even worth it to retain and mature our youthful visions. But the world after the apocalypse is the world that desperately needs our vision, or some vision, for how it ought to be.

The apocalypse could have been anything. For me, it was not leaving college but it certainly was that for some people. Getting the heck out of college was one of the most exciting moments in my life. For some people, the apocalypse might have been marriage, or maybe a relationship gone bad. I think in general what I mean with the term, if I were to hold onto it for its personal application, would mean something like the end of things for the individual desires. Or it could refer to the experience of having gone through a kind of death. It can be as ambiguous as, “Nothing feels like it used to anymore. I don’t know why I am here and this place seems so empty” to “I didn’t know I would still be alive. I didn’t know I was going to be living in North Carolina. I didn’t know I was going to be working as a marketing consultant. I didn’t know and I didn’t want this, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t even imagine this place.” Maybe this apocalypse is just the future, I don’t know, the future we can never be prepared for. We planned for the future, but some other thing revealed itself and it is far more barren than our daydreams.

Regardless of what my apocalypse has been, regardless of the beautiful and confusing spiritual states it has brought me through, regardless of all those moments I wish I could actually go back to, moments of sublimity that I will remember decades from now, I have in my life after the apocalypse been struck by the sense that it is my choice to do something with the pieces remaining. In my life previously, I have looked for momentums, forces, feelings, inspirations, cultivated desires, or life decisions to give me focus. They were my spiritual food for a time. I could sustain myself for months after being in a movie with Kirk Cameron, as ridiculous as that sounds. I could sustain myself by finding purpose—not just in a project or a short story—but by declaring to myself, “This is the season of failure for me. Okay. I can bear it.” Or: “This is the season of my ascension. I know what I am to do.”

I no longer know how to place myself, but I know what I am supposed to do. And I will choose to follow my marching orders and live my life faithfully, despite how I feel and despite my inability to know what is going on. I’ve lost track of the story, I’m not in control. I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that’s part of the apocalypse, the fact that we don’t know what’s going on. It’s been wonderful, truly. So much has been clarified for me and I cannot believe that God is still treating me with such gentleness and kindness. I know how I am supposed to be living. I pray that my feelings will align themselves with a joy more lasting from day to day and unfold as clarity where there is deep and thick fog.

Speaking of fog, gentleness, and all that, I remember a time when I was very critical of my pastor and pastors for speaking how they did on blogs about sin. I was critical of the general use of rhetoric that deliberately chose offensive terms and phrases as grenades to lob at people in an attempt to see who gets hurt. The idea, I believed, with much of this rhetoric was that if you successfully hurt someone, then you’ve hit your target and had succeeded. Huzzah! I utterly despised this kind of thing and it made me sick that a Christian would make the Gospel seem so unappealing and cruel to the people who needed it most.

But I’ve changed. I don’t know what the lines in the battle are, I don’t know what the battle is, and I don’t know who I am in fighting it. Except I know that the Gospel I adhere to is not palatable. But it’s not just the Gospel. People who adhere to the Gospel and constantly badger us with, “It’s offensive! It’s offensive!” but never extrapolate exactly why it’s offensive are doing no one any good. What I mean is that some people say in one breath that it’s offensive, but in another refuse to let that Gospel actually be offensive. The Gospel, while at it’s baseline, is that Jesus loves you and died for your sins, the conclusion and realities of this love do have an effect on the world around us. Fundamental effects. Effects so deep and profound that they will root out families, divide brothers with a sword, and cause people such impalpable offense that they will hate the idea of Jesus until the end of their lives.

When we express the influence of the Gospel on our lives, that is the grounds on which the world starts to hate us. The Gospel of Jesus implies that homosexuality is a sin that at its core uproots what humans are built for, implies that transgender thought is a lie and a sin, implies that fornication is deserving of eternal damnation. I could go on, but I don’t need to. The Bible is right there and it says what it says, from Genesis to the destruction of the world by fire.

It has been extremely difficult to parse out what are right and wrong presentations of this Gospel, especially when the internet is involved. Not just the internet, but the two simultaneous facts that we do not want to cause offense in itself yet we must communicate the fundamental offense of the Gospel. How and when are we supposed to do this? What is our language supposed to look like? Censorial and cautious, lest you don’t make an untasty thing more untasty than it already is? Or resonant and provocative, just to get the attention of the deaf and dumb and blind? I don’t really know how to work through all that. I’ve tried, but I am not a clear enough thinker to work it all out into a system.

I do know that Jesus’ parables functioned as opaque messages that hid the meaning and impact of their teaching and I think Christian authors on the internet who seek to clarify the Gospel by means of harsh rhetoric might do well to measure their language against the fact that Jesus didn’t want to reach the spiritually deaf, dumb, blind with his parables. At the same time, perhaps the parables function in the same way that harsh rhetoric functions: to clarify who the sheep and the goats are. Not to reach the goats, but to make sure we know who they are.

What I do know is that some situations call for grenades. And sometimes the dog that yelps is the one you were aiming for. We’d like to see what the sound of the yelp is. I recognize my language here is imprecise, but people who know me I think should know what I mean. This is a journal entry, so don’t expect much. A journal entry on a freaking personal blog.

I have spent the past five years in the same town of Moscow, a town whose Christian community can sometimes be the most crushingly self-aware place on the planet. To add to the mystique and comparative mythology of the town, you get some people who equate Moscow with the church they go to and others who are just trying to live quiet and peaceable lives without engaging in the burning hot embers of DISCOURSE!

But I have learned a lot here. I have grown up here, learned how to become a man, learned how to deal with suck and how to deal with my own crap and with the crap of others. I have had plenty and I have had want (like right now). I have suffered through some wants of soul so dark that the primary means of defanging those wants was by making jokes about them. Moscow is a safe place. It’s a hospital and training ground. And what I have spent the past five years doing is coming to terms with my own beliefs and the strange alternate realities that result from my beliefs magnetically opposing the beliefs of others.

Someone I respect told me something that stuck with me and has influenced me in surprising ways. It’s funny how one sentence can do that, even if it was just an offhand comment. He said (and I paraphrase), “When peoples’ elbows get pointy, you have found their idol.” This is a person who has spent the past four decades talking to strangers about what they believe. And that sentence has been the main piece of insight that I have been ruminating on concerning the defense of some kinds of rhetorical presentations of the truth. Sometimes the hurt dog is just a dog who is ashamed. And if we have found shame, it’s worth it for their sake to know what wound that shame is pouring out of.

The question we want to ask is, “What do people worship?” and the way to figure that out, sometimes, is by poking potential sacred cows. You can do this by lobbing language grenades. It’s amazing to see what lines people choose to rally behind. That is where conversations can happen, real conversations. That can be the front-lines of a change of heart, even without presupposing where the other stands. When someone starts getting nervous and uncomfortable, that can be tremendously exciting in a conversation. Not because it’s fun to see people get nervous, but because it’s insightful to find out why. Maybe the person is right in feeling uncomfortable!

Side-note: Conversation and discourse is not the end-all be-all of apologetics. Sometimes the end-all of an apologetic conversation is a terse conclusion of the Gospel.

If you know what kind of thing I am referring to, I would add the caveat that prudential discussions are not appropriate for harsh rhetoric. Not only can harsh words for issues of prudence, like dress etc, actually muck up the conversation, they can also lend well to a host of logical fallacies. Consider bulverism, for example. Woohoo! That is the difficulty I currently have little clarity on. What do fruitful conversations look like and when should conversation actually get shut down? Especially concerning prudential issues? What does it look like for the Gospel to touch those? And what qualifies as a prudential issue? Does using someone’s pronouns qualify?

I don’t know. I don’t know if in two months I will cringe at what I am saying now. I do know that I cringe at some things I said two months ago.

I also know that sometimes action is preferable to the hours and days you could have probably spent digging in on yourself for the caution or lack of caution about your actions. Sometimes, it’s a waste of time and it’s more ineffective to weigh the costs and the perhaps undercover failures that might come from not taking action. Sometimes you should weigh the costs first. We are to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves and on both counts, I have failed many times.

 

CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

It has been overcast in Da Nang for the past two days and the weather prophets prophesied the same being so for the next few forward. This morning, I prayed that the sun would break through. I am sitting on the balcony now, wearing my sunglasses—I can see the blue sky, I can see the horizon, I can see the rugs of webbed foam unfurling behind the lines of the khaki waves.

I don’t know if we can say that God either answers prayers or doesn’t answer prayers. When people present me with their prayer lives, I get a strong sense that they’re only presenting me with their superstitions. What I can say about my own prayer life is that life is worth living only when we are connected to the wellspring of all life. If we don’t return this sun to sender or turn the keys-to-jammed-locks over to his hands, how can we see what sustains the sun or what opens doors?

What a windy day.

I was looking over at the people working on the roof of the hotel across from ours, the Soho Boutique. I don’t know what they are doing. It looks like they are filling an empty pool with sand from bags. The man lifts the shovel, turns over the sand, hands dirty and mouth covered. With every turn of the spade, there is a cloud of smoke that twirls away. I know why he wears a mask and why he wants to be wearing sunglasses like I am. Why does he work? Why do any of us work, or do anything at all? I think it’s because we love something, even if it’s not the work itself. We pick ourselves up and go to jobs we don’t like, because there is some love we are grateful for. It’s a way of showing thanks, I guess. And a way of carrying on.

Money answers everything, after all, even if we only have so much of it. Money pays rent and allows us to buy food. But why continue on in this system, or keeps ourselves afloat in an economy that has us at a disadvantage? Because some people can’t do much about it. For some people, their work is as good as slavery. They make just barely enough to pay the rent, just barely enough to buy their food. Why do these people work? Do they work because they love something, too, or do they work only to survive?

Even the person who works to survive can find some love worth surviving for. Money answers everything and it has absolutely nothing to do with happiness, or nothing to do with gratitude. The negative way of arguing this point is pointing to all the people with all their answers solved by money who lack gratitude. And money in the pockets of these people is still an answer for the unprivileged, the ones who work to survive and not because they love their work. Money answers everything for those who don’t have money when it is in the pockets of those who can give it. The giving of money ought to be the outpouring of gratitude on those in need. Concerning money, no one has anything to fear. Who is hungry? Who is sick? Who is in need? We all go to the same place wearing the same skin, we all ask for someone to be there in our last moments as the representative of what we’re leaving behind and not what we take with us. The person who lacks is the person who lacks a love that endures the final impoverishment.

Love is patient and kind. It hopes all things, endures all things. What does love endure? Love endures tragedy and the greatest tragedies. Love endures the disease that prevents skin from remaining attached to the body. If we die and have love, we have lost nothing but our grief. What does love hope? Love hopes that God hears our prayers, even though they are trivial. Love hopes that our confusion will not last forever and our foggy consciousness will break on the shores of the sound. Love hopes that God will wind all things that have unwound. Love hopes that the Lord is not made in the image of man, but that man is made in the image of God. Love hopes that someday we’d understand what that means, despite the inequality of gratitude and the absolute poverty the world suffers from, the poverty of hope.

God, how long have I been the believer who thinks faith is something to inspect, to turn around in my hands? How have I been picky? You can count the ways, you know. You know that I have thought so many times that faith is that thing which is the privilege of believers to always inspect and never receive. Your servant once said that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But I tremble at the thought that I have never rested in my faith. I fear that I have seen faith as that doctrine which is my privilege to reject. Those who have never had faith do not have this privilege. And if I had rested in your word, I would remember that I don’t have this privilege, either.

But I have spent my life trying to pay for what I already have and cannot lose. I don’t need to fight for this faith, I don’t need to tackle it. Faith is not something I need to work for or maintain. Faith is not exhausting. Faith is rest.

Mr. Worker-Man is not putting the sand into an empty pool. He is shoveling what is actually dirt into pots, so they can grow more plants up here in the sun and wind.

Why do I work? I do not work for my faith. If I had to work for my faith, I would have nothing to be thankful for.

Somehow this all relates back to money, but I don’t know how. What I do know is that I work, because I need to practice my gratitude. I work, because in me is the greatest force in the world. If only I rested each and every day in the Holy Spirit that dwells in me! God, I do not have to work to keep you in this apartment of skin walls and studs of ribs.

I think what I am trying to say with all of this is that I have been working hard at something that is not work. Faith is not work. This is a distinction that I am making now while my brain is turned on, so that this reasoned declaration can make its way into my skeletal fingers. I work, because I have been loved.

And what does this work look like? This is the work that strives to make the passion of Jesus my own. This is the work that is done with fear and trembling. We fear, because fear is what most people feel when they stand in the courts of kings. We tremble, because we stand before God each and every day. And because we fear and tremble, we are encouraged to lift our drooping knees and stand strong, stand like we have just woken up from the long slumber of faith. We have been waiting for this moment. We rested all night and dreamed of what it would be like to be here, to stand right here, under the burden and pressure of this magnificence. This magnificence we know and read in the embroidery on the walls, of pine trees swaying—I can see hundreds of them now on the beach—and the curtain of the hotel window across the street slapping against the concrete wall hundreds of feet up, wanting to let loose and flap like the birds chattering amidst the chatter of bus horns and waitresses thanking the Korean tourists for misreading the numbers on the plastic currency. I know it is a magnificent court, because I don’t know how far away the land is on the other side of this sea, or how long it took the clouds that hug the mountain’s head above the blind, dead, dumb Lady Buddha to amass.

How long have I been sleeping? What do I dream about when my eyes are closed? Do I dream that I will be put somewhere else, that I would understand a little more, that I would be given something I do not have yet? Do I daydream about the life I could be more easily grateful for? I daydream about feeling awesome all the time, feeling 100%, that I would have the raw strength of youth to make good use of the evil days and to know how to be careful with those outside instinctively.

Enough rhetorical questions. I think lists of rhetorical questions are what I come to without editing and am trying to make a didactic point. Let me make it more clearly. If you are tired and confused, if you pick at your faith like a three old boy picks at a plate of peas, you need to be sent to bed. You’re fussy and exhausted, you’re confused and a brat, because you have not gotten your sleep. Go to bed. Rest. Get up when you feel refreshed and eat a small breakfast, drink a little coffee. Dreams reveal the heart and you should be dreaming about the magnificence you will wake up to, the magnificence of the court of the world. It is here that you stand every day, asking for what you have received and thanking God for it. It is here that you ask what work is before you, what he requires of his servants. He has given you the rest you need, he has given you a place to sleep and a home to wash your feet. The question that should always be on your lips is a rhetorical question. And it is wonderful. “How did I get here?”

Vietnam is your court. Idaho might be, too, I think, if it had beaches on seas.

If walking around barefoot was what it took for me to remember that where I walk is God’s holy court, I would walk around barefoot for the rest of my life. Teach me to know, Good Lord, what are the good works you ask of me. And please remind me that you are rest not labour, authority and not an acquisition, understanding itself and not something to be understood.

These Bodies High On A Stage

MICHAEL THOMAS JONES

O blessed Letters, that combine in one,
All Ages past, and make one live with all:
By you, we do confer with who are gone,
And the dead-living unto Counsel call:
By you, th’unborn shall have communion
Of what we feele, and what doth us befall.
-Musophilus, Samuel Daniel

Let us haste to hear it
And call the noblest to the audience.
-Fortinbras, Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Critics love Hamlet not just because it is a masterpiece, but because it is also a play which reveals the purpose of stagecraft and the power of all literature. Critics find so much satisfaction in it because, besides its many other virtues, it reminds them that their job is meaningful. Hamlet impresses upon us the fact that the stories we tell, the letters we write, and the plays we stage are actually important. Books and plays are the ghosts and voices of our fathers: they are the dead teaching the living. To know the truth and to be virtuous, even the king must listen. The plot of Hamlet revolves around literature and play-acting as a means of power, of revealing truth, and of instilling virtue in royalty. The play reminds us why we must treasure the tragedies of the past.
In the beginning of the play, Hamlet is almost entirely powerless—or so he thinks. His feigned madness—a sort of one-man play, if you will—is the beginning of his break from the accepted order of the court, which is in many ways the most deceptive theatre in the whole story. It is, however, his growing power as an actor and writer that allows him to fulfill his destiny as a prince. The major turning points in Hamlet’s personal journey are marked by writing and talk of literature. When Hamlet first meets with the ghost of his father, he comes to the conclusion: ‘Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat in this distracted globe. Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records, all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, that youth and observation copied there, and thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter.’ (1.5.103-111) He then writes down his determination to execute his duty as a prince listening to his father’s instruction.

Everything in the court is fake, and so the only way to reveal the truth is to write a play. Hamlet tells us: ‘The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.’ (3.2.21-26) Thus, through Hamlet’s writing, the king’s guilt is unmasked.

But Hamlet does not go on to execute justice as he should, because of his self-absorption and fear. Hamlet should be trusting in God, obeying his father, and acting righteously on behalf of the state, but instead he waffles about between hatred and fear. He is afraid that his calling to act like a king will lead to his death—and he is right. But this indecision is what draws him closer to the audience, because we too pass our lives wrestling with indecision over the smallest matters. We feel pity at his struggles, but also relief, knowing that we will likely never have to put our life on the line for the sake of the kingdom. Contemplating his own death fills Hamlet with indecision, most evidently in the play’s most famous soliloquy. But the contemplation of others who are dead fills him with the determination to fulfill his duty: the ghost of his father, the body of Polonius, the skull of Yorick, the legacy of Alexander, and finally the sight of Ophelia’s body all move him towards his end. This brings to mind the medieval practice of memento mori, that is, contemplating death in order to die well. Hamlet’s personal journey is very much an arc where he slowly learns to accept that, as the prince, his noble death is required to remove a murderous king and heal Denmark’s rot.

The final scene of the play begins with talk of one play and ends with talk of another. For the first, Hamlet is explaining to Horatio how he escaped Rosencrantz and Guildernstern: ‘They had begun the play. I sat me down, devised a new commission, wrote it fair—I once did hold it, as our statists do, a baseness to write fair, and labored much how to forget that learning; but, sir, now it did me yeoman’s service.’ (5.2.35-40) The ability to write, though he once abhorred it, is what allowed him to rewrite the message to the English and turn the tables on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In other words, Hamlet is rewriting the very course of the play so that he can return to Denmark and fulfill his duty.

The final metaphorical play lies in the very conclusion of the story. After Hamlet’s death, Horatio says, ‘Give order that these bodies high on a stage be placed to the view, and let me speak to th’ yet unknowing world how these things came about.’ (5.2.419-422) Fortinbras, soon to be king, replies: ‘Let us haste to hear it and call the noblest to the audience.’ (429-430) Horatio continues: ‘But let this same be presently performed even while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance on plots and errors happen.’ (437-440) And in the final word of the play, Fortinbras declares: ‘Let four captains bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage, for he was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royal.’ (441-444) Thus Hamlet’s life and death is turned into an example story for the nobility.

Why is the tragic hero always a noble? In tragedy, there is always something wrong with the royal family, whether incest or murder or a bit of both. The only solution is that most people will end up dead or banished. Tragedies show how any evil within the royalty will be rooted out; otherwise, it would trickle down and poison the whole body politic. Often that scouring requires great sacrifice. Plays, then, within the real world, as well as the fictional world of Hamlet, hold a mirror to nature. They convict the conscience of evil, they remind the ruler of their calling towards virtuous action, and they tell the story of horrible things that happen to royalty when a ruler goes awry.

In the ancient world all the way up to Shakespeare’s day, wisdom literature was often gathered in books called mirrors for princes. These treatises and textbooks were designed to instruct and train the prince in virtuous action and the requirements of leadership, although the range of content can be demonstrated in the gulf between the Book of Proverbs and Machiavelli’s Il Principe. Throughout Hamlet, the audience of each play (literal and figurative) is the nobility. The audience of Hamlet’s literal play is Claudius and Gertrude. Hamlet rewrites Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s metaphorical play to save himself, and his audience then is the English king. Finally, the language of theatre at the conclusion is so strong that one is tempted to think that Horatio will be staging a play to reenact what just took place. His audience is the new king, Fortinbras, and other nobles: ‘Call the noblest to the audience.’ (5.2.430) This retelling of the story will reveal the truth, first to the prince but in the end to all, ‘lest more mischance on plots and errors happen.’ (440) Thus the kingdom is unified.

Tragedy becomes a way in which even the common people can participate with the nobility in a shared spectacle, with commoners acting as nobles on stage and likewise receiving as the audience an example of virtuous action. For the common audience, tragedy evokes relief because it depicts wicked or inappropriate rulers chastised at the cost of noble sacrifice. The royal family is that which dies on behalf of the people, on behalf of preserving the social order—this is true for the ancient Greek tragedy as well as Shakespeare’s plays. There is something rotten in Denmark or incestuous in Thebes, and the only way for the balance to be restored is for a lot of the important people to die. And if it weren’t for the stubbornness of some, or the indecision of others, or the sheer malice of yet others, the cost would not be as great to purify the royal family. It comforts the commoners to see a depiction of justice and deadly fate reaching even the most powerful of the ruling class, who in the real world always seem so cruelly insulated from the struggles that the lower folk face.

There is in tragedy a comfort given: that wickedness will not entrench itself, that the good princes will suffer on our behalf because of the evil, and that though many will die, the system as a whole will survive and the unnamed of society will carry on unharmed. We never see much of those who Oedipus or Macbeth or Hamlet rule over because they are in the audience with us. The players on the stage are the rulers, and we are the subjects. They are the teachers out of the past, the voices from the dead, and we the humble hearers. But there is a further power of the stage which the written word lacks: theatre allows us to contemplate the thoughts and deeds of the dead in living words and moving bodies. Tragedy is wisdom given flesh, and the ghosts of our fathers given voice.

excerpt: maybe a dream about the future of rome decayed, or maybe a dream about disappointment, or maybe a dream about what life could have been like before the world had come to an end

CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

The Extra found himself floating high above a suburban landscape at night of homes stretched out so far that the curving, drawn roads which spiral into cul-de-sacs that hide themselves in the blackest forest preserves melted at a distance into the hazy haze of another world, another land, where all the streets were lit up orange by neatly dotted lights—and the main arteries of road fanned out from some central pit thousands of feet below him and went on in every direction, shooting off into arterioles, vesicles, slivers, feeding the black organs of earth with riveting orange, crossing over the stadiums lit up with blue lights that coldly looked up at him like the big eyeballs of whales stuck under the surface streets of earth, peering at the sky, wishing that at least they could be there instead of being washed over by the black that flushed all the streets with its pressing concerns, that blackness that otherwise filled all the remaining space where light did not fill the earth, the heaving, mineral-rich black blood of all that is not the lit streets, the square-roofed and gabled roofs in rows and curving rows, the stark parking lots that have collected cars into their chambers like the hearts of humanity, pumping in and out the zooming colored little lives that go all places, feed at all places, move, never stay in one place, move, stop, finally, at the supermarket or the movie theatre, or the gas station with its flat roof lit from below—the old world, the world lost to time and water. Every now and then, what he thought was a thin cloud passed below his feet. Yet they were not clouds, but the angels, present even here, the secret guardians of all our hearts, the immune system of the world’s glory, a glory little more than water held in tension.

A woman joined him at his side. And because this was a dream, he was not able to speak with her. There is no speaking that takes place in these dreams, only recognition and action. He saw her for who she was, some sort of answer wrapped up and incarnated. She smiled at him and her face gleamed with the streets. She took his hand and together they flew down into one of the main highways below, flying right down the middle, cars passing opposite ways on each side, but somehow reticent about their movement, like they were not driving through air, but water. The woman flew with him up an exit ramp and took a right, where they were quickly on some road bordered by dark woods, broken up by the unlit mouths of driveways and mailboxes. Soon, they broke out from this stretch and came to a downtown area. A truck stop sign held high two prices for gas in red and green lettering, while fast food signs across the street held themselves still higher than the hotel signs that advertised low rates. Past this place, they flew out into a cornfield—surely the blackest of all black places—and a copse of trees darkly raised itself above the straight line between blackness and sky glowing with the runway lights of an airport. There, look! A transmission tower with one red blinking light. Two, three, transmission towers, in rhythm. A phone line ticked by which powered the hinterlands of the suburban landscape, those places unlit by lampposts except at crossroads where the traffic light hangs down in the middle. No one is out here in the middle of nowhere, but they will be soon. Everything around this farmland seems to threaten how it will soon be overtaken, whether the airport expands, or the four-footed transmission towers walk across them, or the cornfields turn back into dirt in preparation for a new housing community probably called Heathwicke.

What is this place? This was once the Extra’s home before the waters came, the world of changing, shifting landscapes pressing farther and farther out, not for ill intent, but because of economics and bad credit decisions. The cumbersome labyrinth that only exists because there is a need for it to exist in its half-shaped forms, burgeoning ever outwards, a demand met and constantly met because people would like some comfortable house to live in with a nice television and the ability to carry-out Chinese food, to have some place where you can call home and home is where the internet is, that rebel god which allows us to connect with the world, not for ill intent, but because of a demand met and constantly met, a demand for pornography and keeping in touch with Grandma. This is the world with basements and finished basements and intrigue and emptiness and no one, absolutely no one, knowing who on earth they are or why they are here. This is the world where men in their early twenties can’t get it up, because they’ve exhausted that one last, vital remaining resource of their selves, that final outpost of recreation that for some moments does not destroy us, but shows us who we are and what we’d like to be at our best, the kind of person that can love and be loved, the kind of self that for one moment knows its relation to the world that casts its wings over us constantly with desires met and deeper longings buried, unless they are uncovered by wounds that cut deep enough to excise any and every last hope, even the last, blossoming and wilting comfort of our sexual hungers, that hunger that is like the prism with which we see most clearly what is at fault with ourselves and what the answer cannot sustainably be.

CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

So here we are again. I the wanderer am knocking back on the door of Reality’s Home: my heart.

What is it that I want? What is it that I really want?

I don’t know, so allow me to speak of something else. Let me talk about what I have told other people, or maybe about an encounter with icicles and a moment before going out into the snow shining in the sun. Beyond this, I am unable to place myself. I come back around again and again to the same—

No, I do actually know what I want. I have grown past the point in the walk of life where I keep walking down the same path. This all sounds quite esoteric to you right now, I know, so let me explain.

Back in the day, when I came to a crossroads, when I came to the crossroads of my own heart, not knowing which way to go, I would walk down the path that seemed the lightest. This was the path of doing everything I had done before.

And before I go any further with this, let me briefly explain why it is I come to this crossroad. I come to this crossroad, because for some reason or another, I have lost touch with myself. For some reason or another, I have forgotten who I am.

And so what do I do?

Well, I will have lost my way from home, so I would find myself on this old road. And one path was lighted by the lampposts of all my past decisions. The other was a dark wood. You have been at this place before, reader. You know what I’m talking about, because you have read the poems on your grandma’s refrigerator. You know what I’m talking about, because you have listened to the songs.

Well in order to find my way back home, of course I used to take the lighted path. This was the path back home, I thought. But this path, though it was lighted, was also extremely, woefully lonely. And quite familiar. This was the path of desperately trying to become who I used to think I was. This was the path that made me think, “I must do this! I must do that! I must set my life in order, I have to get this book done, I have to become who I was meant to be, I have to be my own hero.”

This process functioned according to my visions of life or what my life ought to be.

Vain. So vain.

And so instead of being boring, let me describe to you what has now happened.

Life has happened to me, I have walked down the road enough times to know that it brings me right back to the crossroad. I continually lose myself, because I continually try to find myself. And who really cares to find me? Who can find me? Only other people can find me. I am an empty hollow shell, filled only for moments with this love or that peace. I am a vessel. And the reason I feel so hollow in these moments is because I have refused to be the light that lights the path. I have refused those glories of my lord Reality that seek to imbue me with those passions and that peace.

I know now that I cannot pull myself up by my tendons. My bones are broken, my tendons are snapped. I am a hopeless man without a miracle to recover.

And each time I fall back to that crossroads, each time, the cost for choosing the same lighted path grows greater.

So what am I supposed to do, now that I have discovered that the path I know best brings me back to the same place? The place of lampposts and utter confusion?

With this knowledge, I thee move on. I am now in the exciting position of walking down the dark path. And I will only be able to see my way if I allow the light of Reality to fill my arteries, solder my tendons, cauterize my brittle bones.

I have made great progress so far, if even my steps have been tiny and unremarkable. But I recognize a change in myself when it happens. I am not on that old path anymore, hallelujah. Something is happening.

And the only way I am suppose to continue on in this far greater danger of the darkness around me is to hold on tightly to the stars tangled in my hair, to beware the ivy and the distant fair, to plead for the light that lightens the air.

Before, I used to say how I must write, write, write. Writing is walking, that is true. But before, when I wrote, I was seeking to write myself into existence. I know now that when I have been absent from writing, what I am really missing is that love that makes me lighter than the sad evening earth.

I don’t want to go back to me—

I live to go down the dark way, the one lit by lovely reality. Thank you, sweet language for your company, you press down the soft clay of my brain and set the fissures of my skull right. And my heart is lighter than—

—oh, my old frightened mind, hard against the life outside, let the air in through the windows—

my eyes!

my eyes again see the flaking snow

I know how Reality holds me warmly—

he is the one I have a thousand questions for—

questions like cat hair glinting in the sun, floating just barely above the wool carpet!

oh boy, here he, is humor again

and the icicles—one drop at a time!

and the sun—my neck in this scarf, sweating

and God comes back to me again and presses me forward, the dark road—

just a warm winter noon, inside the house, waiting—

the next year (pause (the honking geese (in flocks))) rested a coat on my shoulders, boots on my feet.

We are all getting older and as the elders now we walk this sun-paved street of snow.

The Librarians and the Poets, the Artists and the Archivists

MICHAEL THOMAS JONES

I. The Librarians and the Archivists

Why is everything so ugly today, even though we all hold instant access to the truly beautiful?

I propose an alternative aesthetic spectacle. It’s pretty simple: instead of social media, let’s use history. Specifically, let’s use online archives to explore art history as an inspiration for contemporary design and broader entertainment: visual and even narrative artwork. If social media is what men and women now use to dress and decorate their bodies, their homes, their daydreams, their senses of humor – then we ought to weep for the aesthetic impoverishment of the current generation. I’ve been keeping a fairly steady weep quota, and I’d invite you to join me on that too.

It’s not that the men and women previous centuries were really that more imaginative than us; they were just imaginative in different ways from us. And certainly there is a long tradition of especially heroic dreamers whom we must not forget, and if we have forgotten, we must find them once again. Now that so much visual and literary historical treasure is instantly accessible online, it seems ridiculous to spend time looking at cheap consumer images when you can stroll through virtual galleries of the most beautiful images ever created throughout time.

The only thing is that most people like cheap things if they are made by their friends, who are living right now, and so they gladly participate in the cheap spectacle shared online by their friends. There is this excitement in being alive that only normal people and the poets feel; the nerds and the depressed, the archivists of entertainment, have a harder time with this because they are ashamed of their bodies, they are ashamed of all of their failures communicating with others, of judging others, of not being kind or having not received kindness, etc. So they retreat to libraries of leisure and archives of delight that are always giving beautiful things. (Well, depending on one’s standards.) The voices of the dead only ever judge as much as you let them, but real people… well, let’s just say that many introverted for various reasons can’t enjoy the present, nor do look towards the future.

If a nerd likes ugly things, then they will use their free time to pleasure themselves with garbage, instead of exploring the world or enjoying the soul sparks of other living beings next to them. The art historian is really doing this same process with better subject matter which, one hopes, will be more beneficial to society. But what society? The art historian or man of letters labors in vain to research and share great works of the past if the public will never appreciate it, I think. Mass culture is garbage, but elite art appreciation will be pretty much worthless if it never extends beyond a small, inbred circle of minds. My desire would be for the appreciation of the beautiful to spill out until it reaches all the way through society and orders it. But that appreciation does take a lot of time and mental work to cultivate, and so it’s understandable to see banal spectacle everywhere in demographics with less resources, virtue, intelligence, leisure time, and most of all a lack of connections to wise voices, especially when those demographics more than ever have been given the tools to vividly display their inane inner lives. (I confess to having at one time been addicted to cringe threads and glorying in the ever more spectacular examples of idiocy which the faithful archivists of the internet diligently cultivate for the pleasure of cynical folk.)

You’ll forgive me for being tone-deaf here. I myself can be found in a weird solitary coracle that floats between a typical middle class suburban evangelical aesthetic upbringing and an interest in better spectacles that I have not yet had the chance to fully integrate into my life. I am a juvenile archivist and so in a tender position; I am especially to be mocked and derided, lest others be tempted to find themselves in my position. But I can’t help it. This is what I was thinking about and I wanted to tell others, to see if anyone would respond in a kindred spirit.

Obviously the masses will always be fools, but with instant communication, is it really that hard to find a few thousand or even a few hundred thousand other people who enjoy Dutch early modern art? Is it really that hard to teach people to love things that are so evidently wonderful? Maybe it is not so evident. For some reason, it seems hard to find people who care enough about it to really ever mention it on social media. Perhaps it is not so evident anymore that such things are beautiful. But again, that is why we need teachers.

You see this communal sharing of historical art already happening, but mostly just in memes. And it’s very funny! I’m encouraged by the memes, because as we all know, the line between a jester and a prophet is very hard to determine. But seeing as these aesthetically prophetic memes have yet to bear fruit, all I see is that no one wants to spend the time to really make historical art a part of their life. That’s understandable: it’s hard to do alone. It would require communal effort, and it’s hard to gather a community together to focus on exploring one part of the Archives, because the Archives are very, very big. And most of your friends probably don’t care.

So this really has to be a (if I can write this without some bile spilling onto the keyboard) intentional communal effort. Wake up, sheeple! The resources are readily accessible but there is so much to dig into that it requires research, discussion, and sharing amidst friends with mildly differing goals to reach images and imaginative loci that are really pleasant and valuable to the individual. Enjoyment is all well and good, but anyone can enjoy themselves. It’s diving into the archives to serve others that is the really tricky part, not just to find memes to entertain and draw click-clacking attention but to find images and words that will inspire love of the good and order in the hearts of others.

I find myself having an easier time reading the thoughts of dead people than I do talking with living people. Living people are very valuable but also very demanding. So while I retreat to my island of literature (not being able to decide what book I would bring with me, I brought them all), I would still want to be reading for the sake of those who can’t or aren’t willing. I could crawl through 10,000 mountains of pages and a thousand rivers of ink so that others don’t have to. This means I need to be a teacher in some capacity. Not everybody needs to be a teacher of everything, but everyone needs to be a student of something.

What’s the point of me spending time with books all day if I’m the only one who is happy with that? Living to make yourself happy will result in no one being happy. But at the same time, you can’t force yourself into the lives of others. If this deflection away from normal discourse, if being barred from adventure with physical folk is a necessary part of one’s story, than we have to cut with the grain of this warped table brain, if you get what I’m saying. Whether you like it or not you are trapped alone on your book island, and so you might as well get as much reading done until someone responds to your distress signal and picks you up. They may quickly maroon you, socially speaking, but usually each time you get marooned it is on an island with wi-fi, or at least a public library.

With the contemporary technology and historical resources, the question and the quest becomes whether or not we have human resources, that is, enough teachers to help show people how to love better and to love better things. But no one wants to put time into what they share or take in, they only want to consume quickly and cheaply. So maybe this kind of thing is impossible on the internet, or at least most social media platforms as they stand today, where quickness and cheapness are in the founding company’s best interest to promote. (This gets to the weird problem of seeing as social media as a free service offered by a private company vs. a weird kind of public society, but that conversation gets dicey pretty fast.)

We need to advocate examples of ancient, medieval, variously historical works of art that ought to contemplated and accepted as influences on our contemporary mainstream spectacle – at the very least, on an aesthetic spectacle that stands alternative to the mainstream and will hopefully be synthesized into it at some point for the benefit of all. Is it too sloppy of a hope to think that the more that people are taught to love beautiful things, the better society will be? I don’t know where the hole in that proposal is, if there is one.

When alternating between painting and literature here, I suppose a lot of what I say applies to both, but it might be fair to distinguish between the two by saying that: visual art of history can guide us how to design our real life sights (our bodies, homes, and gardens), while the verbal art of history can guide us how to speak and think and so, ultimately, act.

There should be hierarchies of mentorship, but where are the teachers? Where are the apprentices? Who has time or humility these days for anything like that? We need to invite others into the usually solitary quest of art appreciation, archive diving, online museum gallery meandering, wikipedia wandering. It ought to be something undertaken by a fellowship, not a single pilgrim. But it’s hard to imagine a twitch stream of some guy just reading wikipedia articles at random… actually, that’s a fantastic idea. All we need is someone with a good sense of curiosity and humor, who can be curious and funny on our behalf.

II. The Artists and the Poets

While I know myself well enough at this point to focus on training as an aesthetic archivist, the dream has always been to be an artist and poet, of course. The archivist here is the one who searches, finds, researches, refinds, refines, systematizes, critiques – it’s really just a fancy way of being a computer bound, unproductive troll. Perhaps the only good way, if you are going to be computer bound, ever entangled in the fishy webbing of the internet. The perks are a nice set of headphones and no one bothering you. But there’s a reason that the musicians get all the girls: the girls want a guy who can prove in real time that he’s smart, disciplined, and dexterous. There is something much more human and glorious about being this kind of performer or creator: if the archivist or philosopher is systematizing and dividing up the world in order to understand it, the poet is weaving moments together and using his poetic power to make manifest in the presence of others some mystical reality that was there all along (in the room, in the heart) but unseen until now. Thing is, great poets have been doing this for thousands of years, and no one will remember this unless the archivists do their job.

I think the young artist is deeply dependent on the archivists, to be honest, because the young artist usually has very little experience in the world. (Artists with tragedy in their youth can be exceptions to this.) In the beginning, during their songs of innocence or whatever, they have to build off the work of past generations and display their art using the tools given to them by their chosen aesthetic ancestors. (Chosen, yes, but sometimes it’s uncertain who is choosing whom.) All juvenilia is mimicry wanting to be more, the beginning of a transition from the passive state of appreciation into something more fresh and glorious, the human soul in activity, in bared flesh.

Everyone is both a maker and an organizer in some respect, as these are just two sides of one task of being human, but some people are simply more weighted throughout their life for one or the other (or neither, but here we are considered with human living inside the spectacle). Throughout your life, whether through your genes, family culture, or whatever you got interested in as a teenager, you find yourself leaning towards tasks within the spectacle. Honestly, I look back on my life and find myself to be so dissolute and noncommittal that I don’t feel equipped to do any human task well, but since at this point I cannot deny a conviction to work within the spectacle, or at least contribute in some avocational capacity, it’s not even a question of what I would like to do: both. But, while I would love to make art and be an artist,until a miracle happens I’m going to go after the option that keeps me more clothed in the eyes of others. Why? Well… whether you’re making a poem or a child, you need to be naked. So it’s probably best to let the attractive, well-formed people go about reproducing and exposing their lovely hearts, being the most human on our behalf.

Meanwhile, the archivists are more like angels – invisible mediators of truth and goodness. I think it’s probably good for me to remain as invisible as possible for a good stretch yet, and I’d invite you to consider that possibility for yourself as well.

Talking to people is a kind of nakedness, so only the beautiful should speak. But they will only speak foolishness if they have no way of hearing the voices of the past. So the artists need help. Not help from archivists directly, but help through them, from the teachings of the most virtuous of the past, and this angelic transmission can only take place through the work of quiet, clothed humans.

The deformed are welcome to join me. It gets lonely out here on these library islands.

Why Surrealism is What We Need, Esp. in Novel Forms

CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

Allegory and surreality are linked by symbols

I think what is called allegorical painting in one era is surrealism in the next.

Compare Jacopo Ligozzi’s “Fortune” to Giorgio de Chirico’s “The Song of Love” or maybe René Magritte’s “Homesickness” or “Personal Values.”

jacopo-ligozzi-fortune-fortuna
Jacopo Ligozzi, Fortune

What we see are a lot of objects placed together.

personal-values-19521
Rene Magritte, Personal Values

These objects are re-discovered after being put in a context we’re not used to seeing them in (“Someone, get this man a copy-editor!”). Thanks to Andre Breton for helping me define surrealism. As soon as we see one of these paintings, we know what we’re looking at: the world behind the painting and the world inside ourselves.

For Christians who just-can’t-handle-that, it’s basically the same evocation as fairy stories, according to the claims of J.R.R. Tolkien. The progression of Fantasy-Escape-Recovery-Consolation is a similar progression as the surrealist progression. The difference is that the fantasy is generated, not by new forms, but by old forms put together to form new ones. I guess he kind of claims that about adjectives and the power of language to reinvent (in his essay, On Fairy-Stories). We know grass is green, but we can do fantasy simply by calling the grass red. And we can imagine it, because the language has imagined it for us.

Similarly, there is a sort of fantasy when we see a huge apple wearing a bowler hat falling from the sky, or whatever. The difference, I think, is that surrealism or maybe the surreal is the re-use of the familiar instead of the familiar-turned-strange. The outcome is the same, nevertheless. When we see something we have seen before, transmogrified before our eyes, we know that we are really seeing something true about our world that we have not seen before, or have so far failed to see. That is where the consolation comes in.
As for the mid-portions of Tolkien’s claims—escape and recovery—all I can say is that there is a sort of terror or disturbing quality about surrealist art. Or symbolism.

Bad example/don’t have time: “That skeleton looks alive! Oh no! Oh, wait, it’s okay. He’s just a symbol. Whew. But crap, it’s me. Omgsh, I’m going to die.”

The avant-garde is pretty typical

The connecting bridge for both allegory and surreality is the use of symbols to refer to the unseen. If you don’t know what the signifiers refer to, it just appears absurd to you. Powerful SECRET KNOWLEDGE.

We met a guy named I Forget, but he claimed to be really famous. He had a big white beard and smelled of cheese and he said he is the “Van Gogh of the modern age.” He said “only Siena would accept my art, because America never could.”

Fool! America accepts this giant tissue box! You can make money anywhere, doing anything! I’m sure you’re a nice man, but you have lived in America longer than I have and you’re so willing to judge it wholesale like that? Maybe it’s because you’re not good at the whole-knowing-what-unseen-realities-to-show-people biz.
But alas, America is too big and too free and too strange and too metamorphosing for your trash not to find some market.

6154_1659713
untitled—and I don’t want to know who made it.

And we looked you up afterwards. On google! You’re not famous. The Avant-garde movement you claim to have been a part of in the 60s is dead, my friend. Because it mostly sucked, so get over it.

The inheritors of this symbolic tradition are people like him, unfortunately. I for one prefer performance art (in general) over conceptual/installation artwork. Installation artwork almost always fails. Maybe I need more exposure to better examples of it, but anyway.

DIVERSION ALERT: Performance art, on the other hand, can at least be extremely stimulating (Trisha Brown’s “Walking on the Wall” which reminds me of the kind of theatrics done at Peter Gabriel concerts. Give me theatrics any day and I’ll be happy!). Like Laurie Anderson telling a story with big lit-up goggles. I could honestly listen to her tell a story any day. Not sure how that fits into the symbolic tradition, but to most people’s far-off view, it’s at least part of what layman call “the avant-garde.”

But if the “avant-garde” are the movers and inventors of new, previously unaccepted forms, then any good novel writer is “avant-garde.” I like to think of novels as being long, protracted essays. If an essay is the attempt at attaining something, which it is, through reason and contemplation, the novel SHOULD be (should be) the attempt to attain some previously unattained thing. Whether it be some new world, atmosphere, or form. But in either case, what is being sought after is previously unseen and the only way to see it is to bring into existence this new form.

Many of the structural novels that came out around the same time that garbage like that old guy likes are also garbage. And very sad.

Literature needs love

Why are they sad?

Because they have not love. That’s my takeaway. There has to be a deep, abiding love and earnest desire to reach out more, to push farther, to know better.

In literature, this happens by exploring the power and force of language and the acknowledgment that characters are merely the composite symbols and vessels for what we have seen or wish to see. Maybe this all sounds like trash talk to you. But I don’t think it is.

What I am trying to get at is that most of these novels-worth-hating (let’s name some names: William Gaddis, Guy Davenport. Okay, we named some. Or freaking J. M. Coetzee, ugh) are built off the belief that we cannot know, we cannot know more, we cannot love more, we cannot reach out, because language is a barrier. Language to them is preventative (I know very little about this, but in the back of my mind are discussions of Symbolic Logic and Ludwig Wittgenstein: thanks guys (Isn’t like ANY literature person worth their salt going to also hate symbolic logic? Answer: yes)). So instead of loving language and words, they abuse their powers, they chastise their tools, and they call what is natural (the ability to understand the basic sense of words) unnatural and blase.

And instead of revealing to us more about the unseen world and the material world that sustains it and presents it to us before our eyes (the world we must get to know once more by means of the prophets of surrealism or the prophets of fairy stories or whatever the garbage you want to call those who actually believe in the depths), those who fundamentally believe we cannot know also fundamentally believe we cannot show. They believe we cannot love characters, that it isn’t real, that we cannot spread the same ideas from mind to mind through the sublime encounter of words fitly spoken, that we cannot invent new forms for the unpossessed territory within our hearts, the hearts that are hardly big enough to hold the entire world that presses on us, like a hand pressed to a bleeding nose, the world that presses on us like the moon swollen with dust, like the warm side of a lover under the sheets, like other crap and more ridiculous similes that I won’t share. Make your own.

There is an unseen world. And this is no direct evidence, but why do we feel so desperately to reach out and touch it? What is the sublime encounter? Why do we constantly invent symbols to remind us of them, in painting and in literature?
And why does this damn tissue box not make us feel sublimely?
Because it’s not based off constructing something worth loving, it’s deconstructing what we have a lot of difficulty loving, but should. We don’t love enough, or care enough. So why is this art telling us to care less?
[Insert Pink Floyd quotation here]
Maybe the sublime does not present us with anything unseen. But it is the most damnedest satisfying boon for any soul. And I, along with anyone else that cares, is going to try to bring into the world new forms to possess the worlds we feel pressing on us desperately for attention, like a pack of screaming children. We are meant to love what this world shows us.
We are meant to be heartbroken when the world is broken, because our hearts are meant to hold the world, not hate it. And we, with our frail tools of language and love and symbols, are trying to hold the world.

ecole-bosch-vision-de-tondal2
Hieronymous Bosch, The Vision of Tondal

 

We Are the Waters

Psalm 44: Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

At one point in City of God Augustine describes the ark as a symbol for the church. The animals inside were not preserved out of necessity, in order to restore any species, as distant islands or angels could have done the job just a well. But the pairs of animals were preserved to represent how the nations would be preserved by the church from the destruction of the world, the church being the ark floating on top of the deluge.

It’s a compelling model, but I’m not convinced because we, the gentiles, are not just the animals. We are the waters. We are the floods slowly seeping into all regions of the world, according to the carefully timed sluice gates of the Lord. The church is swallowing the sea and Christ is plucking the false believers out of her mouth. Augustine’s picture is one of the church wandering within the dissolving world, but I’m more inclined to think of whole worlds being preserved within the church. It is an eschatological riddle and, when it comes down to it, my position is taken on the basis of intuition. People are more than themselves. They aren’t just a community of wanderers, they are parents with homes with basements that always flood and children who grow up exploring the woods of their homeland.

Do humans belong here or do they not? Are they a community of wanderers or a kingdom of lords with dominion over certain appointed places? Are we to be planted or are we always going to be mixed about in the raging heart of the world? Maybe both.

Jesus whispered into the wind storm, into our heart sea:

Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.