Thursday, May 05, 2005
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.
1 Peter 1:13-16
So, How do you be holy? Where does discernment come from? What words have sparked you to action? What actions have you seen that have sparked you to match or surpass that action? I have acted in odd ways lately. I have handed tissue to crying kids; opened closet doors for distressed kids to scream in; given colored plastisine to angry children so they could mix it and feel better; called social services; been written up for questioning proceedure; spoken a word of encouragement here; said a prayer there; and basically allowed myself to be used by others for a verbal punching bag. I am disconnected from it, as if I am an observer of it. I wonder how my words have been a catalyst for action - or if they have. Words are tricky. Perception is trickier. What do you perceive? How 'off' is it?
Some conceive the universe as a closed system from which humanity cannot escape. This is an old idea, and I think immediately of Plato's myth of the cave, of the people whose knowledge consists of shadows of reality and who refuse to believe the message that there is an outside, a real sun that lights objects, and real objects that cast the shadows. Most people live contentedly in the closed universe; rebels and seekers try to escape from it and that tension gives us frustration as a catalyst for poetic thought and the tease of great writing. Thus Hamlet exclaims in frustration, "I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams".
The theme of living in a nutshell is fascinating, but leads to new dimensions and a new urgency for us. The closed universe of the Enlightenment was a source of optimism - now it is a source of alienation. Empiricism became the standard of what could be thought, and art responded to science by producing stories that served up a "slice of life." - with very little sauce.
As I put the facts and observations and words of my life into some semblance of order for understanding, I invariably turn to fiction. I will find my way to A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, but first I must spend a little time in The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Lewis' heroes, who, along with Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, are on a quest to find the lost Prince Rilian, become trapped, for a second time, in Harfang, the castle of the giants. For a second time, they go from a warm but repressive environment, the giants' kitchen, out into the cold. For a second time, language provides them with the knowledge and the means to escape. Looking out the window, they see the words "Under me" and realize that they should be looking for a way under the ruined city. Reading the cookbook recipes for preparing man and marshwiggle they learn that the giants intend to eat them. They use language to mislead the giants into thinking they have no intention of escaping, and so they escape.
Escape is the theme. Escape is the idea that becomes essential. What closed system are you in that you may need to escape from? What words are leading you to this escape? The children and Puddleglum fall into Underiand while hiding from the giants. They are taken to the castle of the queen, where they meet Rilian without knowing who he is. Rilian is dressed in black and looks like what I imagine Hamlet to look like. He has been captured and bewitched by the Queen of Underiand, so that he lives contentedly in the nutshell of his underground prison. The bewitchment is expressed partly by the loss of language: he does not recognize his own name. When according to nightly routine he is tied in the Silver Chair, the enchantment is lifted. He knows who he is and is able to use the name of Aslan. He begs them to release him, saying, "by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you!." Puddleglum says, "It's the Sign," but Eustace cautions, "It was the words of the Sign". They decide to believe that the words really mean what they say and release the Prince. Faith Hope and Love were at work here - obedience and duty as well I think.
Alas, they are not yet free. The Queen of Underiand, who is none other than the Green Witch, suddenly returns. Seeing the situation, she tries to renew the enchantment. Like some twentieth century enchanters, she uses a drug, and music with a monotonous, impelling rhythm. Gradually Jill forgets the names of things in our world, so that her memories become dreamlike. The Witch's enchantment primarily stems from twentieth century language analysis, which destroys the translucence of language, just as Enlightenment science destroyed the translucence of the physical universe.
In order to understand the action, it is helpful to review one of the pioneer works of language analysis - The Meaning of Meaning by Ogden and Richards. It posits two kinds of language, the referential and the emotive. Referential language refers to facts and objects; emotive language merely expresses feelings. Theological, moral, and esthetic judgments are by definition emotive, since they do not refer to physical facts and objects. The Green Witch tries to restore Prince Rilian's mental imprisonment, his confusion, by denying that words can point to anything outside of her kingdom, to anything transcendent. Rilian and the others tell her that something-the sun-exists outside her closed universe, but when they try to describe it by comparing it to a lamp she replies, "When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp". She almost convinces them that their language refers only to make-believe, that it is derived from her closed world, the empirical world of the senses(see comment by CH for origin of this).
But there are senses and senses. Puddleglum breaks the enchantment by treading out the fire and burning his foot. As Lewis comments, "There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic". Puddleglum's pain helps him to realize that the Queen's underground world is dull. He says to the queen: "Suppose we have made up a dream world by playing a language game. Then all I can say is that... the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones." He adds, "We're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland."
What will your discontent with the shadows you call reality lead you to set out and discover? What are you looking for? What constrains you? What pain sobers you? What arms do you lean on and what are they attached to? Dragons? Angels? Puddleglums? In any case, your actions are guided by language and described by language and understood by language. What language do you speak? What are you saying? What do you understand? Questioning is easy. Doing is less so. Carry on then, and if we should meet, I will make every effort to encourage you with honest love, holy action and no answers.
- posted by -g @ 5:59 AM | | 0 rocks in pond
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