Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The Face of Literacy
Additionally, I remember a small bit of controversy surrounding an older student who taught me a lot when he was a thirty year old fifth year student and I a much younger third year student. He never, or rarely, labelled his drawings. People would ask him why. Why wouldn't he help make the drawings more readable? He would respond by saying that he wasn't trying to make the drawings readable, so he didn't put things on them to be read.
Well, I came across some reading today - in Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism - that was so darned interesting in regards to these memories of mine, that I just had to share it with you guys. Following will be a kind of long quote with paragraph breaks, so I will just put it in italics instead of in quotation marks:
When asked in what manner the mental habit induced by Early and High Scholasticism may have affected the formation of Early and High Gothic architecture, we shall do well to disregard the notional content of the doctrine and to concentrate, to borrow a term from the schoolmen themselves, upon its modus operandi...this method of procedure follows, as every modus operandi does, from a modus essendi [mode of existing, my note]; it follows from the very raison d'etre of Early and High Scholasticism, which is to establish the unity of truth...'Sacred doctrine,' says Thomas Aquinas, 'makes use of human reason, not to prove faith but to make clear (manifestare) wahtever else is set forth in this doctrine.'...
Manifestatio, then, elucidation or clarification, is what I would call the first controlling principle of Early and High Scholasticism. But in order to put this principle into operation on the highest possible plane - elucidation of faith by reason - it had to be applied to reason itself: if faith had to be 'manifested' through a system of thought complete and self-sufficient within its own limits yet setting itself apart from the realm of revelation, it became necessary to 'manifest' the completeness, self sufficiency and limitedness of the system of thought. And this could be done only by a scheme of literary presentation that would elucidate the very processes of reasoning to the reader's imagination just as reasoning was supposed to elucidate the very nature of faith to his intellect. Hence the much derided schematism or formalism of Scholastic writing which reached its climax in the classic Summa...
We take it for granted that major works of scholarship, especially systems of philosophy and doctoral theses, are organized according to a scheme of division and subdivision, condensable into a table of contents or synopsis...However, this kind of systematic articulation was quite unknown until the advent of Scholasticism. Classical writings...were merely divided into 'books.'..
It was, it seems, not until the earlier part of the Middle Ages that 'books' were divided into numbered 'chapters'...and it was not until the thirteenth century that the great treatises were organized according to an overall plan secundum ordinem disciplinae so that the reader is lead, step by step, from one proposition to another and is always kept informed as to the progress of this process...
All of this does not mean, of course, that the Scholastics thought in a more orderly and logical fashion than Plato and Aristotle; but it does mean that they, in contrast to Plato and Aristotle, felt compelled to make the orderliness and logic of their thought palpaply explicit - that the principle of manifestio which determined the direction and scope of their thinking also controlled its exposition and subjected this exposition to what may be termed the POSTULATE OF CLARIFIATION FOR CLARIFICATION'S SAKE.
Within Scholasticism itself this principle resulted not only in the explicit unfolding of what, though necessary, might hae been allowed to remain implicit, but also, occasionally, in the introduction of what was not necessary at all, or in the neglect of the natural order of presentation in favor of an artificial symetry. In the very Prologue of the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas complains, with an eye on his forerunners, of 'the multipliation of useless questions, articles, and arguments' and of a tendency to present the subject 'not according to the order of the discipline itself but rather according to the requirements of literary exposition.' However, the passion for 'clarification' imparted itself - quite naturally in view of the educational monopoly of Scholasticism - to virtually every mind engaged in cultural persuits; it grew into a 'mental habit.'
- from "page[s] twenty-seven" to "thirty-six" of his book, as Panovsky put it, in less numerically "expository" terms.
I find this completely fascinating. There are many times when I have been asked to put my thoughts into "logical order," meaning a linear sequence of logical propositions that follow after one another leading to a pre-determined and pre-understood conclusion like in a table of contents, which was discussed above. Becuase it is usually accompanied by the accusation of either disorderly thinking or a lack of any thought at all, the very request for such an "order" of presentation to my thought usually arises a kind of primal annoyance in my soul. Sometimes, however I oblige (out of sheer love, of course), leaving my thoughts appearing in, to me, a bit of a silly format that betrays their hidden natural and sacred origins. Of course, such questions and expectations from my interlocutours reveals a certain relationship to the audience's questions to the thirty year old fifth year student as to why he wasn't "labeling" his drawings.
Additionally and somewhat marginally, try to convince some of our contemprary proponents of "expository preaching" that it is not "essential" to human speech and Christian preaching but that it is instead merely a "mental habit" with very specific (Scholastic) historic beginnings, and they will most likely simply retort that Paul was an expository preacher and tell you that you don't know your history! If we decide to go one step further and tell that person that "expository preaching" is "artificial" and full of "multipliation of useless questions, articles, and arguments," then, despite the fact that you have just quoted the source of his or her "design format," he or she will probably (un)just(ly) dismiss you as mad.
Also speaking of "mad," the idea of "clarification for clarifiation's sake" reminds me, marginally, of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, much of which I of course have not read, since it is madly long, and the whole of which is, also of course, organized in such a way for the "very process of reasoning" to be made "palpably explicit."
What is essential to humanity, however, rather than being madly or obscenely explicit, is that we have both a kind of physical and intellectual/spiritual face that serve as masks to the self. The face, like the cinematic screen, directs the self; it faces and moves in a direction, and has a certain completeness and self-sufficiency to it within a set of natural limits that are "manifested" in the "overall plan" of one's daily living. I heard someone today describe the shame that he sometimes experiences "at the very core of his being" when he remembers certain events of his life. It can be said that the self emmanates from that center, and at some point along its pathos to its exterior and knowable destination in the outer world takes on a direction (as noted), eventually meeting the end of its path. Hopefully, the end isn't filled with such shame!
Along that line, it is said that the end is the same as the beginning. "I am the Alpha and the Omega." In the end, "we will be known as we are known." God can see us from a place outside of ouself and our world; we will meet Him there. In a Gothic Cathedral, this "Omega" is represented by the Rose Window. Interestingly, then, usually the Rose Window stands above the entrance, as it does at Chartres Cathedral, the cathedral that represents the culmination of High Gothic architecture, images of which I have been showing you along the way.
It is interesting, then, as my professor noted when I was in school, that below that very Rose Window you can "literally see" faces as you enter the Cathedral. Also interesting is how, as with a Scholastic literary work, the overall design of Medieval buidings is often times configured in such a way as to be able to "literally see the face" - mouth, nose, eyes, brow and head.
Considering the above discused notion of manifestation, I think it is also interesting that the hidden and sacred geometry makes itself a bit more easily evident on the "face" of many Gothic Cathedrals as compared to the face of, say, the Parthenon. Here is a link to how said geometry is "manifested" on the face of Chartres.
You wouldn't find the geometry of the Parthenon so easily, as the physical face of the Parthenon doesn't literally "expose" the hidden, inner geometry of the politically actual building. Another of those memorable remarks of my professor's was that we are now, as a society, only literate.
Harold Bloom says: "the School of Resentment is killing off the art of reading. Instead of a reader who reads lovingly, with a kind of disinterest, you get tendentious reading, politicized reading....It may be a waning art, the art of reading closely, lovingly, scrupulously with the excitement of seeing how the text will unfold." And yet in The Cube and the Cathedral, you hear George Weigel speak of "the end of politics" having already come. Is that because the "overall [political] plan" has already "manifested" itself (beause Hegel's "end of history" has come), or because said "overall [political] plan it is meant to be literally exposed in the first place (because it is assumed that we should label our drawings)?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Diarreah Always Seems To Go On Forever
"I find it ironic that T.G. - on the heels of my discussing the difference between the hidden meaninig of the figurative/iconic and the obviously "exposed" meaning of the "literal" (like in a photograph, or in Strauss and Howe's theory) - retorted to my comments by asking me to consider the idea that others see things that I do not. Of course they do! I see lots of things things that others don't as well. Lol. "I see dead people," to quote M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" :)
At least that was part of what I said. To see the rest, check out my last post. Anyway, see the following for my morning's delights:
You need to get yourself a Ghostwriter.
In your decision to not respond to the fundamental topical questions concerning your real argument and the antiChristian culprits, this brings you parallel to Vick in stating through his attorney,
"Vick pleaded not guilty to charges, but still hasn’t talked about them. His lawyer, Billy Martin, read a statement on his behalf that said:
“I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name. I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown.”
Which is to say, as soon as I pull together another topic, you'all will forget my attempted manipulation.
[Jason delightfully responds]
I "literally am" a cyber-ghost(writer). That's why none of you can SEE me!
On the "not guilty" plea, I wonder if Vick plans to continue dog fighting in the dark despite being caught "red handed" out in the open :)
So then, if the "diarreah" of this circus we call national politics continues, then I suppose the huge swamp of divine Pooh in which we are mired will only continue to grow. Maybe it will even be "lifted" to a higher level (lol), to reference my previous post again. But would that mean that we are being "edified" or that the swamp is going from our navel to our chest, thus making an "exodus" all the more difficult?
Friday, July 27, 2007
"...and here we're stuck in this kind of crap"
Such "crap" referenced by my mom's condo association president reminds me of another conversation I just "finished" with Thomisticguy. I put "finished", because, as you will see, he just quit responding after my comments to this post of his (I wonder if he and I are just "stuck"...but you will gather what's going on, I hope, although I have paratrooped you into the middle of the combat grounds, so to speak):
[Jason, on the heels of a previous comment on the relation between the symbolic and real value of a recently democrat-proposed cigar tax, says to Thomisticguy and whoever else wants to hear]
"National politics is like the Roman circus in first century Rome. It is entertainment to keep us distracted from the REAL issues." - a parapharase of Stanley Hauerwas, quoted at this post, by David Fitch.
Jason, I think I agree with Hauerwas on that. Second, you completely lost me in your discussion about Gulliver's Travels and archetypes and symbolism.
For one thing, just to get it out of the way, I only provided the Johnathan Swift reference/quote so that T.G. wouldn't have to go searching to find what I was referring to. So then the globalism and Gulliver's Travelers thing sort of got thrown in there by accident. Although I do think it applies. That's why I commented on it.
Also, I think you yourself reference the national "circus" earlier in this very conversation.
So, to explain, if I can...see if I can "find" you...
Symbolism and Reality
This is a post whose contents seem to rely on the idea that cigar smoking symbolizes masculinity. Or at least that cigar smoking symbolizes men doing stuff together. This is also a post that seems to speak out against "the left." A "left" that "doesn't think there's any truth." A marginal point of mine is that its misleading and confusing to say that they don't think there's any truth. The real issue is whether there is any necessary tie that binds symbol and reality. Does marriage "really" symbolize Man's relationship with God? Does the moral life of following the Law "really mean" a life that's closer to God? Is there any longer any hope that a cigar will symbolize anyting besides Monica Lewisnsky's...uummm...yeah...
"The left" would answer "no" on both of the first counts, and "yes" to the question of the cigar. The "right" would answer yes on both of the first counts, and yes on the question of the cigar. Neither the left nor the right would quibble over the statement that a cigar can "symbolize" either sex or masculinity, depending on whether its in the hands of Bill Clinton while on a particular phone conversation or in the hands of one of a group of Armenians in the hooka bar down the street late at night.
Where the right, however, would say that a "traditional" family structure is "natural," the "left" would disagree, stating that such "structure" only "symbolizes" bourgoisie society and all of its pretentious ills. And where the right would say that the Law is given by God and so necessarily followed by man "or else," the left would say, "get a life and quit letting the Big Other suppress your desires."
Are the questions of whether the traditional family structure is "natural" or whether we are obligated in some way to follow the Law questions simply of our obligation to God to do something that He imposes on us? Or is it that when something is "natural" it is because it was made that way "in the beginning"? "Arche" in Greek means "first." Is the Law inherently in harmony with how we are actually made "from the beginning," or "from the first"? Do we do the hard work of love in a marriage becase we are "made" for it, and because such love reflects the image of the God who made us?
This is a question of whether there is some tie that necessarily binds a symbol and the reality to which it points.
Now, in the aftermath of T.G.'s "Teaching Christianity with Tattoos" post, he and I ended up in a bit of a discussion on this link.
There Strauss and Howe refer to "actual categorical differences between generations" (as T.G. referred to them) as "archetypal." They describe generational differences and how generations react to each other over time as "archetypes." This, then, got me to asking myself: "What is the necessarily binding tie between the phenomenon that Strauss and Howe are observing in the world, that being generational interactions and reactions with and to each other (and the identities that each generation then take on), and the spiritual essence that has an actual spiritual substance that is usually attributed to an "archetype" (which would be be "under the surface" of the identity that those generations take on)?
I could discern no spiritual substance to Strauss and Howe's "archetypes," and nor could I discern any necessary tie between whatever bigger reality (the archetypes themselves) was being pointed to and the actual spacio-temporal generational identities of observable reality that supposedly represented or related to said "archetypes" in some way.
So then I was really confused. T.G., who stated that he really likes Strauss and Howe's theory, "leans right." Strauss and Howe seem to "lean right" as well. Previously in this comment I established that an "essential" thing that distinguishes the right as the right is that they think that there is a necessary tie that binds symbol and reality, observable phenomenon with archetypal ground. Comparatively an "essential" characteristic of the left is that they see no tie that necessarily "conserves" the tie between those things. And yet Strauss and Howe, who "lean right," seemed to be asserting a theory that does not rely on any such tie, a theory endorsed heavily by T.G.
I was strongly confused and perplexed. So I asked myself: why does the right, with its values and its platform, assert that there is necessarily a tie that binds symbol and reality, and then asset a theory of generational history that uses the "archetypal" language that screams for the issue of said "tie" to be considered in one's mind, and yet seems to want to deny said "tie"? It seems a bit "mad," if you will.
The Figurative and the Literal
One explanation I could think of to explain this perplexing series of events was Johnathan Swift's "inversion of the figurative and the literal" explored in his "The Mechanical Operations of the Spirit." So I will explain what I mean by "the figurative and the literal" first via actual machines.
The quote I provided made reference to a "debate" occuring in the 1690's. This "debate" was "The Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Mdoerns." So...on ancient and modern machines...and thier relation to the figurative and the literal...
Two writers help for me to illuminate how ancient men thought of machines. One is Vitruvius. He was an ancient Roman architect. He wrote the first ever known and/or surviving treatise on architecture. He says there are three kinds of machines: hinging, hoisting and inclining. Of course, when you read the list, you notice that the purpose of a machine, then, is to lift things. Now Vitruvius also said that there are two guiding principles to the motion of all machines: the axial and the spherical. No machine, however, moves in perfectly straight axes nor turns in perfect circles.
The other ancient writer who helps illume for me how ancients thought of machines is Alberti. He was an Italian Rennaissance architect of Mantua. He wrote the second ever treatise on architecture, in 10 books. For the purposes of this conversation, all I need to point out is that his discussion on machines is contained in his "book" on Ornament. That won't mean anything to anyone else here, so I'll explain what that would have meant to him. That Alberti included his discussion on machines in his book on ornament reflects Vitruvius' enlightening notion that a machine's purpose is to lift things. Ornament is the beauty of the building, the orderly distinction and decoration the joints between things that would otherwise be in chaos and disharmony. Ornament, for Alberti is about the "edification" and/or "elevation" of the human soul and of man's buildings, so that's why Alberti included his discussion on machines, "which are for lifting" (to quote the modern guy who wrote the third treatise on architecture, Le Corbusier), in his "book" on Ornament.Even now, you are probably thinking to yourself: "So what? I still don't get why Alberti put his discussion on machines in his book on Ornament. And why does it even matter?" The whole point that is illumed by Vitruvius and Alberti is that ancient men thought of machines in a figurative manner. Their purpose is to point upward, and as such they figuratively point the building and the human soul upward.
And the machines are, however, hidden. You don't see the machines when the building is completed. Just as you don't see the glory of the archetypes, which actually have a spiritual substance, when you see the obervable phenomenon that represent them.
This relationship between building and machine, man and archetype, illumes ancient man's model for how he viewed the meaning of "society."
Modern "society," however, is modeled after Newton's "Clockwork Universe." Modern society, like a clock, is a machine. It does not imperfectly imitate the spherical heavens that you sensibly see when you look up, but it literally means to copy what we now logically know to be the elliptical paths of the planets. The prevailing motif of Baroque architecture, which hoped to grapple with the new modernity, was the ellipse.
Ancient society was viewed as like an acutally edified building. Stories were told orally in those buildings (or outside of them). Then text was written down that was conciously meant to represent, to imperfectly imitate, the actual happenings in the actual places and times. To see what I mean, click here. See the figurative "edification" or "elevation" in men's stories at that time?
Modern society, however, is viewed as or in light of the literary text itself. Society is literally a machine, rather than being lifted or edified by hidden machines viewed as having figurative meaning. All you ever hear about, by coincidence in terms of production, is effeciency - which, not surprisingly, is a mechanical term. Similarly, a modern building is literally a machine, rather than being lifted or edified by hidden machines viewed as having figurative meaning. And modern stories are not told but read. Again, to see what I mean, click here. Just as the great aim of many academic modern architects was to "show the construction," the question asked of contemporary evangelical churches is not of the holyness of Most High God, but of the "authenticity" of the peoples' worship.
This, I think, is what Johnathan Swift meant by the modern "madness" of the "inversion of the figurative and the literal." So what?
Previously I had said that Johnathan Swift's inversion of the figurative and the literal seemed to provide a way out of my confusion as to why folks who "lean right" seem to either be asserting or endorsing a theory of history that does not display an essential characteristic of "the right", which is to "conserve" the tie that binds symbol and reality. So, upon explanation, what does Swift's notion of said inversion have to do with said tie between symbol and reality, between hidden archetype and representative observable phenomenon?
One thing we will notice about the difference between the modern and ancient societies and buildings is that the modern ones "show" what the ancient ones both hide and reveal. Chartes Cathedral, linked previously, "reveals" the "lifting" or "edifying" character of the machines that built it; and yet the machines are hidden. The modern building linked previously, however, "literally" looks like an actual machine.
Similarly, Strauss and Howe's historical and supposedly "archetypal" theory of genearational interactions...literally looks just like the physically/sensibly obervable phenomenon that it describes. It is not an imperfectly figurative representation that reveals its more perfect and hidden reality in the actual phenomenon of the world, but it is meant to be a literal copy of the world and its happenings, much like a photograph.
So then, if meant to be a literal copy of what we can all see out in the open, how could the theory possibly assert the existence and governance of hidden archetypes? Answer: it doesn't. The language of the "archetypes" in the thoery is a misnomer meant (I think?) to make itself sound important.
Secondly, then, why does there appear to be no necessary tie in the theory between the hidden archetypes, the "reality," and the observable phenomenon of generational history, or the "symbols"? Answer: well, if we aren't really dealing with "archetypes", nor with any foundational and/or hidden reality that stands beneath the surface of things, then we of course aren't dealing with any necessary tie between the archetypes and their representatives nor between reality and symbol! Or you could say that we are dealing with the "necessary tie" between a piece of paper and its "literal copy" made at Kinkos, but then that's neither "archetypal" nor "figurative," but rather literal and mechanical.
Globalism And Gulliver's Travels
This is already too long. If you still want me to explain, however, how globalism and Gulliver's travels "ties in," I can reference you to a previous post of mine (click here).
Again, so what? What does that post, on "the body, scale, limits..." have to do with this comment? I will simply quote myself from above: "Modern society, like a clock, is a machine. It does not imperfectly imitate the spherical heavens that you sensibly see when you look up, but it literally means to copy what we now logically know to be the elliptical paths of the planets." Again, though, the globalism issue was one that got "thrown in" sort of on accident when I quoted my own previous reference to Johnathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and my own comments on it. I think the basic point I'm trying to make about the "necessary tie that binds symbol and reality," even in relation to Strauss and Howe's theory, can be made without bringing up the globalsim issue.
First of all, Strauss and Howe are not using the word “archetype” by way of the psychological definition. They are using it in the standard definition: An archetype is a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated. Wikipedia, (link here). Secondly, because you “cannot discern any necessary tie between” a “bigger reality” and their generational identity does not mean: A) that others also cannot make the connection; B) colleges and universities that use Strauss and Howe’s theory for classes on demographics cannot make the connections; C) subcommittees of Congress who often reference Strauss and Howe cannot make the connections; or D) that I cannot make the connections. You may want to consider the possibility that others may be able to see something that you do not.
[Jason's response back to T.G.]
To start: thanks for the response. Also...
You said: "You may want to consider the possibility that others may be able to see something that you do not."
I don't think that's the issue. I do see the connections that Strauss and Howe are making. I see how, for the most part, the generations interact with and react to each other in the ways that Strauss and Howe describe. For the most part, at least. Again, I have small qualms there. For example, I don't think of Bill Clinton as a "New Ager."
However, that is not my issue with the theory. I didn't read the whole link provided on archetypes, but the description you gave from wikipedia leaves a key ingredient out of the picture it paints of archetypes. That key ingredient is that they have an actual spiritual substance and reality. I can "generically" "archetype" all pooh as "brown" (maybe we should capitalize Brown), and we can even all agree on my "archetypal" description or symbology. But, for one thing, it really doesn't tell us much. And for another thing, the description doesn't actually have anything to do with anything "archetypal."
Secondly, since saying that pooh is Brown doesn't actually have to do with anything archetypal, then there is no necessary tie between the symbol of the pooh and the reality of the Brown. Sometimes pooh is a bit green. If we eat corn, its sort of yellow in parts. On top of that, is there a spiritual substance to "Brown" that is imitated by the brown of the pooh. Or, shoot, is there a spiritual Pooh imitated by all pooh?
So then...if national politics is a circus to distract us from the "real" issues (and mire us in a swamp of pooh), then it would make sense that subcommitees of Congress often reference Strauss and Howe. The thought for me brings a question to my mind. If the theory doesn't have anything to do with anything essential (of actual substance), then why are we dwelling so much on the observable phenomenon that it describes? Might we be stuck in this huge swamp of divine Pooh for the very reason of our dwelling so much on it?
I had just said: "I didn't read the whole link provided on archetypes, but the description you gave from wikipedia leaves a key ingredient out of the picture it paints of archetypes. That key ingredient is that they have an actual spiritual substance and reality."
Why, I might ask, might Strauss and Howe's theory leave that key ingredient out of the picture? Well, it is a modern theory (with a strong relation to Hegel). Seeing as how the modern mechanical and literal universe is a dust-filled vacume, is it any surprise that its thoeries about itself don't leave any room for "archetypes" as having actual spiritual substance? And I wouldn't be surprised if Strauss and Howe leave the key ingredient out of their "idea" of "archetypes" for the same reason that wikipedia, if it does, does so.
[Jason a while later]
Are you at a loss for words? Do you have no defense? Or do you not believe me when I say that I do in fact see both the generational patterns described by Strauss and Howe and the archetypal Brown of pooh? Or was I not clear enough on my reasoning as to why the spiritual substance of archetypes would be left out of their formulation for both wikipedia and for Strauss and Howe (archetypal formation of the cosmos isn't the cookie-cutting of pre-existing matter into arithmeatic mathematical sets)? Or are you just busy
Thus far T.G. has responded with divine Silence. And speaking of Silence, which is hidden, I find it ironic that T.G. - on the heels of my discussing the difference between the hidden meaninig of the figurative/iconic and the obviously "exposed" meaning of the "literal" (like in a photograph, or in Strauss and Howe's theory) - retorted to my comments by asking me to consider the idea that others see things that I do not. Of course they do! I see lots of things things that others don't as well. Lol. "I see dead people," to quote M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense :)
And regarding the divine swamp of Unreal "crap" in which we seem to be mired, from which this post takes its title, just as I asked myself at the beginning of my last post, "...is it a vacation from reality or a vacating of reality?", I have to ask myself now, is our daily reality a vacating of reality (that our national politics supposedly governs), or is it rather a monstrous attempted vacation from itself?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A Musing on Vacation
I was afraid that the week was doomed by the coming clash between myself and some family members who are themselves more supportive of that camel called the Iraq war being fought by their fellow comrades in armes. As a primer for the week, I sent out a long email to everyone who would be with me on my family vacation with lots of excerpts from this link, courtesy of Ktismatics. To give an idea of the contents of the email without having to read the entirety of that long link, here is how I ended it: "MAN I SURE AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN! 'cause 'everybody else be dammed!'" Do sense the sarcasm latent in my sense of justice.
Then the week started with a funny flurry when I learned the true and novel taste of a swarm of gnats wtih a zeal for justice. Before I ever left my Mom's place back in Virginia for the beach in North Carolina, before I ever got home from the airport in my trip from California, my mom told me all about the - although at the time unfinished tale of Sylvia and the bricks - how she was "so over [said tale]." Sylvia is the unfortunately bored board member of my mom's condo association. The landscaping bricks used to line the edges of the pathway through and sidewalk abutting m Mom's rear flowerbed. My mom is the surprised and hapless subject to the power of Sylvia and her landscaping bricks, I mean, uummm, the swarm of gnats targeting her mouth that is gapingly opened to the size of a mountain pass for camels.
Until recently, said landscaping bricks were perched peacefully in said flowerbed for all the six years that my mom lived in that condo. Their peace, however, began to unravel one day a couple months ago when Sylvia, the justice seeking vigilante with Rambo as her guiding angel, politely informed her that, although they had been that way peacefully for six years, they could not remain by the pathway and sidewalk without having a small trench dug to hold them firmly in place. Of course my Mom's reaction was to inform Sylvia that, although the bricks did seem to exhibit some characteristics shared by other animated creatures by looking so darned peaceful, they did not have legs and thereby hadn't gone anywhere for six years and most likely would repeat the feat, if challenged, over the course of the next six years, through hail and hurricanes.
About a week later, after a long, stressful and tiring day at work as a paralegal, my Mom was turning into her condo complex when Sylvia, who had been working in the neighbor's rear flowerbed all day at the corner to the condo complex entrance, which is about five or six condos down from my mom's, stopped her by knocking on the window of my mom's new Jaguar. Said neighbor had been putting down landscaping bricks in her rear flowerbed, but ran out. Sylvia had been out in the hot sun all day digging said neighbor's trench and putting bricks down, had once already been to K-mart to buy some landscaping briks for said neighbor (using funds from the condo association's account), and so didn't feel like returning to the chaos of K-mart. Since my mom wasn't home for consultation, Sylvia figured siad mom wouldn't mind if Sylvia "borrowed" six of said mom's landscaping bricks. Since this wasn't my mom's ideal picture to the end of her stressful day, she looked the suddenly slightly excuse-filled and whimpering Rambo sternly in the eyes and said, "Sylvia, those were my bricks that you took."
So Sylvia, with an air of joy as if her coming response was supposed to bring praiseworthy redemption to an unfortunate sequence of hapenstance events forced upon us from outside, said, "But the bricks were cheap when I went this morning. You can go to K-mart and get six bricks to replace the ones that are missing. Oh and while you're at it, you can go dig a trench to hold all your bricks. But you might not want to dig a trench. Its hard work. It was hot out here today, and I ran into a lot of rocks, gravel and hard soil." Repeating the previous stern look but this time with a touch more surprise mixed in, my mom again looked the whimpering and tired Rambo in the face and this time said, "Sylvia, you took my bricks. I don't want to go to K-mart. I already went to K-mart six years ago. I had a hard day at work. I'm going home."
So about a week later, come Saturday afternoon, my mom is cooking dinner for some folks she plans to have over that evening. She aswers the front doorbell, as if in a gesture of giving Shalom back, Sylvia says, with generously extended arms, "Here are your bricks. Do you want me to hand them to you, or do you want them right here beside your front door?" My mom responded, "Nooo...I want them in my back flowerbed, right there where you took the ones that were there before."
Now picture the combination of a six year old girl's jumping up and down screaming for her ice cream and Happy Gilmore's pretending to hump said girl about twenty years later from the standing position. Using precisly that gesture, Sylvia stated, with all the desperation of a six year old girl in braided pony tails, "You can't have them! You have to have a trench!" So my mom said she would hire a young man to dig a trench that week, and Sylvia and the friendly condo association president who had just, with a look of stunned reluctance unloaded the other four bricks from the trunk of his car, went and placed all six bricks in my mom's rear flowerbed. That was about three weeks ago now.
Two weeks go by and my mom picks me up from the airport late Sat. night and tells me the whole story up to that point, saying that she hasn't had time to find someone to dig the trench. So then the next morning when my mom and I walk out the back gate onto the pathway through our flowerbed on our way to the church just down the street, there before us in a few very neat and organized piles sat all of my mom's landscaping bricks. To offset my om's stewing anger on our way home from lunch after church, I began to ponder the comedy of the situation. As what I thought to be a brilliantly representative emblem of the deep waters of justice as well as the comedic urges in man's humours, I offered up a solution to the problem. I said, "How 'bout if I go dig a trench in Sylvia's front yard and put all your bricks in it." The idea, unfortunately, didn't really take.
So then a little while later, while my mom and I were loading the car to head down to the beach for vacation, we spotted the previously mentioned newly elected condo association president in the front sidewalk by his condo. My mom hailed him down with her arms and called him over with her mouth and vocal chords. When he arrived, she simply said, "Come here. I need to show you something." So she escorted the big, quite pleasant black man through her condo, through the patio, through the gate, and almost kicked again the piles of bricks. After avoiding them narrowly, she just pointed and said, "Look. Now, I wonder who did that?" I must say, the look on the president's face was damn near priceless.
To start a long and arduous conversation now back out in the front yard regarding the infinite number of issues besetting the condo complex while I was waiting somewhat impatiently to go the beach, and yet being somewhat entertained by the turn of events unfoling before me, the president said, "I'm just gonna' tell her to leave you 'lone. 'Dis got 'ta stop. 'Dis got 'ta stop." About half way through the conversation, Jesus words about gnats and camels came to mind when he said, "We got bigger things to worry about...like the unavailable $70,000 dollars needed to get the pool up and running that's been closed for the last two sumers...and here we're stuck in this kind of crap." Eventually, the conversation ended when, this time himself representing Happy Gilmore's hip-swaying prowess, the president said, "I think Sylvia just needs to get laid." Right about then I began to ponder whether this little episode with the bricks involving gnats, camels and sexual tension might just be a microcosm of the windbag world of contemporary politics (see next post).
And speaking of windbags and sex, a few nights later, finally at the beach, I was at a bar listening to live music and drinking beer when I got to see a middle aged guy named "Lucky" wrap a condom around his head and nose and blow it up until it popped. As a celebratory encore to the previously completed climactic moment, he did a few foward hand springs in the middle of the bar to demonstrate the dexterity and flexibility that accompanies drunkenness. Unfortunately the cute, down to earth and seemingly neat bartender with the warm smile gave me about three too many free beers that night, which cannot be ethically refused, and the next day sucked.
And speaking of intoxication and cute girls, the next night I was hanging out at an old friend's house at the beach whom I've known since I was six. As the culmination to his sugar intoxication, my friend's eight year old son with long brown hair had his mom braid it into pig tails. Then he dressed up into his sister's tight fitting pink and gray camo jeans and his mom's nicest black and diamond glittering high heels and pranced around the kitchen, dining room and living room area with quite a lovely air of female gracefulness and a repeated irresistable smile. There was that awkward moment when the heels of "his" shoes turned sideways, his actual heels re-touched the hardwood flooring, and his little eight year old butt flew out and downward...until he athletically re-caught his balance and avoided an actual fall. The next moment, reserved for the grand exit, however, featured the face splash for which we had all been waiting. Now justice was served.
Speaking of waht we've all been waiting for...the end. Justice served again.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
The Twilights of Tears
The other day I was in my apartment busily meditating over how best to live the rest of my life and trying to decide upon the best idea on how to do church and architecture (the two things that take up most of my time). My oh-so-peaceful meditation was violently inturrupted by a loud crash outside my apartment, accompanied by the shaking of my exterior wall that faces the public walkway, quickly followed by the recognizable howling and screaming cries of the cute little seven year old girl who lives across the exterior California "hall." I walked outside to try to console her. I think it helped - a little. She continued to cry, albeit a little less violently, and went into her apartment with her older brother.
Fresh in my mind was the famous film I had watched the previous night, Andrei Rublev, by the famous film maker Andrei Tarkovsky. From my experience with that film, which had brought surprsing tears that I hadn't experienced in some time, I could sort of identify with the little girl. With the moving culminating scene that comes at the end of that film fresh in my mind, I for the first time in longer than I can remember soon thereafter recieved from above a "creative" idea for an iconic painting.
The three plus hours of Andrei Rublev contains many heartwrenching reminders of the suffereings of the world and one's self. You could characterize the entirety of the film as a kind of colorful dirge that slowly weaves your soul into a profound sympathizing with the suffering in the world and, and, in a mystical out of body kind of way, the suffering in that very soul that you occupy. The film, although it appears empirically to be filmed in black and white, is filled throughout with much color. The colors under the suffering aren't revealed, however, until the end. The Light of the icon and the accompanying choratic voices that are the culmination of the film point us to the coming goodness that lay at the heart of where it all began.
And I’m not just being all spiritual and crap, either. The “color” in the film starts with the image of a right side up smiley face on the ass of an up side down jester. After vicariously experiencing what seems like all the varieties of sufferings and sin in the world, by the end of the film you realize that the coloring had already begun before you ever saw the jester…in the relationships between the three monks in the opening scene. Some of the sins in the film are committed by those very monks, some in relation to each other.
One of the revealing episodes of the film involves a young man's coming of age by leading an entire village's quest to make a huge bell to adorn the local sanctuary. He gets the commission from the great prince of the land on account of his dead father's history and knowledge of making bells. When the prince's messengers come through the destitute and drought-emptied town looking for a bell maker, the lonesome and hungry boy claims to have had the "secret" of bell making whispered in his ear just before his father's death. Throughout the construction of the bell, however, the tension mounts in the boy and his relatioships with his workers and his bell. Eventually, the great weight of the bell is lifted to the sky, and you are lightly surprised and deeply moved when you even get hear the coloring of the film in the sound of the bell and then soon thereafter in the tears of its maker. Interestingly, he was crying because he was angry at his dead father for not having imparted upon his beloved son the secret to the family craft.
So finally, after experiencing the pain of a mutilated and imprisoned jester, a raped, ravaged and destroyed village, a guilty and shamed monk whose guilt and shame were produced by his own greed and jealousy (with which one can readily identify), and the guilty sufferings of St. Andrew (that's Andrei Rublev) through his sixteen years of self imposed silence to expiate his sins, among which were the murder of a murderous soldier, you get to expereince the cathartic words of "father" Andrei when he finally decides to break the sixteen year vow of silence by consoling the violent tears of the young boy who has just victoriously aquired his manhood by making a bell ring true.
It was the great injustice of the world that brought St. Andrew's great Silence. An entire village raped, pillaged and murdered - an event in which Andrei was one of two survivors - brings us and Andrei face to face with our great suffering. I react with busily meditating on how to fix the injustice and place myself in a better world. Andrei reacts with much more nobility and breadth of vision. He becomes Silent. When, after witnessing such human corruption, he speaks some of his final words before his vow by saying, "I have nothing more to say to the people of the world," I quietly thought to myself, "I can identify with that." And then after so many years of silence, of removing himself from the world of spoken word and painted image, it was again the great suffering of a new man that lead him back into the world of Speech. And his words were those of consolation, of syptathetically identifying himself with the sufferings of an angry man moved by what he percieved as a great injustice against himself. His speech of consolation ended with the words, "We will be together. You will make bells, and I will paint icons."
So, with my own great sufferings behind me (not like in the past and never to return, but as in behind and with me as I came to face the world before and with me), and with the sufferings and corruption of mankind fresh in my mind from the film Andrei Rublev, I softly spoke a consoling few words to a beautiful little girl. And soon thereafter an iconic image was granted to me from above that pointed beyond itself and back to that Place from whence it came.
In Rublev's beautiful and glorious icons that fill the screen at the culminating end of the film, most of which at least were painted after his sixteen years of silence as words of consolation, the Light comes from elsewhere. But it is evident everywhere in the image; and interwoven into all the structural relationships between each part. Just as the sins and sufferings are interwoven throughout the structural parts of the film and illuminated by the Light of the icons at its end, the sins and sufferings of myself and mankind are illuminated by the light that seems to gloriously radiate from no natural light source within the varous parts of the icons that are structurally distinguished by dark and penetrating lines of blackness or by deeply moving shadows that draw you into the the liminal horizon lines that visually and structurally distinguish between each character or part in the painting. As they say, "It is our sufferings that make us." As Rublev says, however, "God is good."
As I spoke such soft words of consolation to a violently crying beautiful little girl, two things stand out to me. On is the depth of darkness and pain in the abyss of her eyes that seemed to participate in the distinguishing shades and shadows at play on her backlit nose, her weary face, exasperated hair, the still point of her neck upon which it all stood, and her fisted then extended hands that were rubbing the side of her recently disturbed and tear-drenched face. The other is the Twilight of seemingly from other-where peacefulness and amazing goodness softly falling on her backlit cheeks, the bridge and tip of her nose, the tips of the most wildly exasperated starnds of hair, and, most of all, at the fronts of those heavy tears emerging from the depths of her eyes that were then to fall, like the free golden intonations of a great dark bell, down her little face and off the sides of her cheeks and the bottom of her softly shadowed chin.
We carry each other. We are like One. The black and white of Andrei Rublev carries the colors of Andrei Rublev. Rublev's colors carry Tarkovsky to inspiration, and Tarkovsky carries Rublev to us. The soon to be black and blue bruise of the little girl carries my sympathy to her own colors as she carries them to me. With this post I carry my own suffering to you. My sufferings, in many ways, are your carrying of your sufferings to me. We carry each other. We carry our sufferings to God, and He bears them. We carry our sufferings to God, and He carries us. He carries us, and we carry Him. We carry each other. We carry each other. One.
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