the Dock

I was born no venturer, but now my feet are restless.  My view of home has both expanded its borders and shrunk — no more is a permanent locale my destination for I too am changing.  A taste in the air is telling, but the sea beckons strongest.

Each step into or out from the river sees us both affected.  Only I believe the river can’t see me.  My voice is carried off in the current and mingled with its own, even as the impressions of my feet too are swept.

Downstream and further downstream — and where do all these memories fly off to?  In what sea can they be found again and do they again rain upon the earth?

I ‘m weary and unready to ford here — for my cry of encore is lost in this sea unreachable.

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What separates past from present for a river?  Shall my words yet find me and approve?

But in the water I feel best the ripples of my strokes — it is apart from embarkation I lose this sense.  And I am again blinded, wondering by which river I am crushed — the visible or the non.

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Mis-hap or Stumblings: Readings in George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’

As far as debts go, my reading owes ever so much to the e’er so well known C.S. Lewis (if over-quoted in favor of items he never would ‘ve backed – such is the lot of the popular, doomed to being misunderstood) but few debts are so dear as that which led through Lewis to the goodly Irishman MacDonald.  I think I never truly breathed faerie nor so happily mis-happed before feeling its metaphysical pull.

Lilith and Phantastes are ever welcome traveling companions (although a companion, etymologically, is one who shares bread with the fellow traveler) as are MacDonald’s rather bumbling protagonists. But these uncanny mis-haps, these unreflective seeings, lend to the strength of the dream-quality of both books.  No other works to date present themselves so immediately to my senses, nor demand such reflective responses.

Some samplings for those considering or already reading Lilith:

Often the main character in a MacDonald work will have some education, often some relation to Oxford.  In Lilith, these studies are mere backdrop to an otherwise unremarkable life.  The character quickly forgets his own name when first he stumbles through the mirror and is none the worse for it.

Books!  Often a vast library sets the home base for whatever may occur.  In three paragraphs the ‘fine library of his ancestors’ is introduced and its age hints at future wonders for the reader (as well as the only significant occupation for its proximal owner).  We come to find that this particular collection has served and continues to serve for the haunt of one Mr. Raven.

One day our narrator is able to follow this shadow through previously unknown passages to find the mirror, which we soon find is a ‘door out’ where previously he had only experienced ‘doors in’ (p. 12).  Upon mis-stepping so as to gain a better view, our character finds himself in the open air – “behind me: all was vague and uncertain, as when one cannot distinguish between fog and field, between cloud and mountainside. (p. 11)”

Mr. Raven provides further enlightenment (which is more confounding for our bewildered narrator) in telling, “the more doors you go out of, the farther you get in! (p. 12)”  A door is supposed to keep the unwanted out and allow the desired in, but here we are considering doors whose ‘whereness’ is considerably less clear.  The machinations may be inconsistent, or rather, we may not understand them.  Understanding our surroundings is turned on its head when we are told, “The only way to come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at home. (p. 13)”

Something in me loves that line.  Misunderstanding is a frightening thing when one is not at home.  The possibility of ‘doors in’ and ‘doors out’ is unwelcome until we are able to ‘well come’ – to embrace that which is of a nature frightening.  It is not that ‘whereness’ is flimsy, it is that we are and our understandings are.  I write this in an unfamiliar place I (and my wife) are trying to make home.  It ‘s quite funny how the mind struggles to settle where it will endure anything when it ‘s home.  Perhaps this is the sense in which “the more doors you go out of, the farther you get in!”

Home is the only place you can go out and in.  Hm…

One more ‘aroma of an idea’ before moving on…  Mr. Raven presents the unanswerable: “Who are you, pray?”  At this moment, the narrator finds that no answer he can give will suffice.  Should he give his name he is only explaining a relation whose source cannot be demonstrated.  Worse, he does not know himself at all so that he can provide no ‘what’ or ‘who’ to his questioner.

The questioner’s lesson (yet to be learned in full) is that “no one can say he is himself until first he knows that he is, and then what himself is. (p. 14)”  Reflection should easily dismiss any solid notion of either assertion.  The cogito ergo sum gives us no notion of what ‘to be’ or ‘I’ truly mean.  Ironically, this is not skepticism, but merely an acknowledging that the words we use (and the understandings we hold) fail to hold that which we expect from them.  Their solidity is purely derivative.  The solidity that is does not falter because our words fail, but the comfort of our words may well be lost.

It now dawns on our protagonist that perhaps he is dead.  In a sense this seems the likely deduction, but I would think it represents moreso the terror of death or separation.  He falls through into the garret chamber in which the mirror was housed and retreats from the unfamiliar upper rooms of the house in a full horror.  But it is most surely the fear of death, or the realization of how dead he already is, that grips him and now robs him of the familiarity previously he assumed with himself.

It is this state which the main character wakes from in the morning, on which note I shall put myself to bed.

Mis-directing: Footfalls in Foreigndom

I try to avoid apologies (in the usual sense) on a [mis]philosophy blog. Nevertheless, this hiatus was less the product of the usual culprit; which I hope is more the rhythms of creative genius than something more random and less flattering. More simply, a shotgun wedding coupled with a move out of the country and a new job is n’t conducive to regular reading or, its result, blogging [where are the priorities].

To this point, I have n’t experienced an extreme culture shock – mostly, perhaps, because I expected life here to be largely different and am finding less contrasts than I should have thought previously. True, all tasks must be re-learned and that ‘everything’s really the same’ mentality can actually prove quite dangerous to one’s health, but in the general sense I ‘m pretty nearly sure that people live here with the regular difficulties associated with humanity. Coming truly into rhythm is going to prove tougher than I ‘m representing the situation, but the efforts seem worthwhile.

To that point, I should away if I ‘m to arrive at work in time for some leisure reading (George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’).
Cheers

Differently Similar

I stumbled across the idea the other night (I’m doubtful that this was my idea) that what has been most peculiar about my travels in country and to the UK is the manner in which 90% of everything is precisely as would naturally seem to be expected (I really tie culture and expectations very closely together in considering what these terms describe)…and yet those differences are naturally magnified.

This leads to a value conflict when the differences are felt most acutely. Anyway the thought is that my experiences of other cultures can be summed up with the words: “differently the same”. Churchill quipped that the Americans and Brits are two peoples divided by a common language. Having lived there for two brief periods (and having been briefly trained as an English language instructor by, you guessed it, English trainers) I see the gap is a bit broader. But the rhythms of life that comprise culture – what an ordinary citizen (if there is such a thing) might expect – are far more subtle until one finds oneself uninitiated.

I wonder if traveling to non-Western cultures is n’t in the end easier because one is more apt to accept the few recognizable ways in which life is very much lived the same way. But then I ‘m dealing with a personality preference. Still, I wonder if expectations do n’t have much to do with how one interprets her experiences of things being “differently the same”.

 

How do you find this to be demonstrably true or patently false in your experiences or imaginings (which are too a sort of experience)?

Misled and Misleading (or embarking and returning)

To betray my bias at the beginning, I greatly enjoy my forays into Lawhead’s works.  I was first pointed to their historical richness by way of discussing a reinterpretation of the Robin Hood myths.  If you ‘ve read or talked to me about this, you will know I hold a deep love not only for hearing ancient characters revived but especially for those which appreciate the context in which such characters first find listening ears amongst their audiences.

In my adult years I have found both the Robin Hood gests and Arthurian tales fascinatingly stirring.  Perhaps too often I have stolen time away from more pressing concerns to delve into these works in as raw of a form as I can find.  (For which particularly I would here recommend Rochester University’s resources for the mildly curious in all things Robin Hood/Robyn Hode.)  I was overwhelmed in seeing C.S. Lewis’ uses of the Arthurian legends in The Space Trilogy (most clearly and especially in The Hideous Strength) and this at last turned me to engage particularly with Lawhead’s works.  I stumbled through the Pendragon (Arthur) Series as quickly as my studies would allow and finally have begun the King Raven Trilogy which details Lawhead’s interpretation of Robin Hood as a dispossessed Welsh nobleman utilizing the forest for protection.  But sadly, I could n’t find the second in the series at hand (I rarely deviate in a series or skip ahead to the end of a book…a sentiment not shared by my fiancee).

 

At last I draw to the point.  In picking up The Iron Lance, I find much of my reading to match with the broader picture I gather from Lawhead.  He commonly venerates a certain combination of druidic and Christian personas which appreciates both the depths of wisdom attained by the bards and the recognition of truth in the person of Jesu and his role as protector, healer and redeemer.  This, thankfully, naturally led me to expect much good to come from three peculiar monks (Ronan, Fionn, and Emlyn) who, despite the main character Murdo’s aversion to the church and those who bear her name as a profession, befriend their fellow traveler as they embark for the conquest of Jerusalem.  I won’t further discuss the contents of the story but to mention, finally, what has especially struck me: the way these monks describe themselves.

Emlyn describes rapturously to Murdo the glory of his home, Dyfed:

“[T]he Cymry, blessed of the Gifting Giver with all the highest boons, were also given a solitary affliction lest men of other realms and races eat out their hearts in hopeless envy.  Heaven’s Most Favored were endowed with an irresistible taithchwant so that they might not become too proud in the enjoyment of their many-splendoured homeland.”  Emlyn goes on to describe this taithchwant as the affliction of wanderlust — “that gnawing discontent which drives a man beyond the walls of paradise to see what lies over the next hill, or to discover where the river ends, or to follow the road to its furthest destination.”

It is only equaled by the hiraeth; “the home-yearning — an aching desire for the green hills of your native land…for the sound of a kinsman’s voice…for the food first eaten at your mother’s hearth…and therefore,” he concludes, “We are forever pinched between the two most formidable cravings men can know, and therefore we cannot ever be happy to remain in one place very long.”

~ pp. 217-220, Iron Lance

This strikes me rather to the core — this being pinched between taithchwant and hiraeth; wanderlust and home-yearning.  I feel such urges have gained strength through reading, but also there is some sense in which the traveler never seems to set out in any search for an adventure.  It ‘s rather Tolkienesque — as I ‘ve grown to actively seek travel I find that the desire for home never departs.  To some extent I ‘ve worked out that home is, and I think should be, far more about who than where — it ‘s about both the family one finds naturally and the kinship brought about by the travel-experiences.  That thought has helped at times.

At moments this pinching can feel especially unforgiving; as if neither in staying put nor venturing out do we find home.  Perhaps this is only the plight of humanity magnified – shown most clearly due to the trials particularly offered by travel.  Are we not all, as S. Kierkegaard would have, the infinite finitude and the finite infinite — we understand ourselves by understanding what we are and what we are not.  We best understand ourselves in the searching and anxious grasping which reaches out from death to life.  So too, travel by nature alienates but such alienations drive us to experience more drastic (and we may feel genuine) expressions of humanity.

 

I can’t say to where, or list any of the who’s save one, such paths lead.  The scandal of particularity requires that choosing one where negates choosing another.  So too, one can only accompany or be accompanied by so many.  Our tales cannot be described wholly either in bardic lament or by way of gest, but surely they shall be full, and one yet hopes; a blessing.  Shall this dance be proved worth its strains?