Monday, February 04, 2013
Since I come from a "literary" background (taught English and American lit for many years), I occasionally reflect on the writers I read and taught then--now looking at them from a very different perspective. After we undergo certain spiritual "initiations" we do indeed view the world from a different angle. We ask (of authors and others)--how truly "enlightened" are they? Do they recognize the world of spirit? Are they in touch with those realities which often are invisible to society at large? Do they acknowledge the divine as an actual functioning essence in human experience?
Recently I was thinking about James Joyce, generally rated as the most important writer of the twentieth century. Indeed, Joyce displayed brilliance beyond measure--his novel "Ulysses" demands close and prolonged reading. Joyce, not one to be restricted by false humility, declared that all he demanded from his readers was a lifetime of dedication to his (Joyce's) works.
In "Ulysses," Joyce casts his main character--Leopold Bloom--as a Dublin Jew, possibly because this was a time when there had recently been overtly antisemitic activities in Ireland. In some regards, Bloom is a kind of Walter Mitty character, the consummate outsider. He is a true "anti-hero"--a man more or less overwhelmed by circumstances. His wife has been cuckolding him for some time with a brazen suitor named "Blazes Boylan," and Leopold has submitted to this continuing humiliation without protest. He never confronts or complains, but goes about his own dreary existence as best he can, pursuing the small pleasures of his unremarkable life. He and his wife even sleep head to feet, since no sexual contact is allowed.
Joyce excels in revealing the flaws and insufficiencies of each of his characters in turn. He makes no allowance for the transcendent moment, the epiphany of divine revelation, focusing rather on the mundane "in seeing," rather than heavenly portents. The world is as it is--plain, coarse, and unrelenting. Life is compounded of trivia and petty experience. Nothing has meaning or significance beyond itself, except perhaps in terms of aesthetics or sensual reactions. He is the ultimate "realist."
In contrast to Joyce is the Irish poet Yeats, sometimes called the "last romantic." Yeats loved the Ireland of myth and mystery--where fairies still lived and the gods and goddesses of old still interacted with mortals on earth. He was filled with nostalgia for the past glory of Ireland and proclaimed the magic of its present. He was drawn to the supernatural in its many aspects. He sensed the "mystery behind the mystery," the lure of that which is sensed rather than seen. He wrote in "A Vision" a kind of complex and intricate foreshadowing of what was later presented to us in the "Enneagram," his schemata being based on the phases of the moon, in a volume channeled by his wife through automatic writing. His work is accounted among the best of the past hundred or so years, displaying power and strength which are seldom matched by his contemporaries or successors.
A case might be made for a similar pairing of opposites in America, with Flannery O'Connor as the skeptical and relentless observer of humanity in all its faults and nakedness. She writes from the perspective of a harsh Christian mysticism that allows for the numinous moment, yet insists on such absolutes as good and evil, and constantly judges those she portrays as sadly lacking in merit or valor. Like Joyce, she stands above and beyond her subjects--each has a fatal flaw which often results in an absurdity which becomes a caricature.
Of course, some claim she thus reveals the shortcomings and follies of humanity in order--like Swift--to instruct and thus improve. But there seems to be a lack of true love in her rendition, as if at base she detests that which she unmasks, even though she cloaks her condemnation in the guise of Christian orthodoxy.
I think the opposite of O'Connor would be Mary Oliver, whose love for nature, humankind, and the transcendent moment--permeates her writing. She thus becomes a guide, not a judge, and her writing (for the most part) affirms an inherent lovability in both nature and human beings. Few among contemporaries dare endorse either nature or humanity through such a perspective, for romanticism is out, and skeptical realism more or less rules the day.
What would have happened if each of these literary notables had undergone major spiritual transformation through, say, Kundalini awakening? I think there would have been more affirmation, more expression of love in the work of Joyce and O'Connor, the two realists (though at times O'Connor writes as a Christian mystic, I see her as a realist in her insistence on human shortcomings.) I think that Yeats and Oliver reached toward the transcendental vision and indeed perhaps did experience Kundalini as part of their overall creative experience.
Note: The above is a "top of the head" reflection, a general summary of possible interpretations, notions which at this stage are neither complete nor final. Rather it represents some ideas I have been toying with, and which possibly deserver further refinement and consideration.