Monday, May 28, 2007


This morning I woke up early, got breakfast for the two early leavers, ate some myself, then willfully tried to go back to bed (a mistake; I’m not very good at calling in sick). A bit later the two-year-old was at my bedside with haywire hair and a smile. It was Richard Wilbur who supplied the wake-up words: "love calls us to the things of this world." [note: Wilbur and I may part at the title, but it's a satisfying walk that far.]

Surely changing diapers and otherwise trying to help sheep safely graze are not the full comprising of my raison d'etre? But if so, it may be more than enough.

Monday, May 21, 2007

O'Connor, Dostoyevsky, and Milton: An Insight

Reading in Brother Karamazov last week brought a multi-textual insight. Zossima's "moment of grace" that turned him to his life as a monk was a revelation that came after brooding on his beating of his servant the night before he, Zossima, was going to duel a man who married the woman he (Zossima) was in love with:

"What's the meaning of it?" I thought. "I feel in my heart as itwere something vile and shameful. Is it because I am going to shedblood? No," I thought, "I feel it's not that. Can it be that I amafraid of death, afraid of being killed? No, that's not it, that's notit at all."... And all at once I knew what it was: it was because Ihad beaten Afanasy the evening before! It all rose before my mind,it all was, as it were, repeated over again; he stood before me andI was beating him straight on the face and he was holding his armsstiffly down, his head erect, his eyes fixed upon me as though onparade. He staggered at every blow and did not even dare to raisehis hands to protect himself. That is what a man has been broughtto, and that was a man beating a fellow creature! What a crime! It wasas though a sharp dagger had pierced me right through. I stood as if Iwere struck dumb, while the sun was shining, the leaves were rejoicingand the birds were trilling the praise of God.... I hid my face inmy hands, fell on my bed and broke into a storm of tears. And then Iremembered by brother Markel and what he said on his death-bed tohis servants: "My dear ones, why do you wait on me, why do you loveme, am I worth your waiting on me?""Yes, am I worth it?" flashed through my mind. "After all whatam I worth, that another man, a fellow creature, made in thelikeness and image of God, should serve me?" For the first time inmy life this question forced itself upon me. He had said, "Mother,my little heart, in truth we are each responsible to all for all, it'sonly that men don't know this. If they knew it, the world would be aparadise at once.""God, can that too be false?" I thought as I wept. "In truth,perhaps, I am more than all others responsible for all, a greatersinner than all men in the world." And all at once the whole truthin its full light appeared to me: what was I going to do? I wasgoing to kill a good, clever, noble man, who had done me no wrong, andby depriving his wife of happiness for the rest of her life, Ishould be torturing and killing her too. I lay thus in my bed withmy face in the pillow, heedless how the time was passing.

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My belief/satisfaction with Zossima's change of heart is informed by Flannery O'Connor and John Milton. O'Connor maintains that she uses violence in her fictions because violence has a way of turning her characters to realize their fallenness and "prepar[es] them to accept their moment of grace."

Now, reading Zossima's story brought O'Connor to mind, and in turn brought Milton to mind to explain O'Connor's use of violence. Maybe it's too simple, but here's the thought: violence, or an enlightened experience with it, moves Zossima and works in O'Connor's paradigm because violence is the convergence of sin and death, the two "ugly" problems that challenge human life. Milton personifies the pair in Paradise Lost:

Meanwhile in Paradise the Hellish pair
Too soon arrived—Sin, there in power before
Once actual, now in body, and to dwell
Habitual habitant; behind her Death,
Close following pace for pace, not mounted yet
On his pale horse;

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Beside this primary insight, is the reinforcement of another insight: that texts inform their readers as they inform each other; the interplay between texts brings increased life to each text.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dogmatic/Despotic Dishwasher

Some weeks ago I was washing dishes (I have washed since then--fear not for my kitchen) and loaded (dashed?) a cup, including its left-over water, into the dishwasher. The water in the cup ran down the laundry closet door that parallels the dishwasher when open. What came to mind at that point was a misquoted image from Blake's "London":

. . . Hapless soldier's blood
runs in sighs down palace walls.

The correct version, of course, is

And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace-walls.

I pondered why I should couple that line with that moment, beyond the fact that something was running down something else. The carelessness with the cup (why didn't I empty it in the sink?) came, perhaps, from a half-excited half-defiant approach to the modern dishwasher.

I was more than washing dishes with an attitude like that. I was engaged in a symbolic act; I was defying those who rinse their dishes first and then observe that dishwashers don't save them any time. Blake's lines were good commentary on this mark of weakness, that I was not choosing because my method worked for me; I was working against people who wash dishes differently than I. In all its piteous melodrama, I was a dishwashing despot.

How many asynchronous battles do we fight? I think authentic interactions and actions can be referential, but should not confrontational; motivation based on what we love is better than based on what we struggle against; authentic interaction deals more with what is present than what is absent.

Beauty is that the etymology of "verse" includes the idea of turning; poetry turns and returns us to Tennyson's larger heart and kindlier hand.

Poetry reminds us of who we are and what we ought to be; it says "thou art the man" and "behold the man."