Heavenly Homes

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Deep down, I was always a little jealous, you could say, of those people. You know, the ones who always knew what they wanted, always knew where they were going next, always knew who they wanted to become—or at least, it seemed that way. Home is where the heart is, as the cliché goes, and those boundless vagabonds seemed to find home wherever their next specific goal, placed deep down in their hearts, took them. Cheerleading and tournament weekend champions? Check. Volunteering to build schoolhouses for Ghanaian children? Check. Scuba diving off the coast? Check.

But there were no checkmarks like these ones on my list, and I was no vagabond, neither seeking home nor feeling completely content with where I was. Rather, I was a homebody. Not that my body was particularly pentagon-ish or made of brick and mortar. Although, to be honest, if I were to be built out of man-made materials, brick would be my choice. But it would have to be red brick, the best brick of all the bricks in the world.

* * *

The Vatican is not made out of brick. Not even red brick. It is made of the blood of the laymen. As one of “the holiest places” in the world, our visit as a study abroad group of Brigham Young University to the Vatican had been hot, cramped, claustrophobic, and, simply put, miserable. The word Vatican, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery, was supposedly used a mere name for a hill in Rome; however, the Latin word vatincinor means “to prophesy” from vatis, meaning “poet, teacher, oracle” (www.alphadicionary.com). If I could have prophesied or had an oracle given to my by the gods the craziness that would follow the morning before we left for our outing, perhaps I would have gone about visiting the center of the Catholic Church differently. Maybe I would have tucked a fan into my saddlebag or worn a hula-hooped vest, allowing a few inches to be salvaged as my outward shrine for my personal bubble.

Yes, it was incredible, seeing the Sistine Chapel, the numerous sculptures and the “idols” (if you were a sixteenth-century Reformation Protestant), and St. Peter’s Basilica. Here is the home of popes, future popes, and cardinals, the past and the current, which is visited by approximately 25,000 sweaty tourists every day and five million every year (Brady). For some, the pilgrimage is a holy quest. Yet for me, although I recognize the holiness, which it holds for many and the importance it carries on with white-Western history, the Vatican was no heavenly home, to say the least.

At the end of August, it is still humid and sunny in Italy, and when I arrived back in my room—alone—there, I sat, drenched in sticky sweat and fanning myself in the living room. The room situation was fine. There were an odd number of girls, and I ended up, somehow, having an apartment to sleep in without other roommates. This room was to be my home-away-from-home.

* * *

Labeled: the homebody. I was the girl who preferred staying inside her room all day long. I don’t remember my first room, or my first home, I lived in particularly well. I was born and grew up in the sunny sin-city—Las Vegas. Memories of the past blur with present so often that it is hard to distinguish reality and pseudo-reality, which then feels just as real as reality—so is there reality in this un-real reality? Like my brother, who after watching home videos over the years, says he remembers perfectly eating a whole slice of lemon when he couldn’t even walk yet. Or when he says he remembers the feeling of riding two horses at the same time (or rather two swing sets linked together and swung back and forth from keyed up energy of a toddler aged boy) like Zorro in the movie. Does Jacob actually remember doing these things? He has a pretty close to perfect memory. Or is he reconstructing this reality from the reality of a camera and a video cassette player?

But I digress. Memories—all alone in the moonlight—you’re a tricky thing, aren’t ya? Much less poetical than the hit song from the musical Cats, music Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Trevor Nunn, but my point is this: as fleeting as moonlight is, so are memories. Maybe you think you see moonlight, but it’s really just a glimmer of a glimpse of something else.

My memories of the Paterson house, which my first home from the time I was age newborn to three, are limited and reflective. Inside the house, there were mirrors on all the closet doors of the bedroom. Flickers of color pass through my mind, reds and yellows. A red feather hangs down into my face, and yellow triangles or diamonds or both fly by. It’s a feathered headband! Legs spread out on the floor, drum between legs, arms beating (maybe with a stick?) a drum, which sides are leathered and worn with texture, but the skin of the drum—it’s smooth and soft to the touch. The focused gaze is at this poor little drum, which is continued to be beaten. But then the scrutiny shifts. And there sits a little girl, with cropped hair the color of sunlight and big, blue eyes and a calm face, half expectant for something to happen, and smooth—smoother than the drum—and paler than moonlight. She looks at me. I look at her. She is me, and in this final realization—the dream, the memory, the reverie—it dissolves to darkness.

There have been no home videos, to my knowledge, of this scene of which I have described. I’ve never watched it before, so whether or not is contrived out of pure imagination or is actually happened, I don’t know—not that I ever will. When I reflect on this memory of home and my presence, sitting alone on the floor, the memory and the experience of reliving this memory become translucent and transcendent, simultaneously.

* * *

Rome is Rome—but home is home. And I just “wasn’t feeling it,” especially after being cramped and shuffled along with and pushed by Asians and Afghans and Anglo-Saxons and Albanians and Angolans and Australians and Argentinians and fellow Americans. I couldn’t help but wonder, in my state of loneliness and exhaustion, why I had bothered to come to this trip abroad, with no friends and no family and no common language and no real home. This statement may seem self-centered and shallow—which it was. This opportunity to see Italy, France, England, and Scotland—who could’ve asked for more? I was blessed, but in this exact moment, I had trouble seeing the blessings and felt my tired feet more. I don’t know, maybe I could blame my self-pity a little on culture shock or homesickness or something.

One, two, three tissues later—my being sick with a cold pressed forward with its mucus-travelling trip via nose, throat, and mouth. Sniffling, I wiped stray, rolling tears that began to fall down my cheeks. So add to the raw soreness of my feet, I now had bleary, eyes and tear-stained, flushed un-rosy-red cheeks. I’m an ugly crier; it’s true.

Skyping Mom and Dad was a rash, mistaken judgment call on my part. After complaining that I should never have come on this trip away from home, they told me to stop crying and, well, pull myself together. There were other girls who were struggling, probably, as well, to make friends and to feel happy and not tired. I just needed to seek out others to become friends with and to give myself and the experience a chance. After the call ended and feeling more lectured at than loved, I flopped on the skinny couch and fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

When I was around three years of age, my family moved from the Patterson house to a home about five minutes drive from the temple. It was a big decision, a big change, especially for toddler Katie. Apparently, I told everybody who asked that I was going to the “up-up-up house.” My parents didn’t know whether I called the new home this name because the home was built on the mountain or because it was a two-story house with a staircase, unlike the Patterson house, which was one story tall. But it became home to our little family, which grew from three to four at the birth of baby “Bapup” in November. It was the only place I ever really called home. My entire life surrounded that home: all my memories, all my experiences, all my hopes and dreams.

In my childhood, I loved to play pretend, imagining I was anywhere else but in the “up-up-up house.” My brother and I created a family of Barbies and GI-Joes where magic existed and literally anything was possible. Timus Thomas Barbae. A perfect, pretend world that never would exist.

* * *

I’ve never found myself to be particularly “motherly” or the “mom-type.” Playing with pretend babies and pretend Barbies and pretend dolls—easy peasy. But real babies—whole other matter. Babies cry when I hold them. Baby food looks disgusting. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I changed a diaper. And I look terrible in mom jeans.

I don’t remember what age when I thought, “I’m never going to have children. Like ever.” I just didn’t think then I could handle it, emotionally or mentally or spiritually. I feared that I would just break them, screw everything up, ruin these teeny tiny lives Father in Heaven had trusted me with. I feared failure, as a parent, as a mother, as a daughter of a Perfect Parent.

During my freshman year at BYU, there was a woman, middle thirties, in one of my classes. One day after class was finished, we walked out together, talking about school and life. She started talking to me about her separation she was going through with her husband and how that really frustrated her whole “baby hunger.” I was paying attention before, but when she said that phrase, my Lassie ears perked up. What in the world was baby hunger? Like straight up Jonathan Swift, whole Modest Proposal? Wasn’t that essay supposed to be bitingly satirical and not to be taken literally? So, being blunt as I am, I asked this fellow classmate what she meant by having baby hunger.

My classmate looked puzzlingly at me and replied that you know, really wanting to have a baby, and I just nodded my head and was like oh, right, of course. But I had no clue what she was talking about. Was this expression something Utah people said? I just felt like something was wrong with me, not wanting to have children at that very moment. But I’ve always been different growing up, I felt it must be another thing to add to the list of what makes me “special.” Not having baby hunger? Okay, yeah, that was me.

I confided in my mom once about my fear of rearing children, and she replied, “It’s different when it’s your own. It’s different.”

One day, like flipping a coin soaring in the air, I suddenly learned what it felt like. No, I didn’t want to eat a baby. And I didn’t want to kidnap or steal a baby. But there was this feeling inside me that said, hey, maybe doing this whole kid thing wouldn’t be so bad, you know? That’s my baby hunger, as a single, twenty-two-and-a-half-year-old woman, my desire for a future, for a family, and it’s good enough for me for now. I can look to my future home with only half an eye facing the future, and the other half facing the present.

“It’s different when it’s your own. It’s just different.”

* * *

Two hours or so later, after falling into a dreamless sleep in Rome, I woke to the sun beginning to set. In Provo during the winter, it always felt to me, a Las Vegan gal, that Provo skies decide to go to bed in a hurry. Once the sun decides it has done its work for the day, the sky switches immediately to moody blackness. However, the fragrant twilight of Rome seemed to continue almost endlessly. The amber light lingered longer, molding shadows that grew lengthy limbs. The sun, holding close her baby-pinks and lavender and ochre, took her time, as if smiling and wishing silent good-byes upon her children in the world below her ceaseless gaze. My window, with lacy trimmings and a wide, happy mouth, showed me this view with open arms, as if to beckon me “Behold this sight, little one.” And it was an awe-inspiring one, for me, in my isolation. Quiet solace entered my heart and cooled with gentle hand my feverish, perspiring brow.

This afternoon was our “free time,” the first time we really had in the course of our trip thus far to take a break and relax. My nap sucked up most the time, but there was still when I awoke to freshen up. Embolden to set out on my quest to meet new people and make friends, I knocked on the next door to my apartment, which ended up being the room of English professor and his family. Dr. Eastley was gone, but his wife, Alison, stood at the door. Uncomfortably, I mumbled that I was just saying hello to “the neighbors” and didn’t mean to bother anyone or to interrupt anything. Mrs. Eastley beamed and welcomed me in, saying that I wasn’t a bother and that I should sit down and talk with her.

* * *

Over a year after coming home from the study abroad, on Monday, 26 January 2015, I drove down 500 West in Provo, Utah, to my doctor’s appointment, scheduled at 1:40 P.M. An ordinary Monday, an ordinary appointment. I was experiencing a certain amount of pain, and there were some problems with my “time of the month.” Too long and too heavy, still, even after birth control. Mood swings. Sharp, piercing pain in my stomach. Nausea. Migraines. Difficulty sleeping. Hot and cold flashes at odd times. I sounded like the side effects of a commercial advertising some new pill.

The doctor came in, asking some pretty normal questions. I answered as best I could, explaining the situation. She asked some more health questions, and then she told me to rest on the table/chair so she could check some things. After she was done, she said she wanted me to get my blood tested. “Premature Ovarian Failure,” she said. “Or maybe not.”

“It’s different when it’s your own body, your own problems, your own infertility,” I thought.

I was in shock. Maybe it was thyroid problems, but she wanted to check for Premature Ovarian Failure, AKA Early Menopause. Only twenty-two years old! Menopause is for old people, right? I joked sometimes that I felt like I was going through early menopause, with all my random sweatiness and inability to sleep.

But it was possible that it would be impossible for me to ever bear children. I may never be able to become pregnant or have high difficulty becoming pregnant. I may never hold a little life in my arms.

Approximately 1% of women have Premature Ovarian Failure. I might be part of that 1%. Yet, 5% to 10% are able to become pregnant spontaneously. When I read that online, I thought immediately to immaculate conception. But the chances of become pregnant the “natural way” are slim.

Infertility. It sounded final, irreversible, like fate shoving its enigma down my throat. Shock, sobbing, shock, sobbing, shock. When I left the clinic, I seemed to go through those motions, stuck in an endless cycle.

“It’s different when it’s your own,” I thought. “It’s just different.”

* * *

Children, of the Eastley’s and those of our art professor, Dr. Jensen, and her husband, ran around the room and laughed with wild glee. Marian was to write in her journal, explained Mrs. Eastley. The girl holding the book wore glasses and two braids on the sides of her face, and there was something about her that reminded me of myself at that age. Next to her was another girl of the same age, a Jensen, with bright eyes and round, cheery face. Marian had finished her writing for the day, and the two girls were looking back at what Marian had written at home when she was in first grade—first grade! Now they were in fifth; first grade was such a long time ago. Apparently, there was a love interest, in this first grade class, and it was passionate. There was love involved, of course, which was gross, of course, but this lover, the topic of conversation was what the two girls talked of interminably and nothing else—this forgotten love of her young life that was ages ago—was it four years, really?—and this discussion, full of giggling and wide eyes, lasted the thirty minutes I spent in their current home for the week.

* * *

After traveling on the Continent, our study abroad group stayed most of our time in London. Our student flat was in Kilburn, about fifteen, twenty minutes out of the heart of central London. Two tube transfers, and you could be in the center of the world. I was assigned the Lea Valley Ward, about a two-and-a-half hour tube ride. This email is what I received from Brother Kahwa, the councilor in the bishopric, shortly after moving into my new home for the next three months:

The three of us were the BYU students. Sarah and I were called to serve in the primary, wrangling children and breaking up fights. These kids were vivacious, to say the least. There were many children, and the ward was quite diverse. People from all over the world—South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, America, New Zealand—gathered in this humble little church outside of London to pray and to worship god. And, if you were ten years old, to punch one another.

The children, they were rascals, and I, overwhelmed. Overtime I learned their names, their personalities, their voices, their hearts. I became less overwhelmed and more heartfelt. As my love grew for them, I knew them better, and they grew to know me better, too. They weren’t always quiet, but there was a little more reverence. When I would play the piano, the children would want to sit with me and watch me play. Poor primary president, having to tell them, along with me reminding them, to please sit down.

* * *

Often I felt inadequate with conversation, although, while sitting at the kitchen table in the small apartment, much more comfortable talking with an adult than I did with the other students on the travel abroad who were my own age. Even as a child, I never seemed to fit in particularly well with kids in my age group, my class (both at primary in Church and at school), or dance and sports activities. In a body of a frustrated child was a soul, it seemed, of an adult.

Despite my feelings of inadequacy at conversation topics, and while the two girls gleefully prattled on about Ms. First-Grade’s class and the other students, Mrs. Eastley and I talked of nothing out of the ordinary but only of our extraordinary day, full of art and history and culture, even if there were lots of bodies about and the crowds—weren’t some tourists just awful!—but, oh, the art’s beauty—oh, it was stunning, wasn’t it?—seeing these murals up close, by Michelangelo and all those other guys who were artists back then, even if passing by was a bit hurried at times and sometimes more forcefully shoved along, they were just so real and so touchable, and your whole life, you see these pictures in books and in movies, but it feels, or maybe, seems so different to see them, the art, in real life, in reality.

This topic, of our day and of the art, came naturally. Mrs. Eastley was a kind woman and easy to talk to. We also talked of God and the sacredness of temples, in contrast to the feeling that we both felt in the Vatican. A place, renowned as well as respected for very legitimate reasons, seemed to lack for us that sacred feeling of the Spirit. In my head, I thought about how, a few mere hours ago, I had been sitting alone in my room crying, while now I, laughing and talking as if a natural at it, was in quite a different state of mind and person. It seemed easy now, or at least easier, than the thought of human contact and interaction had been in my state of previous bemoan-ment, rather than being in the moment and enjoying myself over a wooden table in a kitchen in Italy. Italy!

* * *

Mansions in heaven—that always seems to come up when we talk about returning to our home in heaven. We see this idea expressed in the scriptures. D&C 98:18: “Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.” D&C 81:6: “And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.” John 14:2: “In my father’s house are many mansions.”

We even see mansions being prepared for us in hymns. In Hymn 136 “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” we learn that Christ “lives my mansion to prepare. He lives to bring me safely there.” Hymn 117 “Come unto Jesus” says, “Come unto Jesus; He’ll surely hear you, If you in meekness plead for his love. Oh, know you not that angels are near you From brightest mansions above?”

The mansion, our rightful reward, our motivation for doing what’s right on earth so one day we can have a three trillion dollar house with stereos and computers and movie theatres and personal gyms. Right?

This idea of mansions in heaven never made sense to me. The pearly gate of Peter locks out the unrighteous, while those righteous who are allowed to pass the golden roadblock enter Heavenly Hamptons, zip code 810000. Mansions up and down the lane. An upstairs, downstairs, Downtown Abbey scenario where the less righteous are forced to be slaves for eternity while the Celestial are blessed and waited on hand and foot.

But I feel like our home in heaven is not going to be a bourgeoisie v. proletariat, us v. them, sort of situation. Perhaps mansions is said because our brains cannot imagine how blessed our future homes could be. Even the chorus of Hymn 223 “Have I Done Any Good?” says, “Then wake up and do something more Than dream of your mansion above. Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, A blessing of duty and love.” Yes, we will be rewarded and have a heavenly home, but we must do something. We must do good to others and share joy. It is our call, our purpose. Not only is it a blessing, but also serving others is a duty, a responsibility.

I like to think of our so-called mansions more like a place where we will continue to learn and to grow, to become more like our Savior. It may not be exactly perfect, because we are imperfect, but we and our homes in heaven, in the process, become perfected.

* * *

One Sunday, the primary children of the Lea Valley Ward were preparing for their upcoming Primary Program. They had practiced so diligently, working very hard to make their parents proud. And to have treats, of course, afterwards. The music conductor was a senior missionary sister from the United States. She often came off as frazzled, but she really did love the music and the children, especially the little ones. Again, she reminded them all to be quiet and good, without much avail. Then she had them sing “A Child’s Prayer.” It’s such a classic, and probably every child who has ever been to primary knows the words to this song by heart. But as they sang, a reverence and a peace rushed like wild flames of fire into my heart. I felt loved. I felt wanted. I felt peace. I felt at home.

* * *

Dr. Eastley entered the front door, and I stood, the conversation having seemed to come to a close with Mrs. Eastley, said my rushed good-byes and quickly stepped out of the room. But I had done it! I had talked with someone; I had made a friend. In this tower of apartment buildings, I had made a friend. On this level of several rooms, it ended up being only my room and the Eastley’s room as part of the study abroad group.

* * *

The primary had so many different personalities. Osawee was a feisty, young boy. He had bright, big eyes the color of amber. His family was from Africa originally, though he was born in the UK, and his mother was often sick and looked so tired. Her son would run around in circles and still have energy, and he was about three and a half, of course. During the primary songs, he would sing the loudest. During the primary program, I think I could hear Osawee over everyone else in the war choir. During his speaking part, he said that he loved his parents, articulately and loudly into the microphone, causing a reverberation to ring shrilly. The adults laughed while covering their ears. He liked to sit in my lap and tell me stories, using his hands with big swooping motions and his expressive eyes often said more than his limited vocabulary could express. Soon before I left, he came up to me confidently and declared, “I love you.”

And I replied, smiling and holding back tears, “I love you, too, Osawee.”

Another little girl, quiet with solemn eyes and spiraled hair, sat on my lap the last Sunday before I left and asked, “Must you go back to America?”

I explained that my home was there and my family was there, too. They missed me terribly.

She continued, “But you can stay with my family in our flat!”

No response, no answer whispered from my lips, since I just hugged her tightly, so she couldn’t see the tears that flowed down my face.

* * *

I feel like no one will ever want me now, if I cannot bear children. Who would want something broken? Who could love something barren?

My best friend wrote me a letter after I told her that I may never be able to have children. Here’s a section of the card: “I just want you to know that anyone worth loving isn’t going to care about whether or not you can do backflips or whether or not you’re fluent in Urdu, or whether or not you have the best dance moves in the zip code (which you do), or whether or not you can have kids. They’ll just love you because you’re you.”

* * *

The beginning and the end seemed seamless, as I waited in my seat on British Airways going home after my study abroad. When I flew out to London, we left in the early morning from New York City and arrived in Heathrow in the dark eventide. Now, flying home to the States, I left late afternoon to arrive home in the evening. Sun sets; sun rises. Constant, yet distant. Eternal, yet ethereal.

Life is one continuous sunrise, one continuous sunset, an experience that is both translucent and transcendent, simultaneously.

When I bake pies or cook curry with my best friend, there always seems to be just an extra pinch of coriander or another teaspoon of garlic or another fourth a cup of sugar to add for taste. Like adding extra ingredients when cooking an old, familiar recipe, I felt like there were bits and pieces, pinches and tablespoons, of my heart, of my home, everywhere. Whether I had a piece of Kilburn or a pinch of Provo or a spoonful of hometown, or even remembering myself playing the drum or hearing the words “I love you” or being held by a loved one while I sobbed over sorrows and pains—all these ingredients and experiences and memories came together to make up my own version of my heavenly homes—imperfect, but still homes.

I may never have children. I may never marry. I may never have a family. But I can have homes wherever I go. I will one day be able to live with Osawee in our homes above and hug him and say, “I love you so much, little one.” Maybe then, one day in my heavenly home above up there somewhere, I will give life to my own dear ones who can play with Osawee and all the other children and people that I love so much.

It really didn’t matter which sunset or sunrise came first or which one lasted longer because when the cycles were completed, I would be home.


 

Works Cited

Brady, Tara. “Vatican forced to tighten security at the Sistine Chapel after pickpockets target huge crowds of tourists.” DailyMail.com. 21 May 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

“Vatican.” http://www.alphadicionary.com. n.p., n.d. Web. 18. Jan. 2015.

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Support “everyword” Today

My friends, Sarah and Josh Sabey, are working on an exciting project. It’s called “everyword.” They’re such a fun couple and have some really great insights and ideas. Sarah and Josh are an LDS couple to create the first crowdsourced interfaith study of the Bible.

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“Sarah & Josh Sabey holding an original Tyndale Bible—courtesy of Reid Moon”

Here’s a video they’ve made:

The tagline of the project is “Nothing breaks down barriers, fills in trenches, or curbs animosity so well as working side by side towards a common goal.” I believe that 100%. This project will help to bring new perspectives and create greater unity among those who believe in a higher power.

Here’s a description of the project from their website:

This project attempts to increase interfaith interaction and cohesion by creating a crowdsourced study Bible. The website works like this: users are able to annotate the scriptures with their own insights, interpretations, as well as videos, music, books, or other relevant resources. These annotations will be publicly visible, and any registered member may then use them to enhance their own study. Results may be filtered by religion, author, medium, and so on.

By crowdsourcing Biblical commentary, everyword seeks to bring people of diverse faiths and perspective together in a common goal and allow them to support one another in the most basic of Christian habits—scripture study. The power of the project, we believe, is just this: Nothing breaks down barriers, fills in trenches, or curbs animosity so well as working side by side towards a common goal.

Sarah and Josh have been featured in several articles already. On ldsmisisonaries.com, it says, “Users may post their own interpretations, as well as videos, music, books, or other resources relevant to a particular passage of scripture.”

Today is a big day. Whatever amount of money they are able to raise will be matched by sponsors. So head on over to their website and support them today! Also, if you are interested in contributing your ideas to the project, head on over to their Facebook page.

image from here

The Age of Catholic Counter-Reformation

The religious conflicts in the 16th century continued throughout the 17th century. The Catholic Reformation (AKA the Counter-Reformation) did not work in tandem with Protestant Reformation.

Pope Paul III (image from here)

It was a long process because certain popes did not want to respond to those who had questions; additionally, there was much civil unrest. Plus, reforming the Catholic Church, which covered all of Europe and spread into the New World, was overwhelmingly difficult.

However, in 1545, Pope Paul III held the Council of Trent. This council reviewed certain Church doctrine, such as transubstantiation, but did not conclude until 1563.

An edict written by the Council of Trent stated there should be “images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints” (Gardner 596). For example, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini depicts a nun, who had visions and was made a saint, thus “correlating with the ideas of Ignatius Loyola, who argued the re-creation of spiritual experience would do much to increase devotion and piety” (654). The various kinds of media, from the electrified, marble-carved fabric against the clouds and radiant beams, draw the viewer in. However, the male figures on the side could suggest that this woman’s spiritual experience was regulated by men and not to make everyone think that they could be like her. Something was exceptional about this.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (image from here)

By resisting the Protestant objection of having art in church, Catholic Counter-Reformation art was seen as a means of instruction that was accessible to the masses by being more realistic or naturalistic. The edict explained that bishops should teach “by means of the stories . . . portrayed in paintings . . . the people are instructed and confirmed in the articles of faith, which ought to be born in mind and constantly reflected upon” (596).

For example, The Last Supper (c. 1592–94) by Tintoretto is realistic because the setting is a darkened tavern lighted by torches and candles. This is a common place where household objects are seen in addition to servants—even women—preparing dishes. However, this is not a regular feast scene. The viewer could step in by identifying with the woman washing the dishes. The individual viewer could be a part of this scene but is also instructed concerning the sacrament.

The Last Supper (image from here)

Additionally, Entombment by Caravaggio “gave visual form to the doctrine of transubstantiation” (661) because the lowering of Christ’s body is parallel to the table where the altar would have been; therefore, the body of Christ is lifted down and given to you to take the literal body of Christ. Some critics charged this portrayal as too naturalistic because Christ’s feet are dirty and callused. His body is not idealized with skin obviously exposed to the sun.

Entombment (image from here)

Another important element seen in the Counter-Reformation was the generation of community or the gathering of the flock back together. For example, Vignola and Giacomo della Porta’s Il Gesu (c. 1573–84) in Rome was “the most influential building” of the time. After Pope Paul III “formally recognized this group as a religious order” (622), the Jesuits were effective missionaries by sending missionaries across the world and educators by establishing schools.

Il Gesu (image from here)

With Il Gesu, “the nave takes over the main volume of space, making the structure a great hall with side chapels” (622). Making the nave the center area, similar to the area of a ship, the individual is brought towards the altar and—consequently—Christ. The person could not just stand in the lobby, or the narthex of early Christian basilicas or churches where a person must decide whether to go in or not. Instead, everyone who enters is thrown into the nave—they are on the ship moving towards Christ. The plain exterior contrasts with the majestic interior, representing the soul, to make viewers marvel, not to make viewers feel insignificant. Thus, this unites all those inside on seeing what heaven is like.

Supposedly, all this was done so the faithful may remember God: “give God thanks for those things, may fashion their own life and conduct in imitation of the saints and be moved to adore and love God and cultivate piety” (596). However, the new age of the Scientific Revolution would have people who would find the old ways not sufficient to their questions.

How to Have Peace

In the constant, daily struggles of everyday life, it can be difficult to feel peace. Whether it’s an upcoming exam or worries about the future (family, career, etc.), feeling peace can seem impossible.

In Doctrine and Covenants 19:23, it tells us how we can individually have peace:

Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.

So how can we have peace?

  1. A person must learn of Christ.
  2. A person must listen to the words of Christ.
  3. A person must be meek.

This world is full of confusion and turmoil. There are wars; there are rumors of wars. There are murders and fighting, divorce and hatred, unkindness and theft. But the Gospel truly does offer peace to those willing to accept its teachings.

1. A person must learn of Christ.

Learning of Christ seems pretty straightforward. Sometimes actually learning of Christ is hard when we get busy with life. Studying the scriptures, the Word of God, will help all of us learn of Christ. Going to the temple brings us closer to him.

2. A person must listen to the words of Christ.

In Doctrine and Covenants 1:38, the Lord declares the following:

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

This scripture seems to prove that General Conference is extremely important. When apostles and prophets speak, it is what the Lord would have declared because they are his servants.

Last Sunday in sacrament meeting, my bishop talked about General Conference, which will be happening this weekend. He said that across the church, it is the least attended meeting by the members. I was shocked! General Conference is probably my favorite spiritual weekend every April and October.

Bishop Jackson told the members of my ward eight concepts that we would learn if we would listen to General Conference.

8 Concepts We Can Learn if We Listen to to General Conference

  1. The importance of remembering our covenants
  2. Our need to seek for eternal truth
  3. How we can avoid confusion/being misled
  4. Why we should resist evil
  5. The need to sustain one another
  6. The importance of attending church meetings
  7. The importance of guarding our virtue
  8. Why we should develop good qualities

President Monson

3. A person must be meek.

I know that as we listen to the words of the prophets, we must be meek. If we are meek, we will be more likely to accept what they have to say as truth. And if we accept the words of the prophets and apostles, then we will be more likely to implement their teachings into our lives. Being meek is not being weak—being meek will make us humble and stronger.

Originally posted: http://stanceforthefamily.byu.edu/how-to-have-peace/

Text as a Social Force: Cultural Criticism

Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood”

Introduction

Text has been a part of human creation for hundreds of years. People have used art and literature to express themselves and the human condition. But the text is also a social force. Cultural criticism has changed the way readers view literature and art. Art is not merely used for entertainment or artistic expression.

Early critics include Hegel, Arnold, and Marx, while later social critics include Marx, Williams, Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault. From Hegel to Foucault, art and texts reflect, reify, or alter social structures.

Hegel

Hegel focuses on how an idea finds meaning in relationship to others. Hegel believed “an individuals entity’s meaning rests not in itself but in the relationship of that thing to other things within an all-encompassing, ever changing whole” (Leitch 536). Hegel uses the idea of the dialectic, “which entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537).

There are two conflicts then a compromise; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward. His theory stresses movement and change rather than equilibrium and motionlessness. Hegel provides the example of the Master and the Slave, a relationship full of constant tension.

Through the relationship of the lord and the bondsman, there exists two opposite modes of consciousness: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544).

Hegel shows that “the reciprocity of dependence” is seen in “characterizing human relationships: ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’” (Leitch 538). In “Lectures on Fine Art,” Hegel believes that “a work of art is a product of human activity,” a process of “conscious production” that can “be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel 547).

Yet “the work of art stands higher than any natural product which has not made this journey through the spirit” (Hegel 549). Being a historicist critic, Hegel considers art occurring in different stages: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

How literature changes consequently changes how we think about things, considering phenomenology or our experience with the world. Art becomes key to understanding wisdom, whether that be scientific, religious, or philosophical wisdom, not in a subservient way but in a way that art shapes culture, and culture shapes those structures.

This concept influences the text. Readers can look at a text and consider how the author resolves conflicts in his characters. It is key to understand that art bypasses how things appear, looking straight at the form of actual things. This process shapes how we perceive the form or do not adhere to actual form. Readers can see this process influence how we consider social structures.

What is government is a complex question; but readers can get various answers of the function or purpose of government through art and literature, which also shapes our interpretation of how our own government is functioning.

Because “[m]eaning and truth are never fixed because they are always in process” (Leitch 537), readers who search for answers in literature and the world around them will never find a fixed truth or specific meaning. Thus new interpretations or readings are considered permissible.

Arnold

On one hand, Arnold emphasizes that we see the object as in itself as it really is; on the other hand, literature, for Arnold, is the highest aspiration of a culture and society. These conflicting points are Hegelian in nature. For Arnold, literature is used to create a moral society.

When he asks for a criticism of life, look for cultural criticism—not just disinterested examination but a cultural criticism that enters in to a critique and evaluates when it is necessary to condemn the inadequate values of a culture. Arnold ends up engaging in political intervention of a literary sort. In fact, literature does present ideals and moral principles for us to consider.

Arnold states in Culture and Anarchy, “[M]any amongst us rely upon our religious organisations to save us. I have called religion a yet more important manifestation of human nature than poetry, because it has worked on a broader scale for perfection, and with greater masses of men. But the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all its sides, which is the dominant idea of poetry, is a true and invaluable idea” (Arnold 720).

Since religion fails, poetry becomes the new religion, shaping social structures. Because poetry becomes the new religion, more focus is placed on thought than on adherence or obedience to rules. In religion, preachers tell you what to think and how to act; in contrast, literature becomes much more interpretive. Yet, at the same time, Arnold really emphasizes the importance of a critic. The critical becomes ultimately higher than the creative.

For example, Arnold writes in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, “But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without intrusion of any other considerations whatever” (Arnold 702).

So the critic is still important, in Arnold’s perspective. Morality becomes based on this stew of ideas rather than a clear right or wrong. The critic turns to ideas, where the poet emerges from, thus going back to poetry as a new religion to turn to new ideas. Therefore, the poet needs an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere.

Marx

Marx is a social critic, providing ways to perceive the social sphere in which we all live. Marx’s theories are does not provide direct literary interpretation but is used by later critics. Marx introduces concepts such as base and superstructure. Marx becomes Hegel’s most famous disciple, since Marx “adopts both the vision of struggle and the dream of an end to strife” (Leitch 537).

For Hegel, thoughts lead to how you live; however, for Marx, how you live your life leads to your thoughts within society. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx continues the Hegelian dialectic, highlighting “the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production” (Marx 663).

But what distinguishes Marxism from Hegelian philosophy is “that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all these domains” (Habib 36). For example, in “The German Ideology,” Marx writes in contrast to Hegelian philosophy “which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven” (Marx 656). Because, unlike Hegelian beliefs, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, though of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh,” Marx sets out “from real active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx 656).

Marx tried to find causes and solutions in the structure of society.

  1. His first “objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production” (Habib 36).
  2. His second objection is concerned with this unjust relationship, “the oppression and exploitation of the working classes” (Habib 36).
  3. His third objection is concerned with “the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread” (Habib 36).
  4. Finally, Marx is concerned with the idea that “capitalism reduces all human relationships to . . . self-interest, and egotistical calculation” (Habib 36).

Marx set out the explanation of the base and the superstructure. The base (r the forces of productions such as the relations of property and the division of labor) and superstructure, (artistic, religious, and political thinking and culture) is very important.

These two concepts greatly influence later critics. But what importance does Marx have to do with literature? Leitch highlights how a literary reader would ask questions not answered specifically in the text:

What roles do writers, critics, and intellectuals play? Do they illuminate for workers the nature of capitalist exploitation, or do they act at the service of those who already and best understand their true circumstances? Should writers be free to state the social and political facts as they see them, or must the goal of working-class revolution always shape their work—an if so, who sets the limits? (Leitch 649)

To these questions, Marx could reply with the following: “the answers will come only when the contradictions within capitalism produce them” (Leitch 640). Marx truly has changed how we see the world as well as how we interpret art and literature as seen in Marxism.

Benjamin

Benjamin is considered a Marxist critic because of his analysis of the principle of mediation and consciousness. There is a distinction of Marxism versus Marx, the man. Marx is a dialectical materialist, meaning he focuses on history.

The dialectical method occurs when two sides come into confrontation and wrestle with each other, which leads to a new thesis. When a new thesis emerges, another antithesis emerges, too. But Marxists saw the antithesis as consumer culture, and Benjamin believed, “Modern works are reproduced for mass consumption” (Habib 34). In other words, the principle of mediation “establishes relationships between the two levels of Marxist dialectic, between the base and the superstructure, between the relations of production and the work of art” (Richter 1202).

This means the base, or means of production, conditions the superstructure, or art; consequently, art is changing in the current production mode. For Benjamin, there is the possibility of “art for the masses,” the aura, or “spiritual quality, a relic of human attachment to ritual and magic . . . is simultaneously beginning to disappear” (1202–3).

While tradition and aura are smashed under mechanical reproduction, reproducibility is valued instead through exhibition for mass experience. This current production mode changes consciousness or perception of the masses, which result in producing new concepts.

The first concept is the “brush[ing] aside of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius” (1233), which leads to processing data in the Fascist sense. Benjamin views the aestheticization of politics that serves the Fascists negatively.

His second concept focuses on the politicization of art that serves the communists, which marries the capacity of art for analysis and the capacity to meet the broad public in order for the masses to think and do critical analysis of conditions in which they live.

This idea does not fall under a Marxist mode—rather than people rallying together and raising their rakes, people would be expressing themselves. Yet for Benjamin, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (1244). Additionally, Benjamin considers distraction versus concentration, which reflects on the consciousness of the masses.

Because “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator,” someone “who concentrates before a work is absorbed by it,” while “the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (1247). Benjamin claims, “The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one” (1248). Therefore, Benjamin believes consciousness changes because the medium or delivery mechanism changes. This is a Marxist claim: understanding the world is determined by consciousness, which changes through materialism or history.

For example, one consequence of the alienation of labor is the human separation from body; the human then becomes a slave to labor. This reduces man to animal functions, or as Marx explains, “the human becomes the animal” (403). What previously separated the human from the animal was consciousness.

Ultimately, Marx argues, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (409). Consequently, “the proletarianization of art progressively dehumanizes both participants and spectators” (1203).

Benjamin’s influential ideas shape our view of art—what it means for the masses and what it can mean for us today. We, the viewers of artwork or the readers of a particular text, can determine to be a conscious examiner, not an absent-minded viewer.

Williams

Considering Benjamin’s interpretation of art and the influence of the base and superstructure is helpful in considering Williams’s argument. Williams uses the Marxist theory to see a literary sphere.

Williams sees that culture, like civilization, has a dual sense of achieving and developing. Culture besom a process, or something in flux. Language becomes a tool of productive practices. For Marx, the methods of production focus on gears and factories. But what if language was as productive for as metal or iron or steel? What if language makes things happen?

Language would not work by itself any more than factories work by themselves. Language becomes as much of a tool as a machine is because language does not just mirror reality but becomes a tool for human agency. Williams consider the base, or the means of production and class relationships, as well as the superstructure, or the ideological, including politics, religion, education, and family.

Williams dos not believe that the base and superstructure are homogenous. He sees the mediation between the base and superstructure. The relationship of the base and superstructure is a dynamic one: “We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent content” as well as “we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, contain fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process” (Williams 1426).

The relationship is more than simple reproduction. This is not just a depersonalized system because we want to include people in this—intension is crucial. How are human decisions influencing the totality. It is not a trapped, soulless system, but rather it is made up of humans.

For Williams, it is as much about the reader as it is about the writer. Conversations written about literature in addition to political interventions are both meant to change the world. The political institution means that you are doing your work to change the world. There is a flux in this influence.

Rules that are so accepted become natural and dominant, even if it is not necessarily how society actually is; this idea introduces hegemony. With hegemony, rules so complete seem inevitable but invisible. Thus, hegemony becomes total. But where is the opposition?

Hegemony is a bunch of ideas. When we think about ideas, we realize that ideas are never wholly dominant, since ideas, like languages, are processes of growth. Throughout various periods, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, ideas are contested and contrasted.

Thus, we see residual and emergent conflicts emerge. People are included in this process of what is fading and what is emerging, thus intention is crucial to how our human decisions influence the totality that is not trapped to a soulless system.

For instance, Williams writes, “Intention, the notion of intention, restores the key question, or rather the key emphasis” because although “it is true than any society is a complex whole of such practices, it is also true that any society has a specific organization, a specific structure, and that the principles of this organization and structure can be seen as directly related to certain social intentions, intentions by which we define the society” (Williams 1427).

This system is made up of people and human choices. Literature includes the notations of people scribbling upon the margins of dominant cultural context. We continue to see this today not just about ideas but also about media and new forms of art.

For example, film is probably still emergent and now dominant while perhaps reading could be considered residual. People are not writing epic poems but create epic films.

Horkheimer and Adorno

Horkheimer and Adorno suggest that society produces literature often upon consumer demand. Critics, including Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin considered Hegel and Marx “in attempting to revive the ‘negative dialectics’ or negative, revolutionary potential of Hegelian Marxist thought” by opposing “the bourgeois positivism which had risen to predominance in reaction against Hegel’s philosophy, and insisted, following Hegel, that consciousness in all of its cultural modes is active in creating the world” (Habib 34).

Literature becomes dictated by the publishing house and editors rather than literature becoming an instrument to express what the muses have inspired the author to transcribe down for others to read. Literature is a way to reveal realities of a society, through the base and superstructures of a society, as seen in the analysis by Williams.

While Hegel suggests conflict and the form of things helps us learn to understand better, Arnold desires literature to raise society. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue hat literature is a product of society, suggesting the proof of societal existence and influence. Humans become consumers rather than readers of literature.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue,

Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure . . ., but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided (Horkheimer and Adorno 1116).

Literature—both high and low literature—is produced and used to pacify the masses. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno write, “[I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound track in the same way as a Tolstoy is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1112).

Instead of realizing the terribleness of their situation, they will be too busy reading or watching or being entertained with whatever consumer product is considered the next big thing.

Foucault

Adorno addresses not multiple but manifest reason. He addresses Modern work that is calculating, spreading technological control toe very aspect of our lives. Similarly, Foucault does the same thing by considering the subtle power influence over everything. Reason does not just control but puts the productivity in power.

Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor an isolated discovery. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked. The Panopticon, or the all-seeing tower, becomes an important metaphor about discipline and punishment of the invisibility of power to its all-seeing power.

This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). When speaking of the establishment of power relations, Foucault writes, “The modeling of the body procedures a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques incudes modes of behavior and the acquisition of skills in extricable linked with the establishment of power relations” (Foucault 1491).

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; there is no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything.

Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (including the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature could become another discourse. Literature does not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

For example, in Nancy Armstrong’s lecture here at Brigham Young University about the bio-politics in Jane Eyre, she provided a Focaultian reading by examining ways the forces teach women to be women, such as through church sermons, but discourses (such as literature) assert certain subjectivity to train gender.

Another example could be seen in Wuthering Heights. In this novel, the reader learns about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s untamed passions in a straight-laced, Victorian world. This strict society contrasts to a book about passions. Paradoxically, the book does not talk about the encouragement of such behavior but talks about of what we think about being repressed, sexually in this instance, in a particular society.

Therefore, with Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Readers see that literature shapes we are; therefore, we see literature not just as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work.

Conclusion

Cultural criticism is an exciting way to look at literature and art as a social force. Hegel’s concept of the dialectic has influenced criticism. Of course, Marx and Hegel differed: “Marx was a materialist in the sense that he believed, unlike Hegel, that what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society. . . , rather than the ideological superstructure. . . of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon the economic base” (Richter 1199).

However, both Hegel and Marx believed in dialectical oppositions that occur in society. Marxism and Marx’s theory has been a dialectical relationship: “[Marxism] has always striven to modify, extend, and adapt [Marx’s canon] to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete” (Habib 37). Therefore, Marxist critics continue this dialecticism.

Other critics, such as Arnold and Williams, could view evolutions that occur—the change of poetry as the new religion for Arnold and the interchanges that occur between the base and superstructure for Williams.

For Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer, they “saw modern mass culture as regimented and reduced to a commercial dimension; and they saw art as embodying a unique, critical distance for this social and political world” (Habib 34). Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the question: what new discourses could the future hold?

Richter argues, “Marxist theory and the application of Marxist theory out literature have taken a dizzying variety of forms, depending, among other things, on how the literary text is positioned relative to material reality and to ideology” (Richter 1199– 1200).

These cultural criticisms and theories have changed the way readers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into. One can wonder what new insights and theories will continue to be influenced by these early theorists.

 

~ Works Cited:

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Creative Fiction: “Ekpipto”

He knew that he had fallen. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?[1]

As SMSN[2] waited, chained against the cold stone, he knew that living and pretending as he did among the E.O.[3] had brought about this end. He had been called to save his people, the PRLTRT,[4] from the BRGS.[5] He had fallen in love with a woman, a woman whom he had never met before and would never see again. She was a stranger, but he was a stranger to her country. He was called to search for the books, for the words of Truth. His people would not die in ignorance. The priests would rejoice. SMSN would finally be a hero. But SMSN had failed. He told his secret identity to the woman he loved. She told the E.O. who he was. Now he was to be tortured.

Before he had ever come to this foreign land, he had been warned of what would happen if he would fail. The priests told them that any traitor to the cause of the E.O. would endure intense suffering and extreme torture. He was warned about the process of losing the senses. SMSN now knew what would happen to him in this pit of hell.

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen.[6]

He had fallen in the land of GZ,[7] the very land he was suppose to destroy. SMSN had failed.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.[8]

The fault was all his own. He knew what he had done. It was delicious pain.[9] He could dare to admit his wrongs even here, in the darkest of caves, on the darkest of nights, below the deepest level of hell.[10] He felt like someone or something was watching him.

And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.[11]

This was to be his punishment. His senses that connected him to this world would be taken from him. A creature designed to torture entered the far side of the room. Its neck twitched with excitement. XXX[12] found particular pleasure in the five-senses-removal process. This meticulous process required palpable skills and perceptive style.

First, touch.

Which are after the doctrines and commandments of men, who teach you to touch not, … handle not; all those things which are to perish with the using?[13]

These words seemed to flow through his body seamlessly.

“The priests of YHWH[14] had taught me from childhood,” thought SMSN, “as well as MNH,[15] the male, and MRY,[16] the female, from the time of my birth.”

In an earlier era, MNH and MRY, a heterosexual couple partnered about thirty years before the language revolution,[17] would have been called the father and the mother of SMSN. But in the surge of egalitarianism, all parents, whether heterosexual or homosexual or transsexual, were stripped of any label of father or mother. The names designating roles and responsibilities were ordered to be erased from all records under Appeal 274 of Equality.[18]

Step one was completed. As pain swelled in rushing waves through his body, he dared to look down at his fingertips. The tips of his fingers—all ten—were gone. SMSN clenched his eyes shut, focusing on the words. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.[19]

Second, taste.

SMSN had eaten the forbidden fruit. The snake had been too beautiful, too tempting. The face of SMSN was injected with a numbing solution. He was fully awake and could still feel some pain. However, the cutting of the tongue was significantly less painful than the severing of the fingers below the nail. The numbing solution also disabled his ability to scream. He was silenced completely. He would never again be able to say the name of his lover, DS.[20]

Third, hearing.

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.[21]

He would never hear the world above. He would never hear the world below. He would never hear the voice of DS again. Alone, he would hear silence. XXX computerized to inject the syringe above and to the side of the cheekbones so no numbing solution would impact the side of the face of SMSN. The ears of SMSN were in full-feeling effect. If SMSN had been able to scream, he would not have been able to hear his own cries.

SMSN focused on the verses that he thought almost mindlessly through the synapsis in his brain. SMSN was to be the chosen one. He was selected to not go to the regular school. MRY had had a vision. She had heard the voice of YHWH. While still a baby, he was smuggled, unbeknown to the E.O. or the system and raised by the priests. Instead of going to L.S.,[22] the priests taught him what other students were not taught. Children in L.S. were shown pictures on a moving screen with images that flashed by. One student was rumored to have asked, “If I don’t remember it happening, then it never happened?” This was the deadliest question. The purpose of the pictures on the screen were to remember what had happened. Most of the images were of footage of before the Crisis, before WWIV. These children were not taught what had happened or why; they were just shown that it had happened. This was real.

After those news programs, students were shown pictures of YHWH and miracles on the ever-glowing, ever-teaching magical screen. They had been saved. They would not be cursed again, like their forefathers had been. They would not be wiped from the face of the earth. The earth had been cleansed by water. The earth had been cleansed by bomb. Now the earth would be cleansed by products. The E.O. were, of course, over the production and selling and selling of the items of pleasure. Large pictures and posters would be spread around the small gathering areas where the people of SMSN would gawk and stare and drool over the newest item of pleasure. The people of SMSN were quite poor but several items of pleasures were especially marketed for them. The richest and the poorest both could enjoy the items of pleasures. Beautiful, smiling women help luscious clothing. Tall, dark men wore bracelets that shined like the sun. Certainly, some of these items of pleasure were not quite at the same quality as these images depicted, but what did it matter. The people of SMSN had been saved on purpose and had every right to enjoy pleasures. No need to think critically. No need to analyze. The E.O. would tell you everything you need to know. They were now the chosen ones.

Of course, SMSN was chosen. But he was also selected. SMSN was taught by the priests the ways of deceit and cunning. He was taught how to fight and how to break, to lie, to cheat, to steal. He grew in strength. Most importantly, the priests of YHWH read SMSN from the S.B.[23] He heard the verses, the words of the YHWH. He was taught by hearing. The priests would force him to memorize, to reiterate, to recite until the words fell from his mouth like mana fell from heaven for the people of MSS.[24] SMSN would not worship the idol; he would rend the earth in half with his might. He would save their people from ignorance.

Yet SMSN was not entirely trusted by the priests because SMSN was not taught how to read. Reading was considered too powerful; reading caused men to think and to reason. Reading, or words specifically, were dangerous. Reading is what had caused the Crisis. It had ended millions of lives. Had not the priests taught SMSN that even MSS could not read the ten commandments as they were written, but rather YHWH had told Moses what to say to the people?

But SMSN yearned to know the real spelling of his name. The one thing children were taught was how to spell their names. Documents, of course, still had to be signed. A few other words could be picked out, but mainly children who grew up to become adults only knew their own name and maybe the name of their partner. He believed learning his real name, his real spelling would be the source of his real identity. Those words that spelt his name would be his Ideal, his Form, his Self. In other words, those words would spell out his true identity. Not the false name he created for himself. Not the name he still called himself, SMSN. But his real, true identity would finally become a reality.

Fourth, smell.

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?[25]

SMSN knew he was no longer whole. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

He had given himself to DS, worshiped her, kissed her feet, and fallen on his knees for her. He had sacrificed, given everything for her. But why? She had lied to him, telling him that she knew what it was like to be an outsider, to be an outcast, to want something more out of life. Together, they would escape this world. Together, they would run away from it all. Together, they would transcend this world by running away to the North Kingdom, an empty land where vagabonds and cannibals were rumored to roam and hunt for human flesh. After their plans they made, SMSN knew he had passed the turning point. There was no going back. He had known that he would tell her everything in the fragrant swallows of the evening’s dimming dawn of darkness. He could never go back now. But he did not know it would end with this.

XXX knew its purpose. Its job was to complete the task. Losing one’s sense of smell was a process. It was the longest step. It was the fourth most painful sort of torture known to humans. It was a simple process: simply wave a precise mixture of the bottles labeled L2, O, L2. XXX was efficient. It did its job. It was calculated to give Subject 24718-JKB a shot of adrenaline at precisely 10.4 seconds after the solution was completely smelled. Subjects were never supposed to go unconscious. Subjects must be awake for the entire process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process.

XXX began, slowly, to shut down. XXX was created to shut down after step four.

SMSN jerked back into consciousness. He was awake but barely. His eyes streamed with tears that he could not brush away. His eyes were the only thing he had left. He could see that XXX was no longer moving. Somehow XXX had shut down, apparently automatically. There was no binary switch for on or off from what SMSN could see with his two eyes.

SMSN sat there for a few moments in the dark. He felt like someone or something was watching him. He was confused. His precious eyes were left for last, but who—or what—would complete the deed? SMSN began to shake harder than ever before. Not knowing what would happen next terrified him the most. He muttered under his breath these words to try to calm his shaking hands and shrinking spirits:

Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.[26]

Almost two hundred years after the bomb, the era of schwas and diphthongs was over. The masses were reduced down to mere signs. A child was assigned one or more consonants to be known by. This revealed the worth of the child. A one-consonant child was worth less than a two-consonant child, etc. Not even YHWH used vowels–only an elect few knew that the BRGS[27] could buy vowels. SMSN, a child worth four consonants, was one of the elect. The rulers of the E.O., could afford vowels.

A man in black descended the stairs. He blended into his surroundings so at first SMSN did not see him. Then another and another and another descended, like demons returning to the thick darkness of a cave. They preferred the blackness where they sought their Truth.

One man with particularly long, black gloves drew a curtain. SMSN had not noticed it before. His eyes strained, but he could not tell if the shadows were talking. They moved and moved slowly, but he could not tell whether their lips moved as well. Hearing nothing and seeing these silhouettes before him were chilling. The dark curtain was drawn and behind it was a simple stage.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.[28]

SMSN had sinned. He knew it. He wanted to confess to these black shadows all he had done, but he could no longer speak. He then realized that these shadows that were humans had come to finish his last act of torture. It would be not merely a physical ending but a psychological ending, he could tell.

The play began. It was a puppet show. Invisible beings moved the strings. A lonely puppet stood in the center of the stage.

Someone had disappeared. The lonely puppet was warned but defied the warning. The villain, an elongated masked puppet, was searching for something, gained information from a letter, and attempted to trick his victim via another letter. However, the lonely puppet intercepted the letter. This letter was worn and torn, scrolling down and around the lonely puppet’s body like a serpent entangling its victim and preparing to attack. Rather than forwarding the letter, the lonely puppet destroyed the letter. He tore the letter, piece by piece. Next, he tossed the fragments of the letter into a burning fire pit that sending shadows to darken the face of SMSN.

After the destruction was complete, the lonely puppet departed into a wilderness on a mission to escape from bondage of society and ensure his freedom. In this wilderness of endless sand, the lonely puppet grew weary, losing strength every haggard step he took. But the lonely puppet stumbled upon a pouch that was full of effervescent water in the middle of this desert. Suddenly, the masked puppet arrived on the scene, having found the lonely puppet. The two puppets dueled. It was impossible to tell from one moment to the next who would win. The lonely puppet stabbed the masked puppet with his paper sword, and when the masked puppet died, the desert vanished.

It had all been an illusion. The masked puppet, a sorcerer and magician, shimmered into a thousand pieces, scattering among the wind. The lonely puppet wandered off, searching for his home, a place he had not returned to for a very long time. He left the wilderness and was back in the city. Chased by little puppet dogs, the lonely puppet arrived at his home safely. But he sat on a chair, alone in his room. No other puppet entered the scene. No solution was offered, no exposure was made, no transfiguration occurred. Neither a wedding nor punishment happened. The lonely puppet just sat alone in the room, unremembered, unwanted, unrecognized in his isolation.

When SMSN had been escorted down the steps into the room of torture, he had seen lines scribbled on the wall. The E.O. were educated men and women. Sometimes lines were seen covered on walls, although these held no meaning for him. The guard recited the first line, and these words now echoed in the mind of SMSN:

In recognizing Oedipus or Medea in ourselves, we recognize that what can happen to that sort of person can happen to us as well, because we have just come to recognize that we ourselves that sort of person—that we are, to that extent, Oedipus or Medea ourselves.[29]

Who was this Oedipus? This Medea? He yearned to scream it out loud. Yet no one could answer his question now. Right before the guard and SMSN entered the room of torture, the guard had recited another quote:

Incidents of drama itself . . . . teaches the audience something important about life and fate, even if, as I believe, it is not clear whether we can say in general terms what this lesson is or, indeed, whether there is a single lesson that tragedy teaches beyond expanding our sense of factors that can affect the shape of our life. Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.[30]

The thoughts of SMSN trailed now as he watched the lonely puppet on the stage. SMSN had not and did not understand these words. He wondered if the play was supposed to mean something to him. He did not know whether the drama was meant to influence his emotions in some way or if it was some strange set of motions to create confusion for himself. Or, he wondered, if the play was in some way an original creation set out for its own purpose of merely existing just as he was created for the mere usage of being in existence. Could the plot merely be attempting to internalize resolution of its tragic nature rather than considering his response as the sole audience member? Did the invisible puppet master not care that he was present—he still existed?

After that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.[31]

The play was coming near the close; SMSN could sense it. He would lose his sight as soon as the curtain was lowered on the stage. The madness would finally finish.

The lonely puppet climbed a fabricated staircase, winding up and up and up. He reached a tall building with many windows that glowed of deceitful warmness, ricocheting more shadows in all directions. After the lonely puppet climbed the stars, he reached the top of the building. He stood, arms stretched out to the heavens. The stars–tiny, flickering lights surrounded in the darkness–blinked on and off, on and off.

And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.[32]

With his arms still outstretched, the lonely puppet took a step off the building and fell. The curtain closed. SMSN shook with a terrible force.

The E.O. had an approved list of teaching material, otherwise coded as DAGON,[33] mainly of old television programs or news reports, or so the rumor had been spread when SMSN was still in L.S. The S.B. was one on the approved list. It was used to calm the people. He had been on an errand of truth, a quest for the ideal, but it soon became a search for the true name of SMSN. He yearned to know his true identity. How was his name suppose to be? What would it look like? What would it feel, look like written out? SMSN’s original quest was to search for the books that were not on that list made by the E.O. To find out the names, the real names, of titles that had been considered improper. The purpose of him entering GZ was to save his people. The source of truth, the source of reality was to be found in the list of books that were forbidden.

The center of the city in GZ was a giant orb on top of a high building, stretching into the sky. This orb sent silent vibrations through the city. At high-speed velocities, these vibrations could detect the code in the hair and sometimes even the clothing of the PRLTRT versus BRGS. SMSN did not completely comprehend how this machine worked, but its power rested purely on the exterior, detecting any unwarranted visitors to the city of the elect.

The priests had developed a way to rewire the code encrypted into the hair of SMSN. It was done through high-tech software that the priests had stolen and had been working on for years before SMSN was born. The orb would be unable to detect the false code signaling the identity of SMSN. SMSN was to become part of the BRGS. The only thing that would give away his identity would be a reversal of the code in his hair. The priests had given SMSN fresh clothes, which were also stolen from BRGS.

But SMSN became sidetracked from his quest. While hiding among the E.O. in GZ, SMSN had taken upon him the name of ISH,[34] but when SMSN met DS, she made him feel emotions he had not dreamt were possible of in the land of his people, where women were nothing compared to the greatness of DS. She had told him that she would tell him his true name if he would but reveal his consonants. But their love had been a false one. When he had told her all, she had betrayed him while he still slept in her arms. She was to reveal his secrecy, and in the dead of night, men, spying in their secret eyes hidden about the room, hanging from ceilings and tucked under tiles,[35] had come while he was still asleep, injecting him with a solution so he would remain asleep and innocuous. His false DS,[36] his idol, had betrayed him. He had sold his mess of pottage; she had cut his hair.

She took his hair to the E.O., who would soon discover the secret of the priests’ endeavors to hide the identity of SMSN. Probably not very long after the punishment of SMSN would be completed, the priests would be punished, as well. They had been warned. They had been found wanting. They would receive their just rewards. The wicked would not prevail. E.O. would rule without conflict. They would continue to sell their gizmos and gadgets, their toys and their entertainments for the pleasure of the PRLTRT. One day, no one else would resist. The minds of the PRLTRT would be too absorbed by the toys of the E.O. No long would the people of SMSN question the control of the E.O. The PRLTRT would become slaves to their passions rather than defenders of their rights.

Fifth, sight.

SMSN shuddered, violently and forcefully, in the fiercest, sharpest of pain. He never learnt if he had dreamt in the depths of his unconsciousness after losing his sense of smell or had actually seen the haunting vision in reality. He was left in darkness, never to see his Form written in letters and consonants.

All that remained were mere mirrored memories upon the glassy smear of his mind.

 

~ Footnotes:

[1] Genesis 4:6

[2] Pronounced Samson, according to the section of pronunciation guide in E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language. After the bomb destroyed approximately 79.4% of the earth’s population, the E.O. (Elite Order), or previous rulers that survived and about .2% of the remaining population, gathered together to establish a united language and simply terms to communicate completely, concisely, compliantly, and clearly. Only 1.93% could read this new, condensed dictionary.

[3]Acronym, using only vowels, Elite Order

[4] Acronym, using only vowels, Proletariat

[5] Acronym, using only vowels, Bourgeoisie

[6] Isaiah 21:9

[7] Pronounced Gaza, a land currently covering the Midwest of the United States of America.

[8] Revelation 14:8

[9] SMSN could possibly be referring to Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. A man, who falls in love with a prostitute, rejects the reality of her occupation present before him to focus on the qualities that he loves. This eventually brings about their separation, which enhances the tragedy that will undeniably happen at the end of the opera with the prostitute’s death.

[10] Possibly in reference to Dante’s Inferno

[11]Deuteronomy 4:28

[12] Pronounced, Extermination Version 30. This is in reference to its model number.

[13] Colossians 2:21–22.

[14] “The tetragrammaton (from Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning “four letters”) is the Hebrew theonym יהוה, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. It is one of the names of the God of Israel used in the Hebrew Bible.”

[15] Pronounced Manoah

[16] Pronounced Mary. Records show that there was a high spike in partners selecting this name for their child around this time. Mary was approximately 15 when she gave birth to her first son, Samson.

[17] After the Bomb: A new order of time was established.

[18] The Appeals of Equality came into effect shortly approximately seventy-eight years before the bomb occurred.

[19] Genesis 2:17

[20] Pronounced Dios. Believed by some to be the word for gods in the forgotten romantic language, Spanish. This became a popular first name among the selection of daughters by the E.O., who were not commanded to multiple and replenish the earth.

[21] Mark 4:23

[22] Acronym using consonants, Learning Suite. Education did not have the status of using vowels in its abbreviation. L.S. years would be the years generally associated with elementary school in the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. Therefore, this would be about kindergarten through fifth- or sixth-grade. However, in the years following the bomb, the E.O. declared that children would go to school from age 4–5 until puberty, for “the multiplying and replenishing of the earth” as taught in the S.B. (see footnote 21). Children were then assigned partners, based on preferred sexual orientation; therefore, children had the option of selecting a homosexual or heterosexual relationship under Appeal 274 of Equality, but homosexual partners were given children from other parents who had died or were considered unfit. Suite is in reference to the fact that children were sent away from school, such as with boarding schools in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

[23] Acronym using consonants, Select Bible. Even high literature did not have the status of using vowels in abbreviation. Around 9 A.B., the E.O. created a committee called the R.S. This committee did not have the status of using vowels.

[24] Pronounced Moses

[25] 1 Corinthians 12:17

[26]2 Corinthians 8:21

[27] Pronounced Bourgeoisie, an antiquated French term that persisted approximately 112 years after the bomb. Some believe that this is equated with the prevalent survival rate of the French, who had retreated into Switzerland before the explosion. Some critics would argue the French contributed heavily to the E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language, while others would say that their prevalence is quite less obvious.

[28] Romans 5:12

[29] Believed to have been written by Alexander Nehamas.

[30] Ibid

[31] Mark 13:23

[32] Mark 13:24

[33] Judges 16:23 “Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice”

[34] Pronounced Isaiah. Believed by some to be a prophet in ancient times.

[35] Perhaps this is in reference to hidden cameras or a sort of unknown code conveying images from area 1 to area 2 in order for information to be revealed about something occurring in area 1.

[36] Upon further research in recent years, Dios is believed to have been an agent for the E.O. Some critics, however, argue about her role. Some wonder whether she could have been a double agent. Others argue about what role could she have played.

 

~ Some Explanation:

Ekpipto, as used here in the title, in Greek means the following: “to fall, to perish, to fall powerless, to fall … of the divine promise of salvation.” This short story is about the fall of a man, ultimately in the quest for Truth. This dystopian/philosophical/1982/The Tree of Life/the gloss of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”/biblical/YA novel-esque (Unwind specifically) short story is weird and … well, just straight-up weird.

But it incorporates ideas of Saussure (the idea of signs, the use of language/names, and the importance that has in this society), Baudrillard (the use of television for education and the hyperreality; whether SMSN dreamed or if it was reality), Plato (the cave/shadows/forms, searching for the truth/ideal, and the idea of preferring spoken above written language), and even Aristotle (the idea of the form of drama in addition to criticism by Nehamas).

There is also irony in the sense of the futurist critic, writing biasedly throughout in the margins, looking back at a earlier point in the future (from our perspective as the reader), as if it is a piece of art to critique; perhaps this is in reference to Wilde and the idea of a critic being more important than the art itself and the emphasis on creating, in fact constantly creating to find the new, rather than the actually reaching the certain point of the said-end creation.

Additionally, Nietzsche could perhaps be seen in this short story; the quote “God is dead” could have popped up in the dialogue at any point, and the idea of society constructing truths, which are actually lies, in order to create structure is prevalent throughout the story.

Of course, the Platonic forms is invariably important for consideration, but this piece becomes even more interesting when Foucaultian concepts of power play and a new type of Panopticon comes into the picture. The proletariat and bourgeoisie of Marx are presented in the different levels of this future society.

Additionally, this story presents the fact that consumerism that is still prevalent and the culture industry is still going strong—even in the future (poor Adorno and Horkheimer would be rolling in their graves). Perhaps the desire to obtain poetry becomes a type of religious quest for SMSN—hence, harkening to the theory of Arnold.