On the Interpretive and Critical Issues of Eggs

Dear Ernest,

These days, man seems to inhabit two worlds.  In one, his choice of literature is restricted only by what he can find on the shelf, but in the other, he finds that the greatest criticism for his favourite authors and philosophers is that they are too difficult to read.  In one, he is limited only by the capacity of his imagination and his intellect, but in the other, he is confined by every pragmatic constraint, from the paucity of time to the stringent demands of utility.  Man on his own is free to contemplate the human condition, to spend however long he chooses considering the nature of the Absolute Truth, but as soon as he leaves the locus amoenus of his study, as soon as he enters into what most of us call ‘the real world’, he realises that all these fancies of his, all these suppositions that he may have dreamed up and wrought to withstand the most brutal kind of intellectual scrutiny—all these are attacked in the real world not for possessing any kind of logical fallacy but merely for being too abstract and metaphysical.  Anyone who spends an hour or so reading and thinking in a private study is likely to feel afterward that the time would have been better spent figuring out what to eat for dinner or how to make more money or what kind of clothes to wear tomorrow—these after all are the sort of decisions that have actual bearing on real life.

Ernest, it is strange that these two worlds are so dissociated from one another.  One would expect them to coincide.  To illustrate this, let us imagine a conversation between two people who each live in a different world respectively.  There is a realistically hefty woman living in the real world, and she is married to a phantasmagorically emaciated man living in the other world.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: It is my categorical Duty to sustain you.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: I’ll go get eggs.

Now, our woman might think the emaciated man is a little strange, but at the end of the day, there is no real disagreement between them.  Somehow or other, they can each grok what the other is thinking, since ultimately, they both want eggs.  The only difference is how they get to the eggs.  The woman wants eggs so that she can use them, and the man wants eggs so that he can be the sort of person who gets eggs.

When these two do disagree about something, however, that discrepancy is greatly inflamed by the difference in their worlds.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: Mankind is not entitled to luxury.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: Let’s see what kind of people we might become if we went without eggs for a little while.  Perhaps we’d be better for it.

Woman: But I need eggs now!  You lazy, phantasmagorically emaciated man!

Clearly this will not end well.  One or each of them is wrong, but it’s almost certain that they’ll never figure out how or why.  In the real world, the man will never have enough time to explain his esoteric reasoning fully.  If he were able to do so, perhaps the woman could point out the precise matter about which she disagrees with him.  On the other hand, the woman will never be fully able to express her passionate feelings about eggs.  If she could, perhaps the man could demonstrate where his own feelings differ.  All this would be much simpler if they both looked at eggs through the same lens.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word ‘apotheosis’ in your next letter.

From Dust

The splendour of the world in rags

Resplendent darkness hides.  And light

I see the mystery of heaven

That human flesh decays in humble

Waste. A sacred sacrilege

To muck and filth, it burns

With thunder, resounds with fire,

And rages all the more with silent

Wind. Did he lay the foundation

Of earth, a giving grave of life?

Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito

I considered titling this post ‘On Surrealism’, but ‘Sucking the Blood out of a Mosquito’ sounded less stodgy, so I went with that.  Sorry if it grosses you out a little.  Anyway, here it is:

It was one of the primary goals of the surrealist movement to astonish its audience.  I believe the surrealists have succeeded wonderfully in that regard, but I am not sure to what end.  In terms of the impact, there is little difference between a hare getting a tortoisecut and an apple crawling out of a worm—both are surreal and astonishing, but neither one communicates to us a particular truth or wonder.  It seems that in trying desperately to liberate his expressive palette, the surrealist has actually restricted it and very nearly reduced it to utter meaninglessness.  Instead of reconciling fantasy with reality, he has rejected reality altogether, turning inward to the more vivid but even less satisfying world his of imagination.

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) was a Spanish surrealist painter, and at times, a devout Catholic.  He is probably most famous for painting this:

The_Persistence_of_Memory
The Persistence of Memory

Perhaps, considering how iconoclastic a movement he followed, it might astonish us that Dalí was ever a Catholic.  But I think this only reflects how greatly our modern society tends to misunderstand what it means to be Christian.  Unlike Surrealism, Christianity is an ideology with no preference for either novelty or convention.  The Surrealist movement has existed entirely for the sake of revolution—take away the radicalism and the astonishment dies.  But Christianity makes no comment on either the radical or the obvious, and if it harbours any implicit affiliation with tradition, it is that religious tradition exists for the sake of Christianity and not the other way around.  However, while the novelty of Surrealism then poses no incompatibility in itself, there still seems to be a conflict between the Surrealist movement as it originally began and Christianity.  That conflict is the alleged rejection of reason.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, there really is no such thing as illogical thought.  One can believe in the irrational but not experience it.  And this belief is what fuels conventional surrealist art, while also providing its greatest shortcoming.  What I find so uninteresting about an apple crawling out of a worm is not the situation itself, but its implied context.  Surrealism cannot help but take place in a world with no rules, a world with no limitations or conflicts.  But these adversities are the very things that make earthly life interesting in the first place, and to exclude them from an imitation of nature is to overlook the most beautiful thing on this side of eternity: the resolution of dissonance.  Good art doesn’t astonish merely for the sake of astonishment; instead it imitates nature, and that is astonishing in itself.  Perhaps making that kind of art might entail hares getting tortoisecuts or sucking the blood out of mosquitos, but at the same time, every incongruity ought to be rationally explained, and that will make it all the more beautiful.

Sometimes as Christians we can forget how astonishing the world really is.  We too might think that the only recourse from the dull vexation of this revolving planet under the sun is some kind of escape.  But in actuality, we need no compensation for the truth.  There is in fact nothing more astonishing than the most fundamental reality of our lives:

Dalí's painting of the Passion of Christ.
Dalí’s painting of the Passion of Christ.

 

There is nothing illogical about God’s creation, but everything about it is astonishing.  For we could not imagine something more beautiful or surreal than what Our Saviour has done for us in reality.  And what is the purpose of art or even of fantasy if not to reinvigorate once again our astonishment with that truth?

Incidentally, Dalí was also fascinated with rhinoceroses.