The Wolves of Midwinter

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review of Madeleine L'Engle's Camillia

Madeleine L'Engle has never been one to mince her words or define her relationship with God in superficial terms. CS Lewis often had a didactic tone when speaking of spiritual matters whereas Madeleine L'Engle beautifully weaves prose that is simplistically deep. Despite her skills, she has been overlooked within the Christian world mostly because she probes her faith and makes some very reasonable,but controversial inquisitions about her faith overall.

Camilla, one of her earliest novels, is designed as a classical romance that is very philosophical in its nature. Anyone who has ever felt excessively quirky within the world will relate with Camilla and her realistic problems. She is the daughter of two parents within a deeply unhappy marriage. This discord causes Camilla to have very sharp doubts about romance as a whole. Nearly all teens feel uncomfortable with the chaotic pace of romance and the unrestrained quality to passion. Camilla's experience is further complicated by the unpleasant reality of her parent's marriage.

Many Christians novels feature these unhappy marriages as some unfavorable image of marriage that is antithetical to the entire vision of a blissful marriage. It is meant to perfectly match St. Paul's rendering of the thriving two-fold relationship between the church and Christ. Yet, Madeleine L'Engle realistically documents the inherent complication which all seemingly happy marriages face internally. Camilla realizes this and is excessively anxious about her own romantic prospects.

The portion of the novel that is dedicated to the depth and philosophical nature of her first love showcases the robustness of emotive love. Oftentimes, we are confronted with images of transitory sexual love that mostly skims the surface of a deeply developed love that is constructed on the base of delving into another person's heart and learning to love the dichotomy between their faults and strengths. In many ways, Madeleine L'Engle accurately shows the fundamental quality of love that does not need to translate to anything nuptial. True love can persist in the art of rhetoric or the efforts humans make to penetrate the surface level of others and learn to marvel every person's interior mystery that reflects the enigma of God.

By the end of the novel, we are left with a story that transcends the shallow layer of many romantic tales and offered a story that is far more than a romance novel alone. In many ways, Madeleine L'Engle ended up writing a poignant tale that reflect Aristotle's formula of love that is intrinsically spiritual and not vacuous. It presents love that mirrors our own relationship with the intangible essence of the divine that has inspired many prophets and artists for ages. (She evocatively writes of this relationship with the divine and the artist within her wonderful novel "Walking on Water: On Faith and Art.") By plumbing the mystery of another human and learning to appreciate their mystery, we are learning to love God in the same manner. Our love with God is forged when we accept his enigmatic qualities and embrace that search for him that refines our self throughout our lives.
Spiral Staircase:My Climb Out of Darkness

    In the spirit of the transcendentalists, Karen Armstrong embraces a liberated method of seeing God after being cooped up in the prison of subservience that has restricted her ability to be both authentic and inquisitive. The title is borrowed from the meaning behind T.S. Elliot's famous poem "Ash Wednesday,"  which visually describes the  daunting task of finding one's spiritual dimension after being forced through the torturous and disillusioning task of accepting other people's ideas of the divine. Karen Armstrong's other book seems to be written in the style of T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land," because both of them feel spiritually bankrupt within their separate bleak spheres of existing passively within the constraining systems of  humanity that seems to have no clear idea of the shape or identity of the transcendent. Yet, it fashions systems  that feign dangerous certitude about ideas that are far beyond our scope of understanding. Within T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land," this had led to incessant chaos on the part of human arrogance while within Karen Armstrong's world this has led to feeling debased.

  In the world of the monastery, Karen Armstrong felt she had to be resigned and distant from her spiritual identity. She was educated in the ideal of strictly preening herself to be acceptable in the eyes of her superiors. Prayer had to be a repetition of prayers that were dictated and bereft of any individual alteration. Therefore in the fabric of prayer, Karen Armstrong felt disinterested because in her cloistered life, she was lost to herself and consequently distant from God.

One of the Jewish stories about Jonah shows the danger of being certain about God's enigmatic ways. Jonah actually is argumentative with God and defies him. He refuses to see God from an intellectually humble perspective and metaphorically becomes trapped with his own ignorance or the woeful darkness of losing grasp of one's self which provides a person with their only connection with the divine. The cavernous feeling of Jonah's cave is similar to the darkness of Plato's cave where Jonah never contemplates God beyond the limited scope of his strict understanding. Within Plato's Cave, people encamped in the darkness of the cave face experience cessation in thinking of the wider world around them or the big existentialist questions. In life, they blindly follow in tandem with the superficial, unenlightened knowledge of the other occupants of the cave around them. C.S. Lewis's Silver Chair borrows this same platonic understanding of the prison that is darkened by the hopelessness of superficial understanding. When we confine our understanding of the divine as something that just offers us complacency with ourselves, we are not truly realizing the immensity of God's true mysterious self. We're caved in by the pride of assuming that we know all there is about God without an existence that necessitates doubt and questioning to better understand ourselves and the unique experiences of others.

Karen Armstrong learns to appreciate God by accepting first her self then learns to truly marvel the interior mystery of others. There is no inertia when it comes to understanding the transcendent reality. When we are blindly complicit with another person's understanding of the divine, we force ourselves into spiritual stasis where never learn to undertake the true challenges of understanding the enigma that is God within this material reality.

As a whole, Spiral Staircase never stoops to being pedantic when discussing the depth of her spiritual journey. Similar to her books about religious history, the books are written with a sense of curiosity and wonder that never infects the tone with something that resembles  being artlessly sure of the divine that we are meant to spend our entire lives knowing or understanding. This book is not meant as something exclusive for any one religion. Books like this pertain to all of us because Karen Armstrong adeptly understands that the search for the reason behind our existence is never confined to one religion or philosophy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Announcement: Blog Schism

   Due to acquiring needed advice about the layout of the blogs, I feel that its time for the blogs to undergo a schism of sorts.  This blog feels like it has greatly deviated from the main course of providing book reviews. Anyone looking at this blog can easily lose their footing when it comes with trying to decide the direction of my posts here.

 Henceforth, all blog post related to philosophy, religion, and mythology will be centralized on my new blog which is called Agnostic Inner Sanctum . If you enjoyed the posts that mainly dealt with these topics, you'll find them here from now on. For the first few weeks, I'll be including links to each individual post as to provide ample time for people to access this page and join it if interested. 

A Bibliophile's Reverie will remain now as mainly a book review blog which will help those rediscover the missed book reviews that have become a nonentity as of recent. I'm doing this for my sake and others because I believe this blog feels poorly organized. Hopefully, this change will help rectify the clutter problems.
Labyrinths and Ladders Part 1:The Labyrinth of Alice in Wonderland

   Within mythology, the labyrinth is a common feature. Normally, the labyrinth relates to some sort of painstaking inner struggle. It is often perilous and overwhelming because labyrinths commonly are things which cause apprehension like our own minds. When we initially step within the first area of the labyrinth, we are contemplating whether or not we want to undergo the arduous task of reaching the goal of enlightenment towards the middle. Before that, we have to face the formidable foes that are our repressed parts of ourselves which may make us disbelieve in our overall quest of seeking out o true self within the labyrinth that is mostly constructed of the doubts  that mislead us into believing fallacious things about ourselves. To that extent, we begin to feel abashed for certain elements of ourselves and start to lack the motivation to make the dangerous trek to the middle of the labyrinth.

Alice in Wonderland features a labyrinth at the end of the story after Alice braves the journey through her unorthodox thoughts. As a whole, Alice in Wonderland literally details the journey of a suppressed girl within the times where women and men alike were required to live a mental ascetic life. The freedom of the brain was meant as something that creates intervention in fully living within the constraints of the real-world ideal of the protestant work ethic. Paul's ideas of perfect belief being the most essential part of the Christian life was taken to the point of extremism by enforcing certain restrictions to a mind where doubt can easily lead one astray from the perfection of the false self.

Alice falls asleep and submits freely to her imagination where she journeys through the madness of wonderland in search of her lost self. The whole tale works like the maze at the end of the tale. Through it, she is greeted with people who have different ideals for her self. In life, we are accustomed to being chastised by people who are indifferent about your needs and care selfishly instead about how they think people should  live like them. Karen Armstrong defines this as toxic egotism that has been allowed to flourish within the current structure of Christianity that dates from the medieval times but was worsened during the age of rationalism. To counteract the threat of secularism, Christianity began to use exaggerated conceit to protect the mind from allowing these new discoveries to ruin their traditional faith. With this process, Christianity has degraded to a religion of feigned belief and selfishness. It has enshrined the Victorian ideal of having adulation for the morally perfect self above all else. Basically, it helped to politically maintain a hierarchy that needed to be preserved in order for the economic system of that world to work. At this point, it unwise to think of Christianity as being a religion under "God," but a religion where God even had to offer fealty to the king and queen. Essentially, it was the very thing Machiavelli had foresaw.

In the end, Alice is pursued by Lewis Carrol's caricatures of the monarchy because she fails to accede to their rule. She is seen as being an obstinate intrusion to their complacency with their place in their hierarchy. Lewis Carrol further lambasts the monarchy for being obstinate from Alice's perspective. They fail to offer her any chance unless she increases her size and ego. They'll only listen if Alice's thoughts parallel their own egotistical thoughts. Otherwise, they are completely indifferent about her intellectual autonomy and want to literally sever her head from her graceful body for being insubordinate.

This labyrinth eventually becomes the area where Alice can finally accept her inquisitiveness. Throughout, the Cheshire cat appears and dematerializes to represent the way our imagination eludes us. It does this because Alice is not accepting of her intelligence. Part of her feels that a greater piece of living lies with mindlessly being complicit with the demands of her superiors. By the end, she finds that it matters not because the monarchy or society as a whole abhors her either way.  So, in the end, the possible way to even find some semblance of happiness is to bravely get through the labyrinth within her mind and feel edified by the acceptance of her individual gifts. Alice's shrewdness in particular helps her to successfully outsmart her superiors.

Fascinatingly, Hrotswithe, a medieval writer, rehabilitates her disconsolate female characters in much the same way by helping them to rediscover their mystic connection with God. In psychological terms, this relates to embracing and utilizing our mental gifts for benevolence. Her crafty female characters find that they are endowed with mystical deductive powers that help them to stealthily outsmart the male forces in their lives that have cruelly tried to suppress their abilities to live a pious life. In the end, their shrewdness aids them with reversing their restrictive lives. In a sense, though there is no physical labyrinth within Hrotswithe's tale, the women characters still must see past the restrictions of human constructs and fully realize their spiritual gifts instead.

As the Eastern Orthodox describes it, the sanctity of God lies with respecting the internal mystery of ourselves and allowing us to naturally find God through that search. Many times, superficial Christianity becomes the boundaries to finding God in the first place because that Christianity distrusts the true nature and enigma of God. The pernicious forces of Biblical Literalism or fundamental Christianity are in a sense labyrinths that prove to be obstructions to our natural spiritual development. We cannot cleave to their ideas of God unless we wish to become masochistic and depraved.

Next Time, I'll be analyzing the labyrinth of Pan's Labyrinth.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Analysis of Kamelot's Karma Part 1/4

    In our modern dialogue, the mythic force of karma relates to the array of consequences that are naturally produced from our individual decisions. We love to denote certain decisions as issuing good or bad karma. Many times, we use karma as a way of describing fate's natural counteraction to the  type of karma unleashed. Good Karma is accompanied with good karma that will help us to yield good fortune while bad karma in effect brings bad fortune. In Star Wars, the "force" replaces the word "karma "and acts very similarly in that universe. Anakin's  turbulent emotional state causes him to react with fear that withers down to anger. By the end, an overbearing amount of bad force accumulates within his spirit and causes Anakin to fully respond to the whatever scenario is before him with corrupt reasoning which causes him to make that climatic decision that finally causes him to surrender to the bad side. He essentially is imbued with bad karma that progressively causes his downfall. By the end, Anakin can only return to the light side by deciding to sacrifice his entire life to spare another. Thus, he can finally purge his spirit of the essence of the dark side and can once again be reacquainted with the essence of the light side.

How does this relate to Kamelot's album: Karma? "Regalis Apertura," the first instrumental track of the album does not even match the former paragraph's explanation of karma. First off, first tracks can be rather misleading as they establish the mood. Kamelot's first track on the album is deceptively regal. Many listeners might even envisage a group of courtly men conversing over the affairs of a kingdom within a sumptuously decorated room. Or, we could even see within our minds: a drawbridge dropping down from the front section  of the castle. The implication of the dropping drawbridge is that any guests that are waiting to enter are freely welcomed. Anyways, Kamelot might have just chose this epic track that is common within most symphonic album since it invokes a bombastic feeling that practically defines the symphonic metal genre.

Yet, the next song,"Forever," delves deeply into the mind of some unidentifiable figure. We can fathom that its probably a man since romantic songs within Kamelot's discography is always sung by a man who was once smitten with a departed female lover. In the first verse alone, every line depicts the different types of emptiness and bareness that this character finds in their soul without the edifying light of their female lover. If we think in terms of philosophical themes, the famous medieval work Consolation of Philosophy  by Boethius features a disillusioned mortal who feels trapped within the dark state of their minds. A certain "Lady of Philosophy," helps this weary mortal recapture his sense of significance by relying on the soothing light of philosophy and reason. Perhaps, the meaning that this song evokes is the inevitable corrosion of this man's soul without the consolation that his female lover once offered. She conveys his life and forgave him for what he has done. Within Boethius's work, Lady Philosophy explains the purpose of the life of the mortal man and forgives him of his transgressions because he did not have the ability to discern the most ethical decision due to the darkness of his soul.

Strangely, we are shown the extent of this disillusionment with the world within "Wings of Despair." In the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, the dove becomes the symbol of hope that leads Noah out of the darkness of the Ark or soul. Within this song, the wearied heart of this mortal man does not need to be suppressed by the hopelessness of his despair. Similar to Noah, he can climb out of the abyss of his soul and be resurrected by the acceptance of his past sins and the hope that the lessons he learned from his exile from life will cause him to be more selfless. Importantly, the Noah's Ark story tells of a man who prides himself on being the elect person of God. When in actuality, his negligence of the worthiness of other humans haunts him and makes him live an insular life where there is no joy. Similarly, the man within "Wings of Despair," clings to hope that the darkness that makes his soul tremble will come to pass. One day, it might even cause him to transcend and live a more virtuous life after throughly becoming tired of the his former selfishness.

Next post, I'll be discussing The Spell, Karma, and The Light I shine on You. 

Monday, June 06, 2011

Memnoch the Devil Discussion Part 2: The Splendor of Heaven, Lestat's journey to Dante's Paradiso 

Originally, my vision of heaven was innocently divine and was very vacuous. When I was younger, the only earthly sense to describe heaven with was perfect gratification. Essentially, I thought heaven contained infinite amounts of all the pleasurable things known to me at this point. I was not mature enough to conceptualize a heaven that perhaps could be dull or filled with questionable paradoxes. Heaven to me was simply the inevitable hereafter that we are privileged to dwell in  for holding steadfast to faith in the existence of God.

As I aged, I thought I had to repetitiously beseech God for salvation. My gratification came then only in the form of allaying my doubts with trust that God has somehow remembered that I continue to exist on the Earth that I was led to believe he no longer paid any attention to. This highly negligent God becomes a very prominent character when Memnoch offers his account of being exiled from heaven temporarily and making a case for the inherent worth of humanity. 

Regarding the evolution of my beliefs, I really do think that Lestat cleaved to these beliefs until he faced the glaring reality that he was not allowed to be a priest. Similar to Anne Rice herself, Lestat felt forced into questioning his faith and altogether forfeiting it because he finally realized a hole in the logic of his religious beliefs. My own personal loss of faith was brought about by repressed doubts that were eventually shaped into one unified argument against the veracity of Christianity.   As with the first post, Lestat's understanding of the world, as with my immature vision of heaven, was a world that was dependent upon pleasure and sensuality to distract us from the disillusioning knowledge that the world is absent of any meaning. Our pleasure and ambitions are the only things that we can derive some semblance of meaning. 

Before being ushered to heaven with his wonderful consort Memnoch, Lestat converses with Armand and the others who think Lestat's proposed journey is predictably insane. Armand notably mentions that Satan is a seductive figure who might deceive Lestat into believing an erroneous concept of God and heaven. Strangely, this is the same Armand who answered Louis' desperate questions about God by curtly saying that there was neither a God nor Satan in existence. When cautioning Lestat about his forthcoming plans, he mentions the medieval archetype of Satan as the adversarial figure that opposes God's majesty. Within the medieval times, he essentially represented human feelings that were either unresolved or pitted against any penitent feelings. 

When Lestat finally returns to Memnoch, Lestat is taken aback by Memnoch's human precense. Lestat vaguely remembers being haunted by Armand's haunting portrayal of Lucifer. Memnoch not only has a different shape and nature than Armand's concept of Satan. He also adopts a different name which serves as Anne Rice's method of undoing our preconceived notions of   Satan and allow us to invite his explanation of heaven and hell that no mortal has ever encountered before death. 

Anne Rice's depiction of heaven is written with marvelous approximation. Her language has wrongly been described as being overwrought in passages such as these. I've never been able to understand that perspective since no author I've encountered has ever been able to bring the feeling of naturalness that Anne Rice brings with her deftly written prose. Her heaven scene imbues the reader with a sense of overwhelming beauty. From Lestat's perspective, some lucidity is brought in to stabilize a scene that could easily become unbalanced by the sheer density of the description. 

In CS Lewis' "The Last Battle," he relied on meager details for his heaven sequence to respectfully allow for it to fit with the metaphorical nature of the story. Anne Rice's style is much more bombastic and Lestat is certainly someone who is arrogant and fond of artistry. Within her heaven sequence, the ethereal beauty of "Cry to Heaven's" musical descriptions reappear within the scene almost as a homage to that wonderful book. In this novel, it serves as Anne Rice's memory of music recalling her thoughts of God. Lestat remembers his days as a vagrant  with Nicholas when they travel to Paris to play violin. Therefore, Lestat's heaven vision would be focused upon the musical element of heave. Or at least when writing "Memnoch the Devil," Lestat would probably retain pronounced memories of the ineffable beauty of heaven's music. There is definitely no superior way of describing heaven's indescribable nature than to use the enigmatic force of music. Remember, Anne Rice used music "Cry to Heaven" to express the depth of pain that some of the characters faced within that book.

Towards the end of Lestat's experience with heaven, he peruses some books filled to the brim with answers to all the questions he's ever formulated about Earth and the nature of "being." Except, he cannot remember distinctly any of the answers because only the complexity of music can be remembered while prodigious knowledge cannot be stored by our limited minds. After leaving heaven, Lestat feels unsatisfied afterwards and this aids in helping him to better understand the restiveness of the souls in Sheol. The next post will explore the complications of believing in God when the metaphysical world is too vast and unreal for us to instill true belief in it. Therefore, is it really possible for any of us to even have a "belief" in God when the word implies having knowledge in the definite existence of that being. 
Wall Street Journal's Meghan Gurdon is Trapped in Plato's Cave  (A Response to her recent "Darkness Too Visible," article)

Before reading my post, please read this article

Yesterday, Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote an extremely divisive article that detailed her problems with the growing darkness of recent young adult novels. Similar to television, censorship is being liberalized and becoming more mature and reflective of a world that seems to supersede our understanding.

Once upon a time, Plato described the journey towards illumination as a daunting journey through a darkened cave. People trapped within the darkness of the cave often become complacent with the darkness or superficial knowledge. Others weigh in on the causes of the predominant darkness and begin to wisely extrapolate about the source and reason for the existence within the oppressive darkness.

Meghan Gurdon certainly proves  that her analysis of the current trend of young adult books is woefully trapped within the darkness of Plato's cave. Her article does not seek to understand the reasons for the darkness. Certainly, young adult readers who are left disillusioned and unsatisfied by their shallow teen lives internally seek this understanding. At this age, they are alienated from adults who have repressed their experience in Plato's cave or have become encamped at some unreachable point in the cave.

Either way, the teen begins perusing novels written by adults who vividly remember their experiences and have created a repository of memories that pertain to their gradual journey towards the indistinguishable light outside of the cave of complacency or ignorance.  Like any work of art, the most adept writer can encapsulate the teen experience and write it in a way that compels readers because the reader can identify their respective journey with the character in a particular story.

This identification with the plights of a character helps shape the powerful emotion of empathy. By forbidding kids to read these so-called subversive young adult books, we are limiting the ability for teenagers to become more empathetic. Some current forms of religion do not help flesh out these empathetic powers because they deny the genuine sorrow and pain that accompanies the human experience. They definitely educate people on mindlessly ascribing to certain belief structures out of social pressure. Good forms of religion endow individuals with the ability to cherish themselves. As illustrated by the Buddha, nirvana is nothing more than the state where we can begin to accept ourselves and be open about our suffering. With that, we can learn to mindful of the suffering of people and learn to be both patient and compassionate to others.

Tragically, Meghan Gurdon misconstrues  the true purpose that young adult fiction has for teens. Books like "Hunger Games," metaphorically showcase the terror of war and violence. From a teen's perspective, it shows the confusion that settles in when we learn of the justified immorality of humanity. In Hunger Games, the vice of the capital is avariciousness and complacency. They reflect a superficial society that is greatly unsatisfied with themselves so they feel that their unresolved pain should be experienced by others who are undeserving of it.

By blindly condemning the content of young-adult books, we are denying teens the ability to grapple healthfully with their issues. If more teens read books about realistic issues, there would then be less problems with them. Meghan Gurdon writes the article as though she was exempt from the darkness of teen life. Her criticism of the genre is misplaced. She is merely critiquing the messengers of society who would overwhelmingly agree with her sadness over the omnipresent darkness of the world. But, she nevertheless foregos trying to understand the underlying reasons for the darkness of children's novels. Certainly, if she existed in the world of "Buffy:the Vampire Slayer," she would be completely ignorant of the monstrous hell hole that lives beneath the musty halls of Sunnydale High School.

In the end, this unwise article from the Wall Street Journal shows that many are comfortably nestled in Plato's cave. Teens readers though are pining after the illumining lights of understanding and no longer want to remain trapped in their ego's. Thankfully, teen writers are a brave bunch and are providing our teens today with stories that are reflective of the difficulty of being a teenager. By remembering their experiences, they are providing teens with a way to embrace their demons and seek a way to heal themselves from the torture of being a teen who is conflicted over their identity. Many times, this conflict arises because some adults show that they completely misunderstand the experience of being a teen. By forgetting their struggles and condemning the teen struggle because they've forgotten about the pain of teenage inferno, they are helping their cause in creating conceited adults that are insensitive.

Do we forget that the youth of the ancient world actively partook in this violence? Our stories are memories of their horror which educate us about rectifying their wrongs. When we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from the past, we are granting permission for humanity to be static in terms of ethical evolution. Instead of condescendingly mocking the struggle of today's teen, we should read these stories and refresh our memories of the teen experience instead of castigating kids who are only seeking help. In this world, we often love to be persnickety or pretend to be godlike in our personal sainthood. But our ignorance of reality and neglect of the bereaved only exacerbates the corruption of our world. So please, Meghan Cox Gurdon, I implore you to read one of those books with an open heart and mind. Please stop embarrassing yourself and the Wall Street Journal with your lack of understanding of the implications and the importance of truthful art!