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Tragic Choraling [1]

"I do not want to be a tragic or a philosophic chorus." (Louis MacNeice, 'Wolves')

What is it with my propensity to set myself up as the 'voice of gloom'? -- everything's "Kafka this" and "Nietszche that" and "Bond is trite" and "I'm too deep to have fun" and "T.S. Eliot is the only one who understands me". Last Saturday, for example (possibly in protest against the mainstream hype surrounding the latest installment of said trite franchise) I dragged a few unfortunate associates to see 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', an intensely artsy affair with plenty of hype of its own within appropriately artsy circles (to which I evidently have pretentions).

It is a poetic, dreamlike exploration of the harsh animal brutality of human existence, seen through the eyes of a 6-year old girl living with her deteriorating father in a ramshackle bayou community on the 'wrong side' of the levee built to protect a fictional New Orleans-esque Louisiana city. [2] Although never made entirely explicit, the events of the film are concurrent with Hurricane Katrina: floods overwhelm the bayou and the community struggle together to survive in the fierce face of nature. What with all the water, and weather, and a few prehistoric beasts thrown in for good measure (symbolic representations of said force, I suppose), it was visually and thematically reminiscent of the aforementioned MacNeice poem -- the last stanza especially:
Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.
MacNeice's solution to the harsh realities of life is to band together, enjoy as much of it as we can, and try not to think about anything too deeply. As with so much of his writing -- and that of other writers of a nihilistic bent (in a broad, non-technical sense -- Beckett, Kafka, Woolf, Joyce, Bukowski, Vonnegut spring to mind) -- I am immensely stirred by it. Not because I 'agree', or share their verdicts, but because I find them powerfully diagnostic of the mindset and struggles I see in the world around me, and the way I would think and feel without, as I see it, a reason (external to myself) to think and feel otherwise. These writers have an eloquence and a bravery that moves me -- reminding me of my own struggles and awakening (I hope) empathy in me, particularly when I consider that for many of the people I care about, similarly bleak conclusions appear the most rational option on the table. Which is why I am most especially not content to further entrench myself in a caricatured affectation of 'tragic/philosophic chorus', no matter how convenient a self-protection it affords in my tentative attempts to interact with the rest of the world.

In the poem, the role of 'tragic/philosophic chorus' is presented as futile and unnecessarily wearying -- there is nothing to be gained by looking too intently below the surface of life. For me, the problem is rather that such a role fails to communicate the hope that I have after all encountered -- a "new song", in place of the tragic chorus:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)
I wish I was able to communicate better (and more consistently) just what a remarkable change God has worked in my life as I've learned to trust Him; I wish (well, pray in fact) that something of that might prompt other people to trust Him too, or at least explore what it means to do so (although, I believe that ultimately it's God who gives faith, and it's not up to me to convince anyone). I get that personal experience makes for pretty shaky, subjective evidence, I get that some people think I'm crazy, but I also get (and it might sound abstract when I try to summarise it in a sentence but it's pretty tangible and concrete when you're living through it) that God made a way where I could see no way at all; He worked a slow miracle -- one that, remarkably, had more to do with changing me than with changing my circumstances, and in ways that I (yes, yes, psychology, the power of the mind etc but really...) could not possibly have achieved myself with the little-to-no strength I then had.

I come back to Paul's words to the Corinthian church: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) And Isaiah the 8th century BC prophet said:
The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4)
This, then, is my prayer: to become one who "sustains with a word him who is weary", not one who wearies the already-weary with my own unique and pretentious brand of weariness (so as to find company in it? is that why I do it?). If I can learn to live in the reality of that comfort that Paul is talking about, perhaps -- instead of demanding comfort from others, as I so frequently find myself doing (with varying degrees of obviousness) -- I will find that my words and actions begin to encourage rather than burden those around me. I have a lot to learn though, and it seems to start with listening to God over and above the voices of the world, and with being a bit more discerning about how my thinking is shaped by what I read and connect with: "out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" (see Luke 6:43-45).

[1] This made-up word amused me because it sounds a lot like one of the many variants of my name (more frequently pronounced incorrectly than otherwise) that I have heard over the years.

[2] It so. I didn't find it as weird, nor as boring, as did my poor companions; it was well-executed and had a certain poetry. One review I read made a nicely-observed comparison with Studio Ghibli (which may have been why I was untroubled by its 'weirdness'). However, for a film so eager to throw out all manner of profound pronouncements, it was sorely lacking a coherent 'idea' and thus rather invited the accusation of style-over-substance. The central argument, as I read it, was the essentially animal nature of human beings -- which becomes immediately (self-defeatingly?) problematic on reflection: what other species do you see making 90-minute visual poems exploring their identity? Perhaps inevitably, it winds up introducing an unfortunate and distasteful hierarchy or separation: the observers (production team and audience both) are implicitly supposed to have transcended animal existence by the very act of observing, whilst the characters portrayed are patronised in the film's attempt to ennoble poverty and idealise a more 'primitive' (for want of a better description) mode of living. All-in-all it felt more undermining of human dignity than re-affirming of it, and this I really did not like.