Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Really Roundabout Way of Expressing Something I Need to Say

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

James Joyce's story Araby has long been one of my favorite pieces of Western Literature. In style and technique, there is no writer I more admire. And this haunting passage, with which he ends the story of a boy's pubescent struggles and entrance into manhood, has always struck a particular chord with me. Many critics and analysts say the story is simply about a sexual awakening, a turn from a simple and childish view of affection to a much more complex set of sensibilities associated with adulthood. In part, this analysis is correct, and the rest of Joyce's works definitely support the hypothesis. But to say that that is all is to miss a point, I think. There is more to it than that. A story that uses symbols and words about sight and perception on every page, Araby's penultimate paragraph certainly seems to indicate that the boy's admiration for the young sweetheart on his street is just "blind" affection, which becomes cheapened by his experiences at the bazaar, which bring about a sudden epiphany. The encounter awakens in the boy deeper, stronger, and more carnal feelings. Most analysts consider this paragraph the most important. The following line, they contend, is simply a Joyceian reflection on the self-image wrought by a Catholic upbringing. For most readers, Joyce's message is simple: a sexual awakening and epiphany such as this occurs in the life of every person, and the associated pangs of guilt and regret are unhealthy, usually a product of upbringing. And of course, since these feelings come from upbringing, i.e. tradition, they are, in a modern worldview, incorrect, and should be railed against with all one's might. It is plausible that this is the author’s intended message. Joyce, an apostate, manifests throughout his work a progressive struggle to free himself of the inhibitions imposed upon him by his inherited religion. But this struggle never seems to end. Successful as Joyce's severance from the Church and Her dogmas may have been; as realistically and fervently as he lived and wrote apostasy; his work, nonetheless, shows that Joyce could never escape the haunting fears and doubts about man's condition which he presumed to be simply figments born from man-made doctrine. On the contrary, he seems to have been increasingly worried by the fallenness and sin of mankind, and to have remained at least subconsciously aware that it was objective truth from which he fled. Though he blamed the Church for the dark corners in his own heart, and for the trauma felt by the boy in his story, Joyce could never in the rest of his writing corpus give a realistic solution for how to liberate oneself from such pangs of "anguish and anger."”

Evil happens. It's a mystery, and a terrible one. As difficult as it is to come to grips with His active will, it is God's permissive will that remains one of His more confounding attributes. Borne on the winds of hurricanes, agitated by the trembling of earthquakes, printed in the inky mire of scandals, the questions that so troubled the Patriarch Job arise perennially to concern modern man. And sometimes one finds little consolation in the fact that Christ, whose answer we seek, has chosen to remain present in our world only behind a veil, shrouded in the mystery of men who sin and a sacramental institution founded upon such a "rock" as the thrice-denying Saint Peter.

Yet so it is. In a world so troubled, it is hardly less troublesome to think that happiness and consolation are to be found hanging bloodily on the gibbet of a cross. One can hardly bear it. But indeed bearing the cross is the only way to rest wearied souls. And to turn to the Truth is indeed a cross. The darkness that burned the eyes of Joyce's protagonist with anguish and anger nearly and neatly borders the extremities of Truth's true light. But that light's border is distinct: the darkness cannot comprehend it. Our world presents us with some dark situations, and shadows fall all around us. But it does no good to assert that these shadows are mere figments. Joyce could not remove them by turning away from the visible light of truth. On the contrary, in doing so, he simply turned towards the darkness of despair, much more confounding that the shadows of doubt. The shadows of our world, the shadows of sin and doubt, in spite of themselves, rely upon the light, testify to the light. The less understandable we find God's permission of evil – in whatever forms such evil confronts us, be they natural disasters or manmade terrors – the greater reason do we have to practice the virtues of faith and trust. And if, in such times, we find the Church navigating such dark and choppy waters a battered and beaten bark, then let it be an encouragement to us. It is obvious from Her ancient and battle-scarred look that She has long endured this kind of troubled sailing – is it so incredible, then, to think She'll weather these waves better than the shiny and new boats that daily launch from the harbors of modernity? Her beacon is still lit; her sails are still raised. Turn toward the light. Climb aboard.

For the victims of the recent hurricanes,
For the victims of war and violence,
For all who have suffered hurt of any kind,
For everyone haunted by the darkness and evil in our world,
We pray,
O Mary, our hope, have pity on us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mercy. Faithfull is the Mercy of God. Good thoughts for a dim time.
-- Ged.

10/22/05, 1:59 PM  

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