Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tree of Life

I am a blog post behind, but thought I would mention our Bloomsday celebration here. Due to various conflicts, we had to have our Bloomsday celebration the following week and we chose to do so by going to see the new Terrence Malick movie The Tree of Life. Although others may disagree, I am not sure that it really has that much connection to Joyce, except the fact that it is similarly ambitious.We were all interested to see it however, and that probably comes out of the same motives that drew us together into a Finnegans Wake group in the first place. It's also true that John P. Anderson has written a multivolume work called Joyce's Finnegans Wake: the Curse of Kabbalah, which reads the Wake through the perspective of Kabbalah, and is full of Tree of Life references. 

The Tree of Life is a visually very beautiful film and I thought the smaller story of the family in 1950s Waco, Texas was excellently done. We argued a bit, though argued is too strong a word here, about whether the cosmological aspect was wholly necessary. I think in a way the cosmic scope of the setting helped make the smaller familial story stand out more. And as C. also said, I liked the dinosaurs.

What seems to have stuck with me as something to gnaw on, though, was the opening quotation which is from the Book of Job. "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

This, if you're a little rusty on your Bible reading is the beginning of God's answer to Job. God and Satan have had a little side bet going in which Satan has said, sure Job honors you, but if you took away all that he is thankful for, it would be another story. So Job is tested. His friends come around to comfort him, but largely do so by saying it must have been Job's own fault somehow. Job protests his innocence. Eventually God speaks, essentially saying, Just who do you think you are, Job? And goes on to show that Job's demand for justice aren't really in keeping with the vast scale of God's creation. In the end, Job is silenced by God's reply.

Now I have to say that the story of Job has been in my life for a long time. When I was in fourth grade, I even wrote a story which had a horse trainer named Job, although I have to admit that I thought it was pronounced 'job' as in 'work' until my teacher read it aloud. Of course, there were no biblical allusions then--I just thought it sounded like a cool name.

When I was in college, one of the first lectures that I found at all interesting was my professor John Lynch's on Job, and since then the story has stood me in good stead as a response to much California new age philosophy, in which you somehow bring all your troubles on yourself.

However, from the moment this movie started, I thought, God really shouldn't have been let off the hook so easily. We have to remember that God does not stay at the level of incomprehensible and remote creator, but starts out the tale engaging in a very anthropomorphic bet with someone he shouldn't be consorting with. If Satan can provoke him into taking such a bet, then why shouldn't humans have a word in? It's kind of hard to have it both ways.

I think that the movie, with it's vast cosmic setting left me feeling very much the opposite of what I was intended to feel, because it made me realize that, day to day, we don't really live in the universe in this way. We live the little life, not the cosmic one, and much as we love the fantastic views of the universe that we now can have, it doesn't really change our mind about anything. The realms of infinite space are more like a dream or a movie. We contemplate it briefly and then go about trying to sort out our little lives, which may be trivial from a universal perspective, but never feel that way to us.

Unfortunately, in the movie, the 'how dare you presume to question me, the Creator?' argument of God is all too closely echoed by the father of the family, who also moves in mysterious ways, though not often noble ones. All parents present a larger context than their young children can hope to understand, but to reduce the kids to silence is not these days seen as a virtue.

"Shock and awe" have become a little suspect as a way of communicating with living things, post-Millennium. As witness Baghdad. Or Afghanistan. It works for awhile, but always the little question of 'why?' comes back, in a whisper, unbidden.

(Oh, and just so that this post will reflect something a little more Joycean than Job, do check out PQ's blog post about his time at the Southern California Joyce Conference last week, where he read his paper, very felicitously on Bloomsday. I was lucky enough to read it in advance and am not surprised to learn that it was a hit.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rebecca West, or, How Far May I Digress?

The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915
 I am going to get back to our meeting soon, I promise. But as Maria Buckley, under one of her various noms de plume, mentioned a post or so ago that Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists were featured in a show she saw in Venice recently, I read with great interest that there is an exhibit coming to the Tate soon as well. Not that I'm any more likely to get to the Tate to see it than I am to Venice, but it's interesting that just as we are discussing Joyce and Lewis right now. Vorticism is apparently in the air.

Here's the not very complimentary Guardian article on the movement. The  way I came across it, though, was through another article on one of my all time favorite writers, Rebecca West and her own brief dabbling in Vorticism. She apparently didn't stay for long--as the article says, she wasn't much of a joiner. But her first short story, called "Indissoluble Matrimony" and written when she was only 22, appeared in the first issue of the movement's magazine, Blast. The article takes you to a site where you can download a facsimile copy. I have done so, mainly to read her early story (though if you don't know her, you would probably want to start with her more mature work, like The Meaning of Treason or her magnum opus, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.  But Blast has a very period feel which is enjoyable on its own account.

Rebecca West, 1923

Yeah, Joyce doesn't figure into this at all.