Wednesday, July 27, 2022

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 7 (seventh part of seven) by Ann Cavanaugh

Joyce to my understanding shifts away from the notion of justice ( for either the individual or the universal). Joyce seems to understand that the God we have come to worship is capricious and cruel and cannot be relied upon. He speaks an incomprehensible language in the sound of terrifying thunder. At the same time it is interesting, as mentioned, that he continued to show up as a Catholic throughout his life. Joyce is showing us not just another lens through which to live and understand life and our lives but an entirely new (all things old become new again) viewing apparatus. For Joyce it is Love and the Feminine that is the foundation and refuge which we have lost and are in need of; and that the over reliance on Laws and contracts of the patriarchy have brought us to a place dry and inhospitable. Unlike personal justice or justice in the larger sense, Love and the ways of the Feminine are available to us always and do not necessarily require faith. Although by the end of his ordeal Job’s faith comes closer to Joyce in his letting go and allowing for mystery. Codifying what is acceptable human behavior has its benefits but it also can surely be abused and be the cause of suffering depending upon the Law giver(s). And thus while justice can be described by adherence to the letter of the Law it must always include a living sense of morality and compassion. Or in more mystical terms be tempered with Mercy. 

Creation as the manifestation of Love and the domain of the Feminine does not exclude the more masculine function of Judgement and Law. But The Law devoid of the Feminine can at best impart a weak/shifting sense of security, as it can so readily be rendered, at best, useless in the light of deception and manipulation and, at the worst, the justifier of war and all manner of suffering. 

One could argue that Joyce is asking us to return to a more nature based orientation which has its roots, of course, in paganism. In Judaism’s assertion against paganism through the focus on covenant and Law it jeopardized this connection. Joyce is an advocate for the restoration of what has been lost through neglect, aggression, and an over emphasis on logic and our thinking function. He is inviting us to what is retrievable if we but have the willingness to sharpen our senses and our innate faculties for creativity and a more intuitive relationship to our world along with the courage to question our cherished beliefs and institutions. Perhaps it is not so hard to understand Joyce’s abiding connection to Catholicism. Much of what he is pointing us to can be found in the ministry of another paradigm shifter who showed up to bring emphasis to an earlier scriptural message; the highest commandment as; “Love one’s neighbor as oneself.” And, I would add, everyone is one’s neighbor. 

 Finally I am left with a sense of the ongoing River of Life and of human thought and effort which in terms of humanity’s reaching for relationship with the unknown is, as in all things, an ever moving, ever shifting evermore forever and ever…….. 

But wait… where does this leave us now, at this particular moment in time, pondering the Guilt of Everyman. Let’s try and really sit with this and see this narrative (the OS of Original Sin) as also in a process of shift and change. I would suggest that whatever benefit has been derived from telling/believing this ancient story such benefit has been vastly overshadowed by its violent effects throughout history. 

As a testament to Joyce and his labors, let’s see if we might not come up with a better more compassionate story, perhaps one that has lain in silence for too long, and in so doing become active agents in reestablishing the sense of the unifying power at the root of all Life.

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 6 (sixth part of seven), by Ann Cavanaugh

 Part VI Margarete Susman in her insightful essay on Job, God the Creator, in Glatzer’s book, speaks to a larger sense of justice or one which is a more historical justice; one which is about humanity as a whole or nations rather than justice on an individual level. When justice is defined by contract and Law it is an easier task to point to a description but as with everything in life this simply avoids the complexities. Job gives us very little with which to formulate any coherent idea of justice. The final phase in the biblical story has God restoring all that Job had lost though his trial period. I found this anti-climatic. One wonders if God would have restored all that had been lost to Job if Job had not come to a deeper understanding of his ignorance. This seems a valid question given the backstory as about Job being tested at Satan’s request. Would Satan, having triumphed with Job’s failure for instance, come to restore his losses? Or would Job simply become the unfortunate collateral damage of the playing out of the universal power forces? Well there’s a notion hearkening back to pagan roots! This restoring of material goods and bodily integrity lends itself to such inconsequential what ifs. 

What makes more sense to me is seeing the restoration of Job’s former life as symbolic of his having come through a journey of self discovery and that it is his essential self that is either restored or has been discovered through this trial. The stories of the journey “home” with its many “trials” has been with us from time immemorial. Sometimes the home is a re-membering, sometimes there is a terrestrial or an extraterrestrial home etc. I would posit that for Job it is the discovery of a faith he had no previous notion about; an expansion of his sense of awe and humility in light of his blessings arising in a universe that is truly not controllable or predictable. Could one then perhaps speak of gratitude as opposed to faith? There now exists the opportunity for his living as a good man not for gain but for the sake of the good in and of itself. One could then also, as easily perhaps, call his good life Kismet, Luck, Fortune. All concepts that were part of earlier systems about the forces at work in the universe which had now become part of the dominion of a monotheistic God and which is now called faith. For Job it is no longer a transactional relationship he has to his God but one based on something deeper and more mysterious. Joyce likewise gives us a beautiful communication about the importance of the journey and home. He lays his storytelling on the template of the classic Odyssey (I would suggest that both Ulysses and the Wake are informed by this archetypal drama to a greater or lesser degree) and for him the journey towards home in the Wake is rendered in an astonishingly moving and transcendent vision as the Great Mother/Sophia/ Life Force ALP gives her self over to the longing and dissolving movement of and to the sea - Original Home.

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 5 (fifth part of seven), by Ann Cavanaugh

Job cannot understand God’s sense of justice but through opening to the vastness of creation he sees and accepts his inability to comprehend and in this moment comes to a place of faith. It seems the narrative points to Job’s sense of faith as resting in the vast ordering of nature and the cosmos as the signature of a mighty God. Job’s so called faith at the end of the tale seems to be of a different stripe from what is called faith at the beginning. His need for a hearing in order to voice his case, if you will, seems to be based on a faith in a contract that he feels is breached. His faith at the end seems based on the sense of covenant or a mutual agreement of commitment wherein he holds faith in a God that could act against him at any moment but essentially it would be understood now as all to his and to a greater benefit. One can’t help but think of that old saw from a disciplining parental authority “it’s for your own good,” all while the switch may be coming down. 

 I was struck by how similar the ultimate relationship between an unknowable and all powerful God and Job’s acknowledgement of ignorance and accepting on faith his subservient position is to the traditional marriage contract wherein the wife or bride accepts her husband as the Lord, if you will, and her role as one of duty to obedience and service. In the Wake this is changed up to the degree that ALP is one with the Life Force and is the active party in her defense of her accused husband. The Feminine is at the center of Life and honored as such. It is she who is the one who bestows many gifts upon her multitudinous children. 

From a political standpoint adhering to a covenant with a single God can obviously lend coherence to a community and create the potential for nation building and thus security. Ironically we face a not dissimilar challenge to our “secular faith” in our own Supreme Court in this moment. We as the body politic are being called to have trust and faith in our highest social contract and yet the requirements/power of the parties here seem unbalanced or mismatched. A so called secular faith can only work if the body is assured that its needs are being met. We are not an enslaved people being led by a more enlightened prophet (Moses) in the form of present day conservative judges, some of whom have strong religious leanings, and who presume to know better what the majority needs. Our relationship to our highest secular authority is not a covenant as described. However, when present day authority believes it is divinely inspired it can begin to look a little too close to a coming down from the mountain with an unchallengeable decree. When this occurs one runs the risk of enslavement to what is now the new order.

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 4 (fourth part of seven), by Ann Cavanaugh

The biblical God we meet is seduced (or tested himself as it were) by Satan to allow the torture of Job as a way of testing Job’s devotion to God. Lots of testing going on here. Perhaps seduced is the wrong word. Perhaps it is an idea that found favor with God but required the agency of Satan to be put into operation. H.H. Rowley, in his essay; The Intellectual Versus the Spiritual Solution (in Glatzer’s anthology) states; “It was the expression of God’s confidence in him, and by his very suffering he was serving God.” One can reasonably ask; serving God how or for what? Serving him in his war with Satan? One can’t help but think of Joyce’s warring twins Shem and Shaun as the human example of this warring archetype. The twins are split off from a unity which is ultimately mended in the Wake and an argument can be made for Satan as the split off son of God. 

Unlike Christ who is tempted but castigates Satan, this God succumbs. Job loses everything and suffers untold pain in the course of his trials and asks/demands nothing but to be heard and considered by this God, who has joined forces in an unholy alliance, which renders Job pitiable. With HCE the focus remains on the concept of guilt/Guilt over something that may or may not have happened in Phoenix Park. Rather than a loss of worldly goods, children and personal health HCE’s brand of torture comes in the form of the wealth of his accusers and the dearth of supporters. Joyce seems to see this as a particularly Irish form of the manifestation of cruelty and shame. Take his words for instance, “Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow,” or as another example, the cruelty of the rejection and “crucifixion” of Parnell by the Irish: and this over, of no small consequence, Parnell’s acting on sexual desire outside the rules (Law) of Catholicism. 

The story of Job is resolved through Job’s coming to see that he has been expecting to understand the ineffable vastness of the contract with the small instrument of human knowledge. In fact he appears to be coming from an understanding of there existing a contract (ie an agreement around proscribed behavior of the signatories) rather than from the idea of covenant which Eichrodt in his Theology of the Old Testament describes as essential to defining Israel as Israel and “controlling the formation of national faith.” He goes on to say: “As an epitome of the dealings of God in history the ‘covenant’ is not a doctrinal concept, with the help of which a complete corpus of dogma can be worked out, but the characteristic description of a living process, which was begun at a particular time and at a particular place, in order to reveal a divine reality unique in the whole history of religion.”(Italics his). In this sense we can think of this covenant as similar to a marriage agreement which is an agreement of commitment but which does not determine necessarily the day to day interactions of the partners and does not determine the quality of the partnership over time. This analogy to a marriage contract is of course apt as Israel is described as the bride of God. It is clear from Eichrodt’s work and also various writings within the Hebrew Scriptures that the understanding of contract or covenant might be clear and definitive in one moment in history and then understood differently at another time.

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 3 (third of seven parts) , by Ann Cavanaugh

Job is adamant that he has expected justice from a God whom he believes is a just God and to whom he has been faithful. One can see in this dynamic the embedded idea of covenant, or a contract if you will. Job is outraged that he has kept his part of the bargain and now he is subjected to a life of suffering and loss with no justice in sight. HCE, in contrast, seems more resigned to his situation. There’s no imagined broken contract here, just the internal and external voices of shame and accusation to which Everyman, religious or otherwise, is subject. Yet at the same time, behind all that is played out on the Wake stage, there lives his Loudship who speaks in unintelligible thunder words, and with whom one could not imagine having any semblance of a relationship, contractual or otherwise. 

Unless, of course, one that is strictly fear based. While the Fall predates the contexts for both of these protagonists we are not led to see original sin as in any way playing a part in Job’s trial. Joyce, on the other hand, recognizes the importance of this imagined event and it is pointed to over and over again in the dreamscape of the Wake. After all Finnegan died from a Humpty Dumpty fall off a ladder. And thus the fun begins! Joyce seems to be after pointing out this message of innate impurity/guilt and how it seems to breathe its unholy breath into so much of life as we experience it. We are guilty from the get go and are not only ignorant but weak and ineffectual to boot. One wonders how anyone could go from this as a starting point to a place of being able to identify with a Christlike approach to life. Oh wait, that’s possible after one is redeemed, as it were. Well, that would be one way to retain the idea of innate impurity but without the end game of eternal damnation. It doesn’t, however, offer much hope for this present life; hope for a better life in heaven maybe, but then what does one do with the concept of the Kingdom being all around us? My take is that Joyce was all about the Kingdom that needs to be realized (a-wakened) here and now. And through his humor and commitment to his craft he seems to be saying, don’t lose out on the fun that lives and breathes despite all the rest.

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 2 (second of seven parts) , by Ann Cavanaugh

In tackling the question of guilt it is important to sort out what I refer to as guilt with a small g and Guilt with a large G. Guilt (with a small g) as that which describes human immorality and all manner of harmful behavior to self and other. That behavior for which we can have a sense of regret and a need for reconciliation/forgiveness which can serve to advance our awareness and ethical development. It is Guilt written with a large G that is, as I see it, capable of holding us hostage from our own goodness. This is the Guilt that functions to advance the belief in the individual, and humanity at large, as participating in the results of an ahistorical event of our “first parents.” That behavior which purportedly caused the original separation from God and the good; resulting in the belief in the fundamental impurity of the individual human and the human race and the need for redemption. Now this is one rendering of the Genesis story, and there are others, but it is undeniably the one that has had major influence over generations, Christian and otherwise. 

This story of our Fall from original purity through our own willfulness, or what? innate darkness? is capital G Guilt. But are we only tempted if we have the capacity to be tempted? And if so, from where does this come? If we contain the potential to act with impurity then impurity is something we have within us and this would predate The Fall. How does free will square with innocence? Rather than concluding that Eve was tempted what could change if she was identified with being curious and persuaded? One can’t help but consider the argument that this so called Fall was the result itself of a set up or test orchestrated for a purpose beyond understanding. It leads to separation from the natural world and the world of our inner instincts and then later we find this same God, who originally banished his first created children, in a covenant relationship with another of his children (Job) where this child/man is also being tested/tortured to prove yet another point. And is that point one He needs to verify for himself? Wouldn’t that beg the question that there is something about this human creature which is beyond His innate knowing? Or was the enactment more an opportunity for an “I told you so” with His son (in Job the angelic realm is referred to as sons of God and Satan is among them). These are all vital questions prompted by this story that get at the essence of who and what is God but also who and what is man and the question of what essentially constitutes a vital relationship of religious belief. 

HCE, Job and the Guilt of Everyman, Part 1 (first of seven parts), by Ann Cavanaugh

Picking up The Dimensions of Job: A Study and Selected Readings edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, decades after a first reading, was a bit of a revelation as I observed many points of intersection between this biblical poetic story and the ongoing trial/guilt of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake protagonist HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker). 

Sin, Guilt, Suffering…..In Job, suffering can be understood not as the outcome of sin but rather inextricably tied to life itself and incomprehensible in its meaning from a religious perspective. An understanding of suffering is demonstrated to be problematic in the Job story in that it is shown to not be available to logical analysis. Rather it is through suffering one can come to a deeper orientation to the ineffable. One might say a deeper humility in our sense of knowing that we do not know and this as the beginning of Wisdom. Wisdom, Sophia, The Feminine. And it is the Feminine to which Joyce is pointing us. 

Whether Joyce had intentionally drawn from this Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) drama or, more likely the notion of original sin, which would have been out in front for him given his Jesuit education, it struck me that one of the many lenses through which we can read Finnegans Wake is the Jobean trial; which is at once a tale of a cruel set up by a jealous God and the existential suffering of Everyman. As with HCE, Job is up against accusations of guilt, being falsely accused by so called friends, and as he sees it, unfairly punished. Unlike HCE, who stammers out several possible alibis and then goes on to enumerate all the services he has provided to family and community, Job goes through a stage of demanding loudly, and in no uncertain terms, to be recognized for his righteousness or, at the least, not punished for what are minor infractions which are part and parcel of being human. While their defenses are similar their approaches are worlds apart. Job’s argument and indignation are reasonable within the context of an understood transactional relationship; he is full of “righteous” indignation. HCE in comparison has the tone of a quiet somewhat humorous ticking off of reasons why it could not have been him and even if it was him one should look at all the good stuff he has done. He comes across as a fully rounded human with his good points and his requisite flaws. 

The other major difference between these two characters is that HCE has, as it were, an awesome defense attorney in ALP (The Feminine, Anna Livia Plurabelle). She engages in actively defending and arguing for HCE and puts her argument in a letter for all to see. Job is alone in his righteousness and all abandon him including his wife, who attempts to disabuse him of his loyalty to God and friends, who reason he must be guilty to be so out of favor with God. One needs to remember to see both of these stories as parables and thus each character serves as stand-in for humanity writ large while at the same time both prompt us to ask the question of human guilt on the individual level, as well as to ponder what each view has to teach us. Job’s journey brings him ultimately in touch with a sense of humility. HCE seems to have a sense of humility from the start, in addition to the connection to the Feminine, and his light hearted humorous touch cannot be overlooked. Job is a person who sees the ebb and flow of life in that he has a sense of what his behavior has amounted to and, thus, of what he is justly deserving. In HCE we have man as tested by the ever changing/shifting fortunes of life and, in contrast to Job’s approach, someone who has adopted Joyce’s prescription for survival - “silence, exile and cunning. “ Like Joyce, HCE would rather persuade than demand.