Saturday, 24 May 2014

Not wanted on the voyage

The beginning of second paragraph in the American Declaration of Independence stands as one of the most enduring monuments to human achievement. I don't mean here something tangible but spiritual. The ideas encapsulated in the words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...

are axiomatic for all sentient life and will stand for all time.

The term "happiness" above, like the Christian notions of agape (love), is less a state of emotion and feeling than it is a state of being, a perspective, an appeal to reason. It is a Socratic notion, requiring our active participation in ponderance and meditation and meant to be articulated in our actions because it is our attitude and behaviour towards the other. It is an informing principle in our value system(s). It calls us in the good times and also in the bad times:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12: 27-28)

It took me on a long and difficult path (as it still does and probably always will) to realize that there is a difference between how I feel about something and my choice of action. I have a lot of failures and succumb so easily to self interests (always longing for intellectual and spiritual laziness) but the continuous strand of thought and experience tells me that I have to live with myself, and if I don't even try I will remain in arrested development. My immediate reaction is always still to hole up in the security and sanctity of my dwelling rather than face up to life in our society and all its potential for ugliness.

In Timothy Findley's novel, Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984), the central character is a Dr Noyes (Noah) the archetypal "pharisee" that is the very definition of intellectual and spiritual laziness who asks much of others rather than of himself. In the novel he sacrifices almost every bird in the ark to search for dry land until at last he is forced to send out his own trained dove which finally comes back with an olive branch. Yet even here he takes it as a sign that it was his following the letter of G*d's edict that saved the day rather than finally himself paying for his lip service.

For the spiritually delicate and "pure" Findley's novels are not for them, and I would encourage them to stay as far away from them as possible. Timothy Findley is a giant of Canadian literature. He is in fact attributed to have invented Southern Ontario Gothic style of writing. His first two novels (The Last of the Crazy People (1967) and The Butterfly Plague (1969)) were in fact rejected by Canadian publishers and were originally published in the UK and the US. I'd surmise he didn't meet the quota of mentioning "Canadiana" to warrant costly distribution to such a small market.

It is said that his novels were heavily influenced by Jungian psychology (Hannibal Lecter calls this type of psychology, the religion of psychoanalysis) but I'd say that he's a literary critic par excellence of the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

Many of his "female" characters are variations of Lilith and/or Lucifer. But (ironically or by design) he takes after the tradition of Christ in that he advocates for the rejected, the downtrodden and the outcast. The recurring theme of madness in Findley's novels is often suggestive of Laingean reaction to intolerable orthodoxy and are case-studies of the price the helpless are often forced to pay for the hypocrisy of the more powerful.


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