Thursday, September 4, 2008


(with apologies to Wallace Stevens)

What follows is a delineation of the levels of action in a projected work of fiction (reworking material first broached about twenty-eight years ago).

Consider the tripartite 'worlds':

Inferno - Purgatorio -- Paradiso


Niflheim - Midgard - Asgard

In other words: the level of reality, of the bondage to time, is the modern city, a purgatory, a limbo, a place where one either recognizes fate, divinity, beauty, or one does not; 'below' this are the areas of demonic forces, which is to say: largely 'the past' as evoked by the unconscious: understood as 'the wheel' that one is bound to (ancestors/genetics, upbringing/training -- sources of guilt, feelings of inadequacy or of arrogance, fear of the unknown or untried), from which one can only be freed by 'rebirth.' Rebirth is the attainment, in the historical present, of a sense of the timeless, of the freedom from 'sources,' from ancestry, from conditioning, from one's 'given or virtual self' in the name of one's 'true or actual self.' The hero and heroine of the piece are both moving through a present, hampered by 'below,' having to confront it in some way (as ex-lovers, they are each part of that realm for each other), to arrive at 'something new.' Traditional Hegelian dialectic, in other words.

'Evil spirits' from 'below' can be seen as the malicious forces of one's own emotional and racial and familial history (which includes their gods and rituals, to the extent that they are not true for one's own being, or to the extent that the judgments from an earlier temporal site cannot be 'true' for a later one). 'Above' is the realm of the 'timeless' gods (but only to a certain extent). In other words, this is not a tale of escape from 'the realm of illusion' that is the physical world, rather it's a tale of how to perceive a 'timeless truth' within the temporal, primarily through a psycho-sexual form in the present. The form this truth takes is 'of the gods,' in the sense that it is illuminated by what, for a given character or individual, is most perceived as 'divine.' The assumption is that such form will not, maybe cannot, be wholly original, that it will partake of mythological associations with the divine -- past forms, in other words, which might indeed be demonic -- 'pagan,' 'primitive,' in their negative connotations -- but which will find new fulfillment in the present. The connotations might be a syncretic blending of religious images, or of pop cultural images. The visionary is the one who can determine which connotations are 'divine' or 'from above,' or, indeed, what is 'for all time' in a given ephemeral form.

There is also a sense in which certain of one's predecessors may be 'from above' in the sense of spiritual guides: they inspire the right choice, provide the basis for the inner conviction. The point of the story is to delineate moments of 'inner conviction': to show how some characters are tempted (by what is, for them, false), how some are doomed (by not doing what, for them, is the right thing), how some are redeemed (by arriving at the hard truth beyond the seeming wrong path), how some are blessed (by always knowing and doing the right thing). 'Right' and 'wrong,' then, are perceived as not only relative to a situation, but relative to the individual and that individual's place in the whole. For the other point of the tale is that it is not simply one character's story -- a search for the right thing by one particular person -- but is a 'site': a place and time where a group, or coterie, go through changes for the sake of the 'right' associations, for, in a sense, the hierarchy or organization by which the site will be 'judged' or understood. So, the roles that a character may take on, relative to another character, have impact on the 'axis tree' of above and below. This may be said to be the 'drama' of the piece, the extent to which it is ultimately 'comic' or 'tragic': as depending on whether the outcomes of these interactions end in a situation of equilibrium (a celebration of being) or in a situation of disaster (an affliction of being).

The twin triumvirates, from Dante and Norse mythology, are juxtaposed just to show that the 'levels' aren't strictly Christian; in other words, the notion of tripartite levels is already syncretic. In terms of the quadruple levels of traditional allegory: the 'fourth level' is that provided by the text itself. In that sense, fiction -- or, if you prefer, art, poetry -- is both temporal and 'timeless' and is aimed to manifest that peculiar perspective.

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