Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Till We Have Faces, Part I

I am old now and have not much to fear
from the anger of gods.

And so begins what many critics considered to be that last great literary achievement by a man who considered himself a dinosaur of sorts. The quote is from Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis taken from his book Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold.

As the title suggests Lewis did what many medieval writers of the past had done. He [re]told a story. His genius of re-telling is comparable to what Geoffrey Chaucer had done with the Canterbury Tales from Boccaccio’s Decameron. Lewis, like Chaucer before him, understood the function of a story and to retell it made it all the more original.

This of course is a medieval concept, however, one that Lewis delivers quite well. Lewis’ objective was to reshape and possibly present a different view of a known, pagan fable. In doing so he fashioned a story unlike the original. In fact, he made the story a Lewis story.

The story itself is a tale between two earthly princesses-one attractive (Psyche) and the other, for lack of a better term, ugly (Orual). The tale interweaves a pre-Christian era involving pagan worship and themes of love, selfish desire, and as Lewis himself thought, “a work of (supposed) historical imagination.” The story includes the pagan god of love Cupid, son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.

As a Christian apologist Lewis was no stranger to myth lore and other pagan forms of religious rhetoric. In fact, it was because of his ability to embrace pagan allusion without letting it interfere with his faith that made him such a strong advocate for the Christian religion to begin with. John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien noticed this ability in Lewis and assisted in his appointment as Chair for English & Medieval Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. Their relationship would wane over the years, and this, due to the fact that Tolkien did not appreciate Lewis’ overt Christian rhetoric in his works.

Lewis believed that every good man or woman was a type or a like of Christ. In his own words he describes his character Psyche as existing as “an instance of the anima naturaliter Christiana making the best of the Pagan religion she is brought up in.” Moreover, Lewis exclaims that “she is in some ways like Christ because every good man or woman is like Christ.” It is this “like Christ” in conjunction with the title of his book “Till We Have Faces” that intrigues and upholds the reader’s imagination. It is possible to read through the book unchanged, but it is not possible to read through the tale unchallenged. Lewis does not leave room for that, and I suppose, in a suggestive sense, the response to this challenge is a type or supporter of change.

What follows is a close look, in two parts, at what allusions may have been circling the mind of Jack Lewis and what per se these ideas may reveal about our present culture. I would be doing the former Cambridge don a disservice if I did not mention that he himself viewed the subject of love in his book as motive for the actions of man, woman, and yes, even the gods, whom it would appear Lewis did not think were crazy. His final thoughts on love and the age of love I believe motivated a response from his curious mind and encouraged him to write what originally was titled Bareface. Lewis took the transmitted story from Lucius Apuleius Platonicus’ Metamorphoses (sometimes called The Golden Ass) and created something that was original in its retelling. It was a re-creation of collected words interweaved and birthed into a new view of the old world where “love is too young to know what conscience is.”

The story of Psyche and Cupid is one of love, deception, and ultimately tragedy. It begins with the birth of three beautiful daughters to a king and queen. The youngest was the most beautiful in face and bodily appearance. Her beauty it was told rivaled that of even Venus herself, to which the goddess did not take kindly to. Venus’ jealousy stirred her to call upon her son, Cupid. The young god was told to wound Psyche with his arrows and make her fall in love with some degraded creature. Cupid, winged with his arrows and maternal obedience, flew toward Psyche with intent on destroying her life. Cupid upon noticing for the first time Psyche’s beauty was also struck as it were by the very arrow of love that afflicted many a mortal. He instantly loved Psyche and took her away to a palace where he was to remain a hidden husband to Psyche.

What is more, the story incorporates the jealousy of the two other sisters who were married off to lesser matches and who wanted to know what became of their sister. Upon finding their sister, Psyche shows them her palace and her wealth, but to the gods’ warning that nothing good can come of it. This foreshadowing proves only too true as the sisters poison Psyche’s mind to betray her husband. Psyche is told to take a lamp and let the light from the lamp illuminate who her husband really is. Armed with a knife Psyche follows through on this plan, but upon looking on her husband she does not recoil in fear, but is completely enamored with the beauty and magnificence of the young god of love. Psyche, in holding the lamp, mistakenly lets a drop of hot oil fall on the unblemished, white and radiant ambrosia-like skin of Cupid. He immediately senses his discovery and departs! Psyche is then left to wallow in her grief and roam about half-crazed, a result stemming from her disobedience. Suffice it to mention that this portion of the story concerning Psyche and Cupid is what Lewis “improved” upon. The characters are the same but it is set, as one critic put it, “against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world.” Lewis utilized the absence of a Christian world to paint the very vivid presence of Christ, or archetypal Christ.

This characterization involves Psyche. On the one hand the tale depicts sacred love and on the other a love that is profane, tarnished, and tainted. This love develops into a selfish desire and need and we are made aware of its troubling effects. In fact, Psyche will be “killed” for it. Though Lewis enjoyed utilizing the topos of allegory I do not believe he is symbolizing any of his characters throughout [t]his tale. In criticizing his own work he is quick to admit that “an author doesn’t necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else,” however he plainly admits that Orual “is (not a symbol) but an instance.” Lewis explains that she is “a ‘case’ of human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession.” The beloved here of course is the younger sister, Psyche.

What can misalign love tell us exactly? How is this helpful to the reader? Recall, Lewis by this time had a huge following and his works were already in circulation. At a glance is Mere Christianity, Allegory of Love, Pilgrim’s Regress, and of course The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter bringing him much acclaim to both youthful and aged audiences alike. Why then do critics place Till We Have Faces as one of his, if not the most, monumental, literary achievement? I believe the answer may lie in the possibility that all of his faculties are at work here! Lewis himself acknowledged that this book, among his other written projects, was his greatest achievement. Again, the question is raised with regards to his use of pagan allusion embedded in myth lore. Why not adhere to your Christian audience and retell a pagan story that clearly labels the Christian and the pagan; the absolute good and the bad; the acknowledgement of societal culpabilis, sin and transgression and the reward and blessing for honoring the one true God? Though all pertinent questions—Lewis, arguably, addressed them all by adhering to the style of a pagan myth. Perhaps then, the undercurrent message here is “as Christians we are called to be in the world, but not of the world.” A challenge indeed, some more than others, but a challenge nonetheless. Think of the audience Lewis is reaching with such a book. By placing Psyche in a type of Christ role she is then given an ability to “see.” Lewis brilliantly takes the pagan notion of an invisible palace and retells it in the vein of a “seen palace.” The one who is without sight is also the one without understanding and without a face, hence Till We Have Faces.

Who then understands the infinite? Who then can make sense of those who now can see? Perhaps, Asaph can shed some light on the matter. It is understood that David wrote many psalms in the canonical collection or Book of Psalms, and yet the Book of Psalms contains many authors. For example, Moses, Asaph, and even Solomon all wrote psalms. One psalm in particular, Psalm 82, suggests some similar things to which I believe Lewis is alluding to. The text reads as follows:

Psalm 82
5 "They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 "I said, 'You are "gods";
you are all sons of the Most High.'
7 But you will die like mere men;
you will fall like every other ruler."

Now compare such a sentiment to a section of Lewis’ narrative where Orual is asking Bardia, a guardsman for some explanation to Psyche’s supposed madness:

“Bardia, what kind of a lover must this be who forbids his bride to see his face?”

To which in reply the prudent soldier responds:

“I should say-speaking as mortal, and likely enough the gods know better-I should say
it was one whose face and form would give her littler pleasure if she saw them.”

At one point the psalmist Asaph taps into a disturbing and very Christian idea; i.e., “you are gods” and that “you are all sons of the Most High.” Can it be both? On a second note Bardia, one steeped in the Glome, pagan culture replies to Orual’s inquiry with a hesitant, but sufficient reply with regards to the god of love. That is, “the gods know better.” I believe Lewis’ genius is materializing rapidly here. He has incorporated a pagan notion and made it Christian. How? Well, first notice that Asaph sets up the idea or allusion of “gods” and “sons” existing together, and possibly exist as one and the same. Lewis provides the “gods” with a “knowing” that excludes or rather goes beyond. Beyond whom? At least beyond Bardia and Orual, both type cast their estate-one, a cast-off princess and embodiment of a crumbling earthly royalism, and the other, a defender of a pagan culture that is nothing more than loose code and superficial, and to some extent syncretic ritual.

Nonetheless, Lewis taps into an interesting concept here. The idea that knowing exists outside of seeing is a Christian concept. In other words ones epistemology, albeit steeped in one’s ontology, is pursued without tangible reason. After all, the saint can no more see Christ than you or I can see the splitting of atoms with the naked eye, and yet there is a certainty in knowing that they exist, no. Recall, it was Christ who rebuked Thomas for unbelief linked to his sight. Likewise, Lewis may be suggesting that a similar idea exists with Orual as well as Asaph’s intended audience (ultimately the audience is us because scripture is God-breathed). The idea of the unknown has always presented a kind of fear to mankind, and Lewis plays off of this, sometimes a medieval concept, but a prevalent notion regardless by today’s reckoning. How exactly does Lewis unleash his fear, and what it [fear] displays may actually question whether we see the face[s] at all. These are not the faces on the outside of our bodies, but quite possibly the existing reflections from within them.

Further, Lewis’ turning point for his tale comes from Orual after she “sees” Psyche. Psyche, still beautiful appears to be in tattered rags in the middle of nowhere, and though Orual briefly sees the much-talked about palace, it is her unbelief that is her undoing as the “vision” quickly fades and her eyes resume that natural vision for the Glome, albeit an Old English allusion to eorðan, or earth[ly], world-view. I mentioned earlier that this short essay would incorporate an analysis on Lewis’ Till We Have Faces and how the tale holds up for today’s readership. This will continue in the next installment. For now I leave you with a thought from Glome and a psalm:

“Oh Orual” she said, “not even I have seen him-yet. He comes to
me only in the holy darkness. He says I mustn’t-not yet-see his
face or know his name. I’m forbidden to bring any light into his-

Psalm 97
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

7 All who worship images are put to shame,
those who boast in idols-
worship him, all you gods!

**Here ends part I**

The Captured Word

A recollection:

Words fitly spoken are not always spoken as apples of gold in pictures of silver. The word, once uttered, cannot find its way back and must find solace in the beholders ear. Words are stated without merit and are sometimes fueled by impulse. There exists a word or two that finds its capture to be a freedom amongst its hearers and proves betterment to its detractors. These words can be spoken, but find there true power and importance by being written. These are the words that you and I need to focus our attention upon.
I can recall attending an English class at Country Day School (St. Croix-U.S. Virgin Islands) and being rebuked by my English teacher to write better. He stated-“You must capture the words, not merely state them. When done correctly this is called writing." It has been a little over 10 years now (15 or so to be exact) and I am still living out that advice. Along the way, the challenge of finding one’s voice and audience have proven to be a cultivating experience lending sagacity towards my writing. I now recognize that the captured word is a word fitly spoken and will find an audience regardless! The words are to be captured by the “seekers” and though the writer may not know who they are-“they” are ever aware of whom “you," the writer and captor of words, happens to be.
Words are harbingers of truth, or if a lie- help to assist in its opposite illumination. Words are responsible for wars, but also peace; words are responsible for hope, in spite of turmoil; words are responsible for contests, in spite of losing. Words are just that…THEY ARE, and they are responsible! Words can be comforting, academic, docile, abstruse, and confectious but again-THEY ARE!
What then is the written moral of the telling? Words are strong, but once captured prove their mirth above mere reckless existence. Once spoken, in or out of captured tune, the writer must proceed to write them and in justice alleviate their intended audience. This final step is not an easy one, but it is one that should take some time. Why? These words of captive gold are fitly written in pictures of audible silver.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

And “What” Do You Want to Be, If You Grow Up?

A greeting, my name is Fetus, and this is my position on the art of the possible.

The following essay is another way to view the “what if” dilemma of abortion. Here, abortion is to be defined as the disturbance of the art of the possible. In ages past this ethical dilemma received much attention, and it continues to raise more questions than answers for moralists and ethicists alike. Is abortion a convenience to society? Is it murder? Is it acceptable, and if so who should make the final decision? These questions will not be answered directly throughout this essay, however the main focus will revolve around the subject matter of value, and prospect ontology, or the possibility of being. Every major crisis must begin with the foundation of meaning, or value. The value we place on objects mirrors the value we place upon ourselves. Valuation, of the human condition for “being,” should always be considered to include the betterment of the masses; i.e., community advancement. Plato believed the fetus is a living being, however the state’s ideals and needs take precedence over the life and rights of the unborn. This is a view generally accepted by many today; however, the focal point now rests on one-the mother, that gracious hostess of potential progeny. Value must be placed on the fetus in order that, humanity as a whole, may benefit from its potential for life, thus making it an ethical concern for human betterment.

The stoic Musonius Rufus agreed that having many children is beautiful and right. Was not the great command to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” also given as more than a mere guideline? Both arguments point in the direction of healthy procreation. But what happens when some “agent” affects the formula? A person is raped. A relationship goes “sour”, and the option to abort is both attractive and necessary. To elaborate further, consider a mother is lying on the operating table in need of the doctor’s scalpel. The decision to save either the mother or the child, somewhat undeveloped at 5 months, needs to be made. These situations are all tethered to the pinpoint truth that the value placed on humanity must be directed beyond compromising scenarios. The gaze needs to be placed on the potential for being, or in other words focus is to be placed on behalf of the fetus.
Throughout the Greco-Roman world, the law governed culture. Roman law never viewed the fetus as a human being but rather as part of the maternal viscera. This view seems to support a woman’s right to choose. However, “by 3rd century A.D. Roman law considered abortion an offense against the father” not the mother. These laws protected against fatherly injustices; the family name, inheritance rights, and support of the human race for the betterment of the state. The woman, carrier of the furtherance of its species, was not a priority. The fetus was part of the mother, making it ineligible to receive rights of any kind (the fetal hierarchy). During the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries any thought to place value or ascribe rights to the fetus was considered, at best, scandalous.

If Rome and Greece are renowned for their art and literature, then the medium of poetry, that creative barometer of cultural times, was its herald. One such figure, a Pelignian from Sulmo (east of Rome), used his art to speak on behalf of the possible, a sub-altern figure if you will. The poet Ovid, born sometime around 43 B.C. (a year after Caesar’s murder), wrote extensively in his 3-volume collection the Amores. What follows is but a slice of the artist’s rendition of love versus abortment during his times:

The first woman to tear an embryo from the womb
Should have died of that assault herself.
How can you fight this duel on the sands of death
Simply to save your stomach a few wrinkles?
If the mothers of old had followed your vicious example
Mankind would be extinct-
And is it not better for me to die of love
Than be murdered by my mother?
Why rob the vine when the grapes are growing?
Why strip the tree of bitter fruit?
Let it ripen, ready to fall. Let first beginnings be.
New life is worth a little patience.
Why jab the needle in your own flesh
And poison the unborn?
No tigress in wild Armenia does that-
No lioness destroys her own cubs.
But tenderhearted girls do-and pay the penalty:
For the murderess often dies herself,…
May the gods be gracious, overlook a first offence
And give her a second chance.

The pagan poet, who like the stoics of the 1st century, celebrated love and life. Any agent, in this case “poison,” that carried out the act of abortion, was deemed as murder, and those that administered its intent—murderers. Hence, we begin to envision an early position on the side of pro vita, or pro life. This thinking carried over into the Jewish and somewhat Christian approaches to abortion.
Two major schools of thought emerged from the debate between life and death of the fetus (regardless of its stage of development): the Alexandrian School as well as the Majority Palestinian School. We will revisit each school in detail at a later position in this essay. Jewish thought on the subject of “life” could be summarized in three parts:

1. The duty and desire to populate the earth, ensuring Jewish survival and the
Divine presence.

2. A deep sanctity of life in God’s creation.
3. A profound horror of blood and bloodshed.

All share the common sense that “abortion is a condemnable practice and shows disrespect for life as well as senseless bloodshed. The value placed on the fetus is one of Divine sanction and human rights. This is not singularly a “Christian” outcry against abortion, but an outcry from humanity’s history, pagan and non-pagan, alike. The Jewish foundation for reverence for God and respect for life naturally formed a foundation for Christian thinking also.
Intellectually, Christian thinkers throughout the first three centuries held the following views about abortion:

1. The fetus is the creation of God.
2. Abortion is equivocal to murder.
3. God is judge of those culpable in the act, or assistance to an abortion.

Again, the Jewish position of abortion as a condemnable practice is reiterated in the echoes of Christian thinking. The “fetus is not seen as part of its mother, but as a neighbor; abortion is rejected as contrary to other-centered neighbor love”. In other words, the fetus is imputed value on the basis of its created (developmental) human condition. Experience shapes the human condition, but that conceived by human beings can only be all too human, and heir to constituted rights that govern humanity’s potential through its existence. The Christian thought on fetal survival when abortion plagues it is handled both with reverence and with respect. Value and meaning is placed upon “the almost.”

By definition “the feeling of reverence is based on a comparison between something great and our own or someone else’s smallness, provided we do not find this smallness insignificant”. What is it that we value most? For that matter what is it that we revere most? Is it a deity, a person, or both? The answer to these inquiries is irrelevant because the fetus cannot answer them. The question then to be asked is: who and what defends the fetus, and why? In art, the artist “creates” from bare tools of paint and oils and inks the most elaborate and exquisite beauty; a painting to reflect the artist and the cognitive subject of its ocular capture. The beauty is not complete, however, until the gaze of “others,” critics, lovers of art, et cetera behold it. Likewise, one could argue that the fetus, made from human “first-things,” also has the potential for beauty. This beauty is to be fully appreciated through the process of its development, and lends credibility to parental artistry and design. To the Jew and to the Christian this is God, and to the humanist the honor is conveyed to the parents, willing or unwilling, to accept their offspring. These thoughts were shared by Clement of Alexandria, throughout 190-200 A.D., who felt that abortion is the “killing of human life that is under God’s care, design, and providence”. What more could be said of the defenders of pro vita against the “pagan” practice of abortion? Both Tertullian and Augustine, mighty princes of the ethical debate on abortion during their time, would agree that the fetus is God’s design, and should be approached with both reverence and opportunity. After all, the critic may feel inadequate with an artist’s work, but that is for them to think so, and not for them to decide it is so, thereby affecting the artistry for others.

Earlier in the essay the subject of two schools of Jewish thought were presented to establish a stance on the issue of abortion. The Alexandrian school was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and pagan practices of abortion. However, it was established that abortion is both immoral and punishable. Here the fetus maintains the right to live. In opposition, the Palestinian school of Jewish thought, maintained and supported its beliefs from the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. The fetus here is part of the mother and does not bear the rights (legal status) of a person (human being fully-developed). These two viewpoints dominated the Jewish world and later played a key role in Christian and secular thinking and its ethical praxis.

By viewing into the past humanity can look into and perceive the ethical dilemma abortion faces today. We could claim “serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture,” but this would lead to more, elitist ambiguity, and not advancement in proper thinking and practice. The secular realm, or that society which associates itself with non-traditional “Christian” mores, seems to detach itself from the human sense of compassion. Instances of benevolent acts, however, towards pro vita do exist, in spite of the tainted and tolerant celerity of personal and stereotyped judgment. To put it another way, let us examine the subject of choice through the lens of a story. Robertson Davies’s book The Lyre of Orpheus presents a modern dilemma on the subject of abortion. The story begins with the search for truth surrounding the late Francis Cornish, a wealthy statesman. Davies places the Cornish estate into the hands of Arthur Cornish, a banker by trade. Arthur is married to the beautiful, gypsy woman Maria. She is a scholar on Rabelais, the French bard and philosopher, and a trustee to the Cornish Foundation. The Foundation looks for deserving, worthy causes to sponsor. One such cause is the biography of Francis Cornish. Another is the support of the Magnanimous Cuckold, a play regarding Arthur, High King of Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. Davies cleverly places Arthur into the role of a cuckold, once in the play, and also when his best friend sleeps with his wife. Though the event happened once, Maria becomes pregnant and Arthur, told the child is not his own, must decide what to do. Arthur, like any “good” husband of the 20th century accepts his situation and chooses to love the child and its mother, proving indeed to be the Magnanimous Cuckold. What strikes the reader is the absence of the “usual” options for a woman under similar situations. No one mentions abortion as an option at all. In fact, the father of the child, a modernized Sir Lancelot, remains great friends with Arthur, the would-be “King” and Maria, the willing Guenevere. Davies’s “strange” fiction parallels somewhat ethical choices amongst sophisticated adults that should be commonplace in our present world. Was Davies a man of tolerance and compassion? His fiction, containing much humor intertwined with scholarship, earned him great renown as Canada’s leading man of letters with degrees from Oxford, Toronto, et cetera. Still, Davies seems to capture that which the pagans of old held onto—abortion is not the option, but life is. The celebration of life resounded from a 20th century author and one can only hope the reverberations may echo, in practice, well into the 21st century.

In the 21st century Paul Ramsey, a moralist philosopher, posed a key question with regards to abortion and legislation: “When does the practice of abortion become fit for legislation”? The option for rights is inherited to all those serving the community. This was supported by even the pagan cultures of the past. Why? Because community prospered and developed.

The Pagan understanding of the fetus pit the unborn “human” as unworthy of rights, but if born must serve the betterment of the state, or in more modern terms—it must adhere to the potential for community advancement. Community is governed by the practice of laws and these laws are enforced towards the greater common good. Good? What could that mean? It could arguably refer to the collective advantage of furthering community intention(s) under the banner of utility. If unchecked, it could justify criminal intent to hinder the advancement for the unborn. In this case, the agent of abortion is the law that governs crime. Legislation then, that exists to protect human beings from murder, unfortunately does not exist for the “art of the possible,” the fetus. The potential for human advancement is “cellular[ly]-packed” within the sphere of fetal development; and, to not allow for this potential seems ethically, if not morally, disturbing. In a sense, one feels that “things” are not the way it should be, and community is affected, possibly one fetus at a time.

The Jewish word for all-encompassing peace is shalom and when disturbed presents entropy in the phases of lost hope. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (herein, Plantinga) in his work, “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin,” presents shalom “as the way things ought to be”. Plantinga warrants that a transgression of morals has occurred, and this transgression can be labeled as culpabilis, or sin. Throughout the book Plantinga sites example after example of human thinking and practice gone awry. He provides a fresh outlook on the subject of crooked behavior in an equally, but oppositely refracted world. A man should be able to love a woman in marriage and the two carry on the projected image of their Divine design. A woman, caught in scandal, now pregnant-should be presented with options of aid, possibly by the state, without harm to either party-fetus or mother alike. Should not the, as Plato put it, state take notice of the would-be babies and invest in their development? A thoughtful reflection presents itself in the following rhetorical questions: How many presidents have we killed? How many doctors with the potential to solve the world’s disease crisis have been extinguished? How many engineers could have helped build up our communities and assisted in space exploration? In asking such questions it is only fair to play the devil’s advocate with the following, in question form, alternate responses: How many murderers did we kill? How many disease-carrying individuals did we absolve? How many cruel totalitarian dictators, with terrorist intent, did we stop from entering into the world? The questions are more than we have answers for, but recall that the common good is always at stake, and therein lays the cousin to faith, hope.

Hope can be defined “as wide and richly-textured as life itself…something to be worn, like Joseph’s coat of many colors”. The reason a community can overcome improper practices are because there exists a hope as to when these disturbances will cease. As Glenn Tinder poignantly mentions-“The deficiencies of modern hope point toward the characteristics of authentic hope”. Unfortunately, no clear, sagacious responses towards abortion exist on the level of the all-time, all-inclusive, all-scenario application. By striving towards the end in view, however, we sometimes find better methods to begin, advancing accordingly. The fuel for advancement being the vehicle of hope. Hope dominates thinking and practice, thereby allowing a chain reaction for good. This good dominates community and does not limit responsibility to rest upon one person, the mother. Both hope and good are not as recondite as they may seem in today’s society, but together lend mainstream credibility to applications towards procuring fetal rights. The community that hopes together believes together, and ultimately advances together in that vehicle of hope.

The nascent human life is valuable because of its potential to advance community, and also because it sustains the existence of our race as complex, and worthy of best-informed decision making. Further, humanity must behave like itself-human. We cannot escape ourselves “for man, unlike other creatures, is gifted and cursed with an imagination which extends his appetites beyond the requirements of subsistence”. Reinhold Niebuhr captured the essence of man attached to society. In this essay the word choice has been community as a precursor towards a given society. In other words, community makes society and “each century originates a new complexity and each new generation faces a new vexation”. This vexation spills over the chalice of un-social utopia, giving rise to the domino effect that has infected moral viewing. The alignment of such moral saving demands balance. This balance could quite arguably be constitutional in scope and family building in practice. This is not an easy task, as we shall note.

Constitutional balance finds its root in the soil of family building. The family, comprised of both parent(s) and child, must be willing to want each other. A breakdown in this formula disturbs its outcome. If a fetus is a developing person, and that person maintains rights awarded to it at full development, then it is without excuse that any “agent” that disrupts development, with exceptions to its survival or the mother’s life, remains unconstitutional. Is it then possible that abortion is justified via the common good of the individual and not the common good of society? Arguably, the constitution does protect the rights of men and women and possibly the developing child. A revisit to the ethical applications to what “human” and “rights” mean may be in order under our present-day “understanding” of the Constitution of the United States of America. After all, it is the only, balanced and lawful thing to do for the art of the possible.

The “what if” possibility is a struggle to the thinking person. Why? Because there is always the possibility of the “not-yet,” or the potential of the “it-could-have- been.” Imagine a fetus's response to the upcoming world. What would it sound like? Perhaps like this:

I know my destiny. Someday my name will be associated with
the memory of something tremendous, a crisis like no other on
earth, the profoundest collision of conscience, a decision conjured
up against everything that had been believed, required, and held
sacred up to that time. I am not a man; I am dynamite.

What a voice of confidence crying out with man-lungs, shouting to the on-lookers wishing to shake off their rags of curiosity! The “voice” belongs to the German prodigy Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. He held this view at the early age of twelve! Imagine him aborted? It can be argued that Nietzsche was given every conducive pro-agent towards becoming an asset to community. Apart from his philosophical contributions he has left a legacy of political scholarship to German universities, as well as our own. This example, though somewhat extreme, defends the earlier points of potential to advance community, and as it were increase society; where Nietzsche failed then, the “others” could succeed; likewise, where he succeeded-the “others” could build upon and surpass. The “others” are the fetuses of potential.

An ethic towards the unborn can be found in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my
Thoughts afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are
Familiar with all of my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you
Know it completely, O Lord.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty
For me to attain.
For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

The standard of treatment towards the value of humanity is beyond religion and it engrosses all of community. The Psalm depicts a tone that seems absent in community. The tone suggests a sense of reverence for human life as well as a sense of thankfulness for that human existence. These senses are the inheritance for, in terms of the “art of the possible,” the fetus based on the developmental potential each carries.

In ages past, Christian, Jewish, and Pagan cultures, agreed abortion was immoral, punishable, and generally unacceptable, yet the fetus maintained no rights of consideration- for it was not a person. Today, we face a similar struggle except abortion is accepted. In the advancement for community, and later society- the way of shalom perhaps has been lost. The ethical steps taken have been backwards, with an unsound view toward a healthy future. Humanity must answer the “what if” dilemma if proper thinking and praxis are to exist. This would address: the art of the possible. The demand is now set, who then will take up the charge, one fetus at a time?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Experienced Sip

The following story took place on the corner of Grand Avenue, adjacent to Barnes and Nobles. I was attending Michigan State University (MSU) at the time, getting my second Bachelor's degree in English.

Enjoy my MSU story:

The tip of my tongue, ah, a lost sense and a singed reminder from the after math of a venti-size latte attack. This has been my reward for an investment in caffeination. Huh? You mean the conjunction of caffeine and nation can go together? Like ham and eggs or m & m or Jack and Jill? Yep! Exactly like that.

I find myself lacking originality as I timely sip away the mixed pools of black and milk in a mass-produced styro-foam cup. I don’t have to look too far to note my accessories are a book on English Literature in the 16th Century Excluding Drama and a pamphlet on Studies in Philology.

My itemization of meaning and function continue with my feet propped on a wooden stool with four, disjointed legs. I find myself shifting the weight in my legs as I compete to match the rhythm of Eric Clapton’s Change the World. Clapton’s song is currently winning. Go figure. I try to refocus and ask myself, “Why am I in a coffee shop to begin with?" Did I come in for the cozy, warm environment? Hardly. I could have gotten that by cuddling with Tabs, my orange, over-fluffed tabby, in front of my imaginary fireplace overlooking my balcony of 40-foot tall pine trees. Did I come in for the attention? Well, I guess buying my coffee did assist in my conversational skills with the cashier.

Her haircut was cut short with streaks of blue at the tips. The blue seemed to be running away from the bleach-blond in her hair. Her smile was attractive with pink gloss splashed over two lips in a full, red hue. Her round nose was pierced, and earlier I overheard her conversation on existential a priori behavior in the characters of Tolstoy’s War and Peace with a customer who had just purchased a grande-size Americano—whatever that is. As always, upon hearing such conversations I wanted to join in, but remained inaudible, held back by the principle of wait to be asked. Yeah, right. Like anyone really abides by such an “understood” mandate.

Truly, I came into the coffee shop because I could. I guess I liken it to a mountain climber climbing a mountain. When asked the question-“Why? Why did you climb Mt. so-and-so?” To his credit he uttered, “Well, because it was there.” I sat down where I sat down because I could. I bought the hot drink because I could. And when I am ready to leave and move on toward my next destination I will, though not because I have to, but because I can. There is a certain peace in knowing that you have the power of choice as well as the movement to complement that choice. It is within my autonomy, no.

My coffee is now half-filled, or is it half-emptied? I forget which one is more intellectual to think upon, and which one displays the disposition of an active pragmatist. Both deal with a philosophy of choice, right? Right. Anyhow, I get up from my chair to throw the cold, and now distant coffee away. The trash can is roughly 10 feet away and suddenly a rush of wanting to shoot the cup into the basket comes over me. The feeling is like a wave of hope and risk and fear and embarrassment all into one. Then, as it would happen logic, my friend, visits with his neighbor, my mind. “The cup is not empty,” he says. And again, “If you miss, people will notice.” And yet, I feel that I can make it. My emotion is fighting within and yearns to have a voice aussi. From within, the cries express- “Shoot it! You’ll never know until you try it. Believe in yourself!”

I have forgotten that with such a battle raging from within all crevices and interfolds of my person I have been standing throughout this moment of interlocution. I have lost track of time and I cannot recollect whether my “stand” has been a long or a short history. I play it off as if I were day-musing and proceed, with purpose and caution, toward the trash can. Logic has won. No throw—just a simple trip and discard.

I reward myself by asking for a cup of water. I call it a reward because it will dilute my caffeinated culpabilis. I walk back to my chair and stool in hope to actually read something that I have brought, but my love for the aesthetic appearance of scholarship wins out over my actual reading of the works laying on the round table.

I think back to Arthur’s Camelot and the decisions of a king. I come up with a poem on the spot:

O Arthur your Angle Land is no more,
A vision of the immortal Camelot vanished,
Your knights are sleepless, exhaling victory in a snore,
This day is blood-red like the heart established.
Will your legacy hold up beyond the curtain?
Will your shamed marriage affect man and land?
I answer as one descended, like a man certain,
Yet cautious are my steps, though upright I stand.
I will answer the Lord’s anointed and state-
“Your legend precedes you and remains arabesque,
Thy kingdom is seconded, filled with revilers of late,
The gates to your throne round are unpolished majestic”.
O Noble descendant from Pendragon’s stir,
My fears are mortal, your sword still Excalibur.

My poem is a work of expression from an inspired time in a daydream. My modernity gets in the way from true, original expression. My response: I turn from reading to spectating. I am careful to not meet anyone’s gaze. This is a safety measure on my part. The shop is filled with noise and the chatter of students, scholars, and would-be student scholars.

Everyone is under the guise and disguise of buis[y]ness. I notice that no one looks at their notes or books long enough, but that all look around to observe. The entrance door is the only constant, dynamic thing in the room- opening and closing, then opening again.

I think about the frequency of child birth and elderly death and link it to an open and shut door with intricate characters involved in their comings and goings. What ratio would be proper I wonder? Then it hits me! Only the committed stay! I mean some come in, buy their drink, then leave. Others come in, ask for water instead of the dark, brewed magic, and sit down where there is vacancy. Still, only the committed buy a drink and stay to appreciate their investment. I noted that this is exactly what I had done and that I was a part and member of the caffeination. What a realization of overwhelming peace for the person who finds the meaning of existence in a coffee shop from simple, yet profound observation(s). Verily, verily a likened ontology, whose epistemology, centered and thrived on the black and milk of liquid magic.

I learned a lot that day about myself and the “others” that existed in their supportive role(s). The most important thing discovered was that I belonged to an eclectic few, a proud group, and that I could continue such fellowship tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that; but for now, I got up to leave.

I would be back, temporarily escaping my membership; I would allow someone else to experience such a dangerous delight that came from an attack upon the sense of taste, and like that French thinker suggested—in terms of différence, perhaps then such peaceful relations are indeed rare.