Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Other Options

So I rant against the alienation and nostalgia of modernism; what can I hope replaces it?

Group Strength (Temporary Community)

So many of Stephen King's best novels feature small groups of people who come together to fight against some evil force. The key, in many of these works, is in a mystical communal connection between members of this group (even though, like all things, it is temporary). In The Dark Tower series, the ka-tet holds significance. In IT, it is clearly the power of the group together which is able to create meaning and strength in the face of a hostile, evil universe. And in others...The Stand, Desperation...a group of people come together in some way that allows them to fight against the evil forces of this world.

King creates some compelling individual figures within these groups (who undergo their own unique redemptions). And the fragile nature of life and the imminent reality of death means these groups are not permanent communities. But it's something...it's a way to fight the hostile forces of the world that is something other than an isolated, alienated individual.

The Three Musketeers also explores community in this way. So does Rent.

Teaching the Alienated to Connect

In Fowles' The Magus, Nicholas Urfe is a young man who has imbibed existential philosophy and literature of alienation. He comes to see himself as an anti-hero, the epitome of the alienated young man. His self-perception prevents him from recognizing that he is in love; his existential (immature? narcissistic?) view of the world prevents him from accepting the fact that he has made a connection.

Conchis teaches him that he does have a chance to connect with other human beings. He teaches him not to be selfish, not to be narrow, to be a mature, socialized adult. And he does this even while teaching him of the primacy of the individual (the execution story).

Celebration of the Individual (rather than alienation)
In Paradise Lost, there is the theme of the faithful individual willing to stand up against social pressure for evil. Milton's influence on the British Romantics is profound. And the Romantics recognize the important role of the individual in the world, but there is little mourning. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats--what I see in their poetry is a celebration of the individual imagination, of the individual receiving solitary nourishment from nature.

Solitude does not have to come with "woe is me" alienation. Wordsworth certainly wrote of alienation from a corrupt human society...but he found meaning in the solitude of nature.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is about many things. It is about alienation and conformity in society. It is about community formation. But it is also, probably primarily, a celebration of the individual.

Existential Freedom (not existential dread)
Rather than a modernist existentialism (man alone in a hostile universe with no purpose), one can embrace postmodern existentialism (man alone to create himself, his meaning, his purpose onto a strange and mysterious world).

Spiritual Journey

Part of the feeling of meaninglessness comes from the 19th and 20th centuries' challenges to religious belief. Scientific understanding of cosmology and biology is certainly a challenge to faith in an ordered universe; warfare and genocide is certainly a challenge to faith in a benevolent deity watching over us. This does not mean, however, that these challenges should destroy us. There is still meaning in a spiritual quest, as seen in works such as Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, or Hesse's Siddhartha. The meaning of Christ can be re-imagined in Jesus Christ Superstar or The Last Temptation of Christ. The modern world does not require a spiritual void. Certainly, it is challenging. But the sacrifices of a spiritual journey into the universe, into the self, into doubt, into God, is still worthwhile.

Explore the causes and solutions of your alienation.

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