Modified Flickr image. Original by Daryn Barry
February 16, 2012
Rich knows he is allowing himself to enter a dreamworld, but he doesn’t let that awareness deter him or detract from the symbolic significance of his quest. So on one level he appears to be ‘going crazy’, on another he is consciously transposing his real world and the Gallutian dimension where he hopes to find Elgar.
He doesn’t take this quest for his abducted son literally, but neither can he admit it’s an illusion. The status of this strange journey must remain undetermined. To state it as a fact is to open it up to conventional, scientific scrutiny; to admit it is ‘a dream’ is to devalue the only place where he might be able to find an explanation for his loss and grief.
For Rich the uncertain status of his quest does not present a problem. He understands it is an attempt at resolving contradictions that cannot be brought into any kind of focus in the ‘real world’, and is content to leave the nature of his adventures in Gallus unexplained – to be determined once the adventure is over and he can ‘come to his senses’. Like a child engaged in creative play, Rich suspends disbelief.
The parameters of this trompe l’oeil go even farther: for him to pursue Elgar into the alternative universe of Gallus he must believe that he believes. There is an infinite regression of suspended judgments that will only collapse into some form of stable reality once he has discovered the meaning of his son’s ‘death’.
Rich, while not fully aware of the unstable structure of this new world he inhabits, knows he is living in the mental equivalent of a hologram. That’s why he commits seemingly irrational acts to fix his vision or stabilize it – like papering his bedroom wall in a pattern that echoes the background of Kali’s chicken painting, or staring fixedly at Cosima’s eyeball, a ritual that give validity to the inverse world of Gallus.
For those close to him – Kali especially – his descent into an irrational state is disconcerting at best, terrifying and infuriating at worst. People don’t like being around a ‘crazy person’. Kali needs Rich. More than that, she needs him to support her and join her in her own more orthodox response to the crisis in their lives – she suborns her art to the cause and becomes a vocal advocate for child protection laws and services. If he joins her in these ‘good works’ it will be a sign of forgiveness on his part for her terrible mistake. That he ignores her course of salvation is a sure sign he blames her, even if he isn’t saying so out loud.
These divergent energies tear their relationship apart. Rich believes the task at hand is to change himself; Kali believes she must change the world. While I’m not certain this is an influencing factor in this oppositional dynamic, it’s worth noting that Rich is less ‘guilty’ of Elgar’s loss; Kali has to accept full responsibility for the momentary lapse that resulted in their child’s abduction. It is at least conceivable that their divergent focuses in the aftermath express an emotional and psychic logic: Rich, who does not have to ‘take the blame’ for Elgar’s disappearance, confronts his inner turmoil; Kali, who cannot avoid a crushing sense of guilt, focuses on the world beyond self.
Dr. Morrow, who becomes the rational voice in Rich’s alternative universe, has to give up the standard modes of practice he has built his reputation around in ‘treating’ Rich. He believes he is witnessing something new in Rich’s response to tragedy: a patient deliberately entering the unconscious realm in pursuit of meaning. Does that define some forms of madness? As events build Dr. Morrow will face the dilemma of having to drop his professional demeanor and become Rich’s friend. There is no other way for him to keep up with his patient.
January 22, 2012
Can we really ‘Do no evil’?
Like most North Americans Rich has never suffered personal tragedy. Yes, he’s experienced the pain of loss and the disappointment of failure, but he’s never been exposed to circumstances that make him feel inadequate and oppressed as a human being. For him the abduction of Elgar is the first incident where the civility of social custom breaks down, revealing the predatory undercurrents we have ritualized and tamed somewhat.
Predators, be they human or non, are pitiless. They take what they want, uninhibited by twinges of compassion. This remorseless snatching of property and even life itself is portrayed as ‘evil’ by moralists and religionists. But one additional attribute is necessary, in my view, before an act can be classified as evil. It must also bear the trademark malevolence of the truly evil deed. To torture someone is usually evil because the torturer derives pleasure in the act of causing pain. To make someone sad by stealing their purse is not evil, unless the perpetrator deliberately targets his victim and enjoys the anguish he has caused by his theft. It’s not the magnitude of an act that makes it good or evil; it’s the intent.
Very few species are capable of true evil. Relatively few humans deliberately maim or injure their fellows and derive pleasure in the act, although many of us do things that either injure our fellow creatures or ignore their plights simply because we are thinking only of ourselves or of our social grouping when we act. The tendency, however, is to look upon acts that injure as evil. Arguably the most compelling theme of Christianity is ‘original sin’, the notion that as a consequence of disobedience the perfect bliss Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden has degenerated into a world where immorality and pure evil are rife. And of course the real perpetrator of the human fall is Satan himself – evil incarnate in the form of a snake.
This version of human history has resonated throughout the ages because it rationalizes and justifies Biblical notions of retribution faced by ‘sinners’. It resolves the contradictions inherent in a society that claims to be founded on love, yet builds punishment and even revenge into its legal system. If a person sins, he is contaminated by evil and has brought down upon his own head the just punishment not only of this world, but of the next. We are allowed to devalue that person, to characterize him as a monster, and to punish him for his traitorous allegiance to the devil. This justification of punishment, even capital punishment, persists even though Christ himself admonishes his followers to ‘turn the other cheek’ in the face of adversity and persecution.
Rich has never bought into the notion of bad things always being evil, of humanity being punished for an act of disobedience that occurred some six thousand years ago and which can only be atoned for by participation in the rituals of the Christian church. His post-Darwinian world view sees higher orders of compassion, intelligence and achievement emerging through the process of evolution. He explains the brutal cataclysms of history as collapses of better reason by a species possessed of tremendous power relative to its fellows, but which has not outgrown the predatory instincts that were natural and successful in earlier manifestations of life on earth. At heart he is a socialist.
The kidnapping of Elgar throws all his sensible notions of human progress and development out the window. Intellectually he cannot suddenly abandon his socialistic perspective; emotionally he can’t help thinking of the abduction of Elgar as the evil act of a heartless monster. To do otherwise seems disloyal, vacillating and unmanly.
January 16, 2012
If only I could forget, I could forgive
Rich is becoming increasingly tense and angry. People don’t understand that he cannot be ‘fixed’, that in fact he isn’t broken. He is responding as he must to the tragedy of his son’s disappearance and it pisses him off that people think he’s behaving ‘inappropriately’ or that he’s ‘not dealing with things well’.
A sharp edge to his personality is emerging through the story. As he wrestles with his emotions – guilt, blame, despair – this cutting side to his nature becomes more prominent. Especially in his conversations with Kally.
He realizes he’s punishing her with his jibes but can’t help it. He feels terrible about this, because he loves Kally and needs her more than ever. He also wants desperately to forgive her the terrible error she made leaving their son at risk in a convenience store parking lot.
Ironically, this casualness, this risk taking, was one of the things he’s always loved about Kally. She’s a ‘free spirit’ who speaks her mind and does take occasional risks. He’s always been more cautious and career minded. Until now this diversity in their relationship has been the source of laughter as much as argument. They have loved one another because they provided counterbalancing strengths to the relationship.
Through his anger Rich still loves Kally, even that unfettered aspect of her nature. But he cannot get over his anger. His feeling that she has been irresponsible and must bear the blame for Elgar’s abduction.
All this is simmering inside.