Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oscillate Wildly

At the end of my last chapter, I wrote a lengthy section describing how, after a certain meeting at a certain person’s house in the last week of December of 2003, one of the people who was present came to the wild but oddly irrefutable conclusion that one of the others was actually Satan incarnate; and the person in question seemed to be agreeing with this assessment, as far as was in his power.

Then I described how, after I returned home that night, a shadow appeared on my body; how it followed me around the room; and how the source of its origin remained mysterious until the moment that it disappeared. Then I gave a long, volatile, highly-charged, and, unfortunately, not very clear explanation of how I had given so much authority to my own belief in the supernatural that its powers were almost equal that of mine; that it acquired a kind of sentience; that it began reinforcing my convictions through external means, by actually causing the accidents, betrayals, horrors, visions, and fulfillments of prophecies, which I had experienced in the last five months; and now, at last, was beginning to encroach on the physical world through physical means.

In the revision stage of the chapter, I appended this passage, which proved to be the key to the rest:

The savage lancet parasite that dwells within a morbid mind, to what end does it drive it, save to death?[1] To what dark uses is that man employed, whose soul is concentrated in a single thought! Who knows what gnaws at him, and why? Nor how, in such an ecstasy of ease, he casts himself headlong into the mouth of hell! For though conspiring in his own demise, his steps have ceased to be his own; and perhaps only in those final clouded seconds of his loathsome life, as inextinguishable fires reach their blazing arms to meet him, and the worm within becomes the worm without, does he at last behold that treacherous, conniving agent for whom hell is home; and, with a final, soul-shattering cry, in which all the miseries of mortal living, and the terrors of eternity, are bound, discovers the name of that malignant creature which for so long shared his skull; that creature which, no longer captive to an earthly apparatus, gazes coolly round in freedom at the world it has rejoined.

Ah, foolish Boze! If only you had spent as much time seeking after Jesus, as you did in seeking after tokens of His coming! If only you had looked up from your charts and maps, but once, and seen the fire in His eyes!

Sadly, I bungled the ending (at least on the first public reading) by mangling the passage on the sentience of ideas. Reading it, you wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. My intention was to explain the process by which an idea can take on consciousness and power; how it becomes, in effect, a self-created, self-sustaining demonism, whose relation to the true demonic is mysterious, but at least in my view highly probable. In the future I should remember that when I’m introducing unusual, convoluted, and (apparently) controversial ideas into a story, expositing on those ideas in an oblique and convoluted manner only further fogs the understanding of my readers. They won’t even get to the part where they find it controversial if they miss my meaning altogether. And I want my meaning to be clear. People will find fault with my convictions here, but I want them to grapple with it, mull it over, ponder it at length. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit gave me so much insight into the psychology of monomaniacs and men of morbid mind for the sake of my own acquisition of knowledge.

And the last part is convoluted in thought, but not so much in expression, which I like. It’s grand and full of passion, which of course I also like, and it would work very well in the context of the chapter if I hadn’t tried too hard and gone too far, immediately before. This is exactly what Carl Hovde was speaking of in his introduction to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Moby-Dick: Attempts at writing in a soaring and sublime style are doomed to failure if they haven’t been prepared for in the rest of the text through striking characterization and a scintillating brilliance with ideas. It almost works… almost. But the parts that came before it need to be clearer. By the time we get to the emotional part of the passage, I’ve already lost the audience way back in the exposition.

“We know screw-ups are an essential part of making something good,” says Lee Unkrich, the director of the forthcoming Toy Story 3. “That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.” Agreed! You can’t be afraid to make mistakes; you won’t get anywhere at all that way.

But, as it happens, God has been speaking to me rather constantly about the need for clarity within the last two weeks. Shortly before I began my seventh chapter, He released me from a suffocating focus on my style. Essentially He said, “Your style is very good as it is. Let it be what it is; let it go.” Then, a few days ago, before I had even finished the eighth chapter, He actually started recommending that I reread Harry Potter and listen to secular, popular music. I’ve been talking with God for a long enough time now to know when it’s Him and when it’s me, and I can promise it was Him (however blasphemous that might appear to certain people here). Indeed, this revelation proved prescient not long afterwards, when certain portions of the present chapter proved too convoluted, or at least too muddy, and even Tyler suggested that I take some time off and reread The Goblet of Fire.

God is telling me that for too long now I’ve placed almost my whole understanding of what it means to be a great writer on how I said what I said. It seems that when He promised me that level of anointing, eleven years ago, He wasn’t merely speaking of a certain kind of style. Of course I still believe that’s important: How a person says something is just as important as what he or she says, and the reason I couldn’t have written that emotional passage at the end of the last chapter in any other way is because my intention was to convey what it looks and feels like when a person is suffering from a psychological collapse—in other words, descending into hell. It feels very grand, but you’re living on fumes; yet those fumes have the power to eat you from within. I think it’s pretty fair to say that I’ve suffered emotional calamities unknown to the majority of people, so if I want to describe what those calamities were like in any manner approaching accuracy, I can’t portray them in a normal way. And while that will certainly alienate some people, there are others who will really get it; who will love it all the more, in fact, for having gotten it; and who may even, for the first time in their lives, feel truly understood.

At the same time, the majority of people won’t understand the true horrors of those emotional calamities unless I can learn how to relate them in a way that they can grasp; just as most people have never know what it’s like to be trapped in a pillar of Eternal Night, but understood the emotional ramifications readily enough in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

But I think I will write at least part of my next chapter from the perspective of Booth; first, because my story is beginning to encompass so many different perspectives, that I need to have three pairs of eyes in place in order to describe what I want to describe in the next chapter, which is full of horrors; second, because I like the idea of a chapter written in the style of the Christ Clone Trilogy, with shifting narration and quick, short moments of suspense, which inevitably intensifies the sense of something dark and ominous at work; and third because it would be helpful for people to see that my shift into grandiosity and convolution at the end of the previous chapter wasn’t so much a result of personal quirks on the part of the writer, as it was a necessary reflection of my internal state during the section in question. Booth was always precise and matter of fact. Showing a scene from his perspective will solidify that what’s happening at our school isn’t just an extension of my own exaggerated fancies, and will bring it into starker contrast through his simple and straightforward telling, so that it will become all the scarier for being so relatable and real.

And I aim to maintain that starkness through the rest of the “high school” chapters. Of the eight chapters which I’ve so far written, the fourth and the sixth have been the ones which inspired the fiercest, most burning affection in the hearts of my readers. Yet the odd thing about the sixth one, “Philosophers and Prophets,” is that it managed to be simple, and breezy, and quick, and yet at the same time complicated, dense, and multi-layered. More than one person compared it to Harry Potter; yet it wasn’t lacking in meaning, or exposition, or atmosphere, or character, or emotion, or subtlety, or any of the other qualities which God has been trying to tell me constitute a work of genius, apart from mere style. Indeed, it had a good deal more of several of those qualities, than almost any of my other chapters, and it was far subtler. I don’t understand how that happened; it lacks nearly all my excessive tendencies, and this was at a time when I was inalterably driven to excess. I have, as always, oscillated wildly between extremes.

[1] The lancet liver parasite, or, as it is also commonly known, the lancet fluke (dicrocelium dendriticum). This parasite, first discovered in 1819, develops and breeds in the liver of cows and sheep. When freed against its will through excretion, it will invade the body of an ant and seize its ganglion, a cluster of nerve cells at the bottom of the esophagus. The ganglion it then uses to manipulate the ant’s actions. Night after night, at sunset, the zombified ant is drawn away from the rest of its colony and wanders out into the field by itself, where it climbs to the top of a blade of grass. This it will continue to do until freed from its appalling existence by a passing cow or sheep, which, eating it, returns the parasite to its place of origin.

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