Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Prose on Evil

Reflecting on Aurora and analogous, if less newsworthy, violence, Francine Prose at The New York Review of Books assures her readers "we no longer believe in Satan," and then prevaricates.  Probably intuiting that there's a bit more to traditional understandings of Satan than facile theories of possession and pitchforks, she reaches beyond mental health and gun control theories, concluding that lost somewhere in her home (both her place of dwelling and general Western culture), is a CD of a gospel hymn entitled "Satan is real."

As to his place of residence, here's George Steiner again:
Much has been said of man's bewilderment and solitude after the disappearance of Heaven from active belief.  We know of the neutral emptiness of the skies and of the terrors it has brought.  But it may be that the loss of Hell is the more severe dislocation.  It may be that the mutation of Hell into metaphor left a formidable gap in the coordinates of location, of psychological recognition in the Western mind.  The absence of the familiar damned opened a vortex which the modern totalitarian state filled.  To have neither Heaven nor Hell is to be intolerably deprived and alone in a world gone flat.  Of the two, Hell proved the easier to re-create.  (The pictures had always been more detailed.)  The concentration and death camps of the twentieth century, wherever they exist, under whatever régime, are Hell made immanent.  They are the transference of Hell from below the earth to its surface (54-55).
Said lectures are subtitled "notes toward towards the redefintion of culture," which intentionally reference T.S. Eliot's lectures on the subject.  "Mr. Eliot gave hell back to us," wrote Katherine Raine. "The shallow progressive philosophies both religious and secular of our parents' generation sought to eliminate evil from the world.  Mr. Eliot's visions of hell restored a necessary dimension to our universe."  So until the next generation reads Prose's post or finds their Eliot, the old Eliot will have to do:  "The Mystery of Iniquity is a pit too deep for mortal eyes to plumb."