Tag Archives: fragmentation

Symbolism in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book was a selection for the book club to which I belong. The friend who suggested the book only said it was about collective memory. Since that is a subject I find interesting, I was eager to read it.

The tale is set in post-Arthurian Britain and depicts a country suffering from a form of mass amnesia, where a strange mist has caused everyone to forget much of their collective past. The story follows the quest of five individuals seeking to restore memory by slaying a dragon responsible for causing the collective forgetting.

What I love the most about this book is the abundance of symbols that Ishiguro uses to explore memory. Hence, I figured I would focus this post on some of the more prominent symbolic representations of memory.

The first memory symbol I would like to explore is a village. The specific village is described as labyrinthine, and reminded me of the city of Siena in Italy, which had strange streets that were confusing to walk.

Axl was puzzled that a village which from a distance looked to be two orderly rings of houses could turn out to be such a chaotic labyrinth now they were walking through its narrow lanes. Admittedly the light was fading, but as he followed Beatrice, he could discern no logic or pattern to the place. Buildings would loom unexpectedly in front of them, blocking their way and forcing them down baffling side alleys. They were obliged, moreover, to walk with even more caution than out on the roads: not only was the ground pitted and full of puddles from the earlier storm, the Saxons seemed to find it acceptable to leave random objects, even pieces of rubble, lying in the middle of the path.

(pp. 49 – 50)

In this passage, the city represents the way memories are stored in the mind and how one struggles in the search for forgotten memories. When trying to remember something that has been forgotten, it feels like you are wandering aimlessly through streets, trying to recognize patterns which will spark and illuminate the fragment of memory which the mind is trying to bring to the surface. As is often the case, the longer we wander the streets of the mind, the more difficult it becomes to find the lost fragment of memory. Other fragments seem to jut out from nowhere, adding to the frustration.

Trees are often used as symbols for memory, and Ishiguro makes use of that symbol also.

For a moment Wistan appeared lost in thought, following with his eyes one of the gnarled roots stretching from the oak’s trunk and past where he stood, before burrowing itself into the earth.

(p. 110)

Here, the oak tree represents the conscious mind, the part of the psyche that is readily accessible. But below the earth lies the subconscious mind, and the collective consciousness. The roots represent the mind’s attempt to reach into the subconscious and tap into the hidden regions of memory.

The tree symbol segues nicely into the next symbol, which is that of tunnels underground.

They all paused to recover their breaths and look around at their new surroundings. After the long walk with the earth brushing their heads, it was a relief to see the ceiling not only so high above them, but composed of more solid material. Once Sir Gawain had lit the candle again, Axl realised they were in some sort of mausoleum, surrounded by walls bearing traces of murals and Roman letters. Before them a pair of substantial pillars formed a gateway into a further chamber of comparable proportions, and falling across the threshold was an intense pool of moonlight. Its source was not so obvious: perhaps somewhere behind the high arch crossing the two pillars there was an opening which at the moment, by sheer chance, was aligned to receive the moon. The light illuminated much of the moss and fungus on the pillars, as well as a section of the next chamber, whose floor appeared to be covered in rubble, but which Axl soon realised was comprised of a vast layer of bones. Only then did it occur to him that under his feet were more broken skeletons, and that this strange floor extended for the entirety of both chambers.

(p. 170)

The tunnels and underground chambers symbolize the portals into the subconscious. Additionally, the bone fragments represent fragments of memory, pieces of ourselves and of those who lived before us that comprise the collective consciousness. I also interpret the moonbeams entering the chamber as an individual’s glimpse into the hidden regions of the psyche.

The last memory symbol I want to mention is the river.

It was bitingly cold on the river. Broken ice drifted here and there in sheets, but their baskets moved past them with ease, sometimes bumping gently one against the other. The baskets were shaped almost like boats, with a low bow and stern, but had a tendency to rotate, so at times Axl found himself gazing back up the river to the boathouse still visible on the bank.

(p. 226)

The river, or stream, is a common metaphor for consciousness and memory, but what I like about Ishguro’s use here is his inclusion of ice fragments, which conjures similar symbolism from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. These ice fragments are shards of memory that are formed from the collective consciousness, yet also melt back into the collective stream of memory and thought. It is the fluid made solid. The random bumping into the fragments suggest that the memories that move into our conscious mind are also random. We really do not have control over the memories which come to the surface. We move along the stream of consciousness, occasionally coming into contact with the shards of memory that also float along the surface.

There is a wealth of other symbols in this book, all woven together in a beautifully written and engaging story. I don’t want to give too much away. I highly recommend this book. It’s both thought provoking and a pleasurable read.

Cheers!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Evolution #10: Creating Our Own Horrors

We made a world where everyone is alone. Full of locked doors and safe rooms, away from the horror. But we’re all locked in with the monsters. The ones we create. The ones we are.

It is difficult to look around these days and not see the fear, isolation, and fragmentation that is rampant in our society. The level of distrust against the “other” has created pockets of people who are willingly keep themselves separate from all people who are not like them, who do not think and act in exactly the same way. And this isolationism is leading to more fear and distrust, creating a vicious whirlpool that threatens to suck us all down into a dark vortex.

I was told once that we are only as sick as our secrets. This is why I feel it is imperative that we break out of this habit we are in of isolating ourselves from people who we label as different and begin to have open, honest, and empathetic conversations. Because if we don’t, we are increasing the risk that we will end up with a world of horror, with all of us locked away in with our own internal monsters in cells of our own construction.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Monstress: Issue 2

Monstress_02

This is a solid follow-up to the first installment. Again, the artwork and writing are excellent and the story is fleshing out nicely.

I don’t have too much to write about, other than I really enjoy this comic. There is a great quote, though, that I want to share, because it relates to the state of our global society and the fragmented world that is now the reality.

Traders were once the true ambassadors of our disparate realms. They traded more than mere spice and glass, and cloth. They passed between each other music and poetry, and books. They gave each other ideas and religion, and technology. They created lasting friendships that were shared and inherited, just like blood…

Alas, this golden age of exchange and contact is no more. Our world has become divided.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Black Science: Issue #3

BlackScience_03

In this third installment, the writer introduces a cool name for the inter-dimensional travelers: dimensionauts. Very nice! I like that a lot.

Anyway, I had expected (based upon how Issue 2 ended) that this one would focus on the techno-shaman, but not so much. There was a little with the shaman, but not a lot. This issue’s emphasis is on building the back story, which works well. Much of the issue is a flashback to where Grant McKay shows his kids the Pillar, which is the name for the inter-dimensional transport device that he built.

There is a great section where McKay describes how the device works.

“So here it is. The tool we will use to acquire, well—anything. The cures for cancer. Rare minerals. Unimaginable technology. Anything you can imagine exists on some layer of the Onion.”

“The Onion?”

“The building block of infiniology. The theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse. We call this construct ‘The Onion.’ Layer upon layer of parallel dimensions. The Pillar is the tool that pushes through these layers, allowing us to travel to these other worlds.”

“Wow.”

“Each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities, each created from the choices made by every living being in the universe. Once we map them, we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.”

“If it is like that, layers built upon layers—what’s at the center of it?”

“That’s a damn good question, Nate. We all have our theories, but it’s just speculation. One day, some dimensionaut will travel deep enough into the Onion to find out. Maybe it will be you. Whatever is at the core, it’s the first dimension, the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.”

“So it’s like God?”

As I read this, I could not help thinking about Plotinus’ theory on emanation. Simplified, the theory posits that the divine source (or God if you will) exists as the center of all creation. Everything that exists is emanated from the divine source, becoming more fragmented and less divine the farther out it is emanated. The metaphor of the Onion in this comic is a great representation of Plotinus’ idea. If the center of the Onion is the divine source, then every creative thought or emanation from the first being has added a layer of reality. This is then compounded by the thoughts and actions of every living thing that came after, exponentially adding layers of reality to the universe.

So far, I really love this series. As someone who is fascinated by mysticism but at the same time loves science and technology, this comic offers the perfect blend of both. If you’re a comic geek, I highly recommend that you take the time to explore this series. Check back for my review of Issue 4 in about a month.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 3 of 4: The Dry Salvages

FourQuartets

The third of the Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages,” uses water and the ocean as metaphors throughout the poem. The ocean symbolizes the collective unconscious, where our individual consciousnesses can either drift aimlessly, or merge and become part of the Universal Mind.

Eliot begins the poem by establishing a connection between water and the divine consciousness, or god. God is represented by a river, implying that a connection with god provides a pathway for our consciousnesses to flow into and merge with the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, we have allowed our obsession with science and technology to interfere with our ability to connect with the “river god.”

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Eliot then makes the connection between our consciousness and the collective. In keeping with Eastern mystical traditions, it is described as being with us and at the same time around us. It is what connects us to the world around us, as well as to all creation.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:

(Lines 15 – 18)

In the second section of the poem, humans are depicted as lost and adrift in the sea of consciousness. Our psyches have become fragmented and we are like the wreckage of ships tossed aimlessly, instead of voyagers navigating the realm of the divine consciousness.

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
No end to the withering of withered flowers,
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,

(Lines 79 – 82)

JMW Turner

JMW Turner

Later in the poem, Eliot attempts to describe the connection between the individual and the collective consciousnesses, but admits that it is something beyond verbal expression.

I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:

(Lines 96 – 100)

For me, the final stanza, which comprises the entire fifth section, is the most fascinating. Here, Eliot describes our interest in the mystical arts as an attempt to guide us through the turbulent sea of consciousness.

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams;

(Lines 184 – 194)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

While I personally do not think this poem is as great as the first two in the book, it is still a very good poem and worth taking the time to read. There is quite a bit more in there that I didn’t cover but could certainly be explored, such as the metaphor of the train symbolizing our movement from past to future, as well as some interesting allusions to Christian and Eastern mysticism. Again, it’s definitely worth reading.

Look for Part 4—“Little Gidding”—soon.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature

“A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe

DescentIntoMaelstromThis is one of my favorite short stories by Poe. I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I read it. The imagery is so vivid and the symbolism so powerful that it made a lasting impression on me. It was over 20 years ago that I read this story last, so I decided to read it again today. I have to say; it was even more intense this time than when I read it all those years ago.

The tale is actually a story within a story, where an old man tells a younger man about an event that occurred while he was fishing. A hurricane came upon his boat while at sea and the ship was pushed into a vortex. They were drawn down into the swirling whirlpool and he was the only survivor.

In this story, the maelström is the central symbol, although there are many other symbols that Poe incorporates; such as storm, the moon, mountains, just to point out a few. For me, there are several things that the maelström represents. On one level, it is a symbol for the subconscious mind. It also represents the passage between dimensions, such as the tunnel connecting this life with the afterlife, or the passage between Heaven and Hell. Finally, on a grander scale, the maelström is God: powerful, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time.

Water and the ocean are common symbols for consciousness: fluid, undulating, shifting. In this story, Poe uses the whirlpool as a metaphor for spiraling downward into the unseen depths of one’s consciousness. It is a terrifying experience when one loses the connection with normal reality and descends into the uncharted regions of the mind.

It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in a new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek—such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss, down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along.

Once inside the maelström, the protagonist describes the images he sees while suspended. Above, the full moon emanates rays of light; below, darkness and mystery. The words conjure images of an Heironymus Bosch painting. He is suspended between two worlds, or two realms of existence. Floating between the two worlds, he has a unique vantage of each realm.

Never shall I forget the sensation of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

When faced with the manifestation of God, the protagonist becomes aware of his insignificance in the cosmic scale of existence. He is awed by God’s power and experiences what could almost be described as rapture, as his fear is replaced by the wonder of gazing into the unfathomable depths of the Divine.

It may look like boasting—but what I tell you is truth—I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the great sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.

While in college, I was introduced to Plotinus while taking a course on Yeats. One of Plotinus’ concepts which continues to fascinate me is that of emanation. He asserts that the Divine source is the center of all existence. Emanating from the source are concentric circles, each populated with forms emanated from the source. As forms are emanated farther and farther away from the Divine center, they become more and more fragmented. Poe includes this imagery in his depiction of the maelström, where fragments are caught in the concentric circles of the vortex.

Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building-timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company.

Poe was undoubtedly a master in the art of the short story. Sadly, though, I feel that this story is eclipsed by his more popular works. I hope that you take the time to read this story, if you have not done so already, because it truly is a masterpiece of short fiction.

8 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

GolemJinniI first heard of this book on the Huffington Post. They compared it to The Night Circus, which I loved. Later, I was perusing the shelves of a local bookstore and noticed it was one of the staff recommendations. The book itself was beautiful: quality pages, stunning cover, fine quality. I was hooked. I went ahead and splurged for the hardcover edition.

The story takes place in New York City in the late 1800’s, where two mystical beings attempt to survive and avoid being discovered. They meet and as the story unfolds, they learn the secrets of the magical bond that connects them to each other. The book is very well-written with rich imagery and engaging characters. In fact, for me, I found some of the secondary characters to be the most interesting, particularly Yehudah Schaalman, the Jewish kabbalist who creates the golem.

I love books that weave mysticism and the occult into an engaging work of fiction. It’s like searching for kernels of hidden truths within a fable. This book accomplishes that magnificently. It’s an easy read, but below the surface are some thought-provoking ideas that warrant contemplation.

One of the ideas addressed in the book is the existence of the soul, particularly whether a golem can possess a soul.

On the surface, the answer was a simple no. Only the Almighty could bestow a soul, as he had ensouled Adam with His divine breath. And the Golem was a creature of man, not God. Any soul she could have would be at most partial, a fragment. (p. 157)

I’m also fascinated by the concept of fragmentation, particularly as it relates to Plotinus’ theory of emanation. The short version is this: Everything is emanated from the source, which is the Godhead. From each emanation, other emanations are put forth, expanding the act of creation. But, at each level of emanation, the thing in existence becomes more fragmented and separate from the Godhead. Hence, the golem, being removed several times from the divine source, must be more fragmented.

Throughout history, drugs have been used to alter consciousness and evoke mystic visions. I personally do not recommend this path, since the dangers far outweigh the benefits. That said, there is an interesting passage in the book where Schaalman smokes opium and envisions the world as an illusion.

He now saw that the material world was only an illusion, thin as a cob web. (p. 326)

I like the use of cob web to describe the illusion of the material world. On one level, it is woven, just like the constructed illusion which many of us have come to accept as reality. But a cob web is also diaphanous, allowing one the ability to glimpse through it. With practice, one can learn to see through the web of “reality” and glimpse visions of the infinite.

The section of this book that had one of the most powerful impacts on me is near the end. Schaalman taps into a form of the collective unconscious and is overwhelmed by the experience. While I am fascinated by the prospect of connecting with the divine consciousness, I’m also scared, for the exact reason described in this book, that a human mind can only handle so much of the collective unconsciousness before it becomes overwhelmed and possibly damaged.

The human mind is not meant to house a thousand years of memories.

At the moment of contact with the Jinni, the man who’d known himself as Yehudah Schaalman had burst apart at the seams. He became a miniature Babel, his skull crowding with his many lifetimes’ worth of thoughts, in dozens of warring languages. Faces flashed before him: a hundred different divinities, male and female, animal gods and forest spirits, their features a blurred jumble. He saw precious gilded icons and crude carved busts, holy names written in ink, in blood, in stones and colored sand. He looked down, saw that he was clothed in velvet robes and carried a silver censer; he wore nothing but chalk, and his hands were clutching chicken bones. (pp. 439 – 440)

This really is an amazing book and I recommend it to everyone. I read a fair amount of books and I can say that this is the best book I have read in quite a long time.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature