Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Distance Covered

The Fourth Glorious Mystery is the most stunning. Mary surrounded by disciples and converts and enraptured in the love of Christ, falls asleep, which is a kind of holy death. She is placed in a tomb, but Christ comes to her and calls her and takes her to heaven in body and soul. Because she is without sin, her body is not allowed to decay and become corrupted. The joy that she feels as she takes her place by Jesus’ side can only be known through our own entrance into heaven. Therefore she serves as the example through which we too can one day ascend to heaven, where, if we are worthy, we will experience in our physical bodies and in our souls the joy of God’s presence.

I listened to all of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and the prayers between the explication of the mysteries for a long time during my drive to Los Angeles. It was 110 degrees outside and my air conditioner was broken. The heat, the driving, and the litany put me in a state of intense concentration. I felt the words of the priest but not in a theological way. They provoked me instead philosophically. The priest asked me to ponder the mystery and to reconcile my relationship to the unknowable and accept it as truth. You cannot know but you must believe, he preached. The meaning is in the believing, not in the knowing. And when you think about it that way, Catholicism starts to sound like the perfect description of de Manian deconstruction. For when de Man and deconstructionists trained in his methods undertake analysis they posit something similar. Language, they argue, cannot stabilize meaning. Language and in particular the linguistic art of literature can at best only demonstrate how language cannot guarantee meaning. Language depicts its own instability and play and even in those moments when it wants to declare something about the world unambiguously, it comes undone by its own semantic mechanism. Meaning, then, in deconstruction is a set of desires, conventions, and impositions that we place on language, not something that comes from language itself. For deconstructionists, just like for the Pope, meaning is in believing.

When I tired of Catholic dogma, I searched the AM stations for right wing talk shows, another favorite of mine on long drives. There I encountered another version of the problem between knowing and meaning. A right wing talk show host speaks to an audience that shares the host’s understanding of truth. “I don’t have to tell you” is a popular refrain. As is “You know what I’m saying.” The host and his audience hold their ideological opponents in contempt, considering them stupid and, more damningly, hypocritical. Liberals, they argue, know the real truth, but they refuse to admit it publicly for fear that they will be judged. So the world arrayed against conservatives is either too idiotic to recognize the truth, too invested in the state of things to accept the truth, or too phony to admit the truth. I wish I could judge them more harshly but I feel exactly as they do but only about them. I see the same world they see and come to completely different conclusions. I believe that I am right but not because I can produce a different set of facts to contradict their arguments. Rather, I see the same facts they see but those facts mean something very different to me.

For an hour or so on the drive I listened to the Portuguese radio station. If I was being told something I already knew and was told it very slowly and clearly, I might understand Portuguese. Buried in the atmospheric hiss of AM radio, the rapid delivery of the newscasters was nearly incomprehensible. Nonetheless, I always listen to the Portuguese station until its signal no longer comes in. So much concentration and focus to understand only some words and the occasional phrase. All that language and so little meaning. To be honest, it’s more enjoyable to me than most things.

I meant to write something about Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast.” Something about Los Angeles as a powerful simulacrum whose fuel and byproduct are desire. I was going to bring in Mike Davis’ City of Quartz, the great masterpiece of interpreting Los Angeles. But the drive to Los Angeles reminded me that the distance between thing and word, between meaning and knowing, and between longing and truth has a much broader geography than my old hometown.


  1. You haven't written any entries in a while! I check back every so often. Your blog is cool. Please keep writing!

    1. Thanks! I've been caught up with life and work. I will knock one out in the next couple of days.