English 300 - Fall 2004

This is my class journal for Professor Sexson's Critical Theory class.


English 300 Paper

Following is the paper I turned on Literary Criticism and the Well-Lived Life. I wrote it as a short story (I was kind of happy to hear Brian wrote his as a play--so maybe I'm not the only crazy one!), and I don't know how effective it is (really I don't like it 100%, but I'll deal with it), but time simply did not allow any more.

There are problems with it, but take it as you will. :)
PS: There is mention of a suicide and some details thereof included, just to warn you.

In the beginning there was life, and life was the beginning, but there was no real meaning until Irene met God.
In the master reality that prevails over all perceptual realms, he was not God, but Garridan Michaels. However, to Irene it made no difference; he was God to her and she loved and adored him as such. After all, the one who brought her such joy and made her feel so alive, one who understood her and gave her strength—he had to be God. And so he was.

I. By Blood Are We Destroyed

Her King abandoned his throne.
“I have to leave you,” came his raspy voice. If historians are bound by facts, God was no historian. I want to be at your side forever, echoed his voice in Irene’s mind. Why was he not bound to the laws of the Pantheon?—Greek gods could not break their vows.
He must have been a superior God.
“You can’t do this to me!” she had begged at his knees, grabbing at his hands. “I love you—you’re everything, my entire world! I love you! Do you not still love me?”
Garridan remained in his same stance, his head drooped, staring, unfeeling, past his once-sworn lover. Her question he ignored. “I have to leave,” he repeated, withdrawing his hands and taking a step backwards. If poets cannot lie because they never affirm, God was a poet. And a liar.
Irene only wept, shaking her head and groping at his clothing.
“I mean it,” he whispered sternly. God’s love changed to wrath. He drew his pocketknife and snapped out the blade, meaning only to scare her—but as he did, she reached for him. The sharp rip was the flesh on the underside of her forearm cleaving.
Garridan swore under his breath; Irene gasped and twisted her arm abruptly, staring numbly at the deep red mess emerging from her arm. She felt nothing, yet, but the blood told her she should soon be in pain. As she shrunk back, watching with wide eyes as the blood left her veins, God disappeared from her sight, and Garridan’s words floated past her—she did not hear them, though they were plain:
“I’m sorry. For everything.”
What she did hear was the gunshot. A powerful clap that shredded the silence for an instant but rang through the air for a prolonged moment. Irene didn’t know how she found herself on her feet and running around the corner, into that alley. His body alone was she aware of; crumpled on its side, streaked with blood and crimson gore, a bullet hole in its temple and a pistol still clutched in its right hand.
Her superior God had managed the impossible; her God was dead.

II. Der Tolle Mensch[1]

A month passed like a dream. Alcohol could not erase him; pills could not distance him; prayers could not revive him. Bandages and long sleeves only hid the mark of her destruction—the scar on her arm—from anonymous others.
When Garridan had been the God of her life, everything had meaning, for everything was Garridan and Garridan was everything. Irene had never considered, even imagined, looking outside of her God; outside of him existed nothing.
Now, outside of him existed everything. But all of it—all of it was meaningless.
She slept late into the morning and spent the afternoon wandering through the dirty city, trying not to think—trying merely to exist. Without meaning, existence is all that remains.
“Ich suche Gott! Ich suche Gott!” came a desperate voice. Immediately a man clothed in rags, carrying a lantern, stepped directly in front of Irene.
“What the—?! You crazy—”
The man, upon hearing the girl’s utterance, spun around and eyed her curiously, holding up his lantern as if he needed its aid to see her face in the broad daylight. “Ich suche Gott!” he said again, after a pause.
Irene sniffed. “God is dead.”
Astonished, the man jolted, took a step backwards. Scrutinizing the girl, he began to nod. “Wir haben ihn getödtet.... Wir alle sind seine Mörder![2]
Sighing, Irene attempted to step around the crazy man. But he stepped again in front of her. “Riechen wir noch Nichts von der göttlichen Verwesung?[3]” he continued, his voice crescendoing. Irene turned around and began to run. But the man’s voice followed her.
“Auch Götter verwesen! Gott ist todt! Gott bleibt todt! Und wir haben ihn getödtet[4]!”
The man’s voice faded as Irene turned a corner. But his final words stung her heart; she felt sick. “Diese That ist dir[5] noch ferner, als die fernsten Gestirne, —und doch hast du selbst[6] gethan![7]
You yourself have done it.... What human has the power to destroy God?
As Irene slowed to catch her breath, she noticed the small church on the corner. The doors were open, seemingly in invitation. Somewhat unsettled, she paused, then went in.
The stained-glass windows weakened the outside light as it entered; the myrrh-like smell of incense hovered in the cool air—the air was just as cold inside as it was outside. The idea of a sepulcher[8] came to mind, along with sense of infinite sadness and loneliness. She sunk down onto an empty pew, staring at the wooden floor.
Gradually she became aware of a presence beside her. But the church had been empty, hadn’t it? She turned to her right, and gasped: a man dressed in a suit and hat was sitting next to her on the pew with a rather thick book in his lap. He seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly, simply observing the interior structure of the church and partaking in the act of breathing.
“You’re troubled,” he said, without looking at her. “What’s missing from your life?”
Irene would rather have asked the man who he was—how he so silently appeared next to her. But something prompted her to answer him. “...When I knew God, my life had meaning. But now that he’s dead...now I see nothing around me; I feel nothing but my own pain....”
“Well,” said the man, smiling, “at least you’re aware of the hierarchy.”
“What hierarchy?”
“The hierarchy to which you just alluded—the hierarchy of order in the universe. At the top is God, underneath is meaning, then the world, and finally, at the bottom, you yourself.”
“—Why thank you,” Irene interrupted, somewhat offended that a stranger would rank her at the very bottom of the universe.
“Each level of the hierarchy is, of course, strongly connected to those adjacent to it,” the man continued, undeterred. “Losing one level inherently causes you to lose all levels above it—like removing the bottom book from a stack. And that lost level also throws some confusion into the levels below it.”
“I realize that,” Irene said bitterly.
“However,” the man went on, still looking only straight ahead, “if God is dead, as you claim, then you have been mistaken. God must be eternal and infinite. Perhaps you were only stuck, if you will, at the ‘world’ level, thinking you had found God, when in fact, you had found but a mere man.”
Tears began to well up and burn in Irene’s eyes, but they did not fall. “That’s not true!” she replied. “When I had him, my life had meaning! According to your stupid hierarchy, if it was only a world-level thing, meaning would be impossible!”
“Oh, but did it have meaning?” the man asked, turning to look at her intently. “I do not doubt it had purpose, but meaning? There is a difference! Did you have an endless supply of food for reflection? Were you enticed to contemplate something impossible to resist? Was there a strong and ineffaceable impression on your memory –one of subject matter that transcended the physical world?[9]
“What are you talking about?! You sound like some crazy professor talking about some book or something!”
The man’s face remained serious, his eyes steadily holding their gaze at Irene. “What’s the difference?”
“What’s the difference?” the man repeated with the same fervor. “If your life were a book, and you were the reader, would you be reading only at a literal level? Or would you find something beyond—something allegorical, moral, even anagogical[10]?”
Irene shook her head, sighing. “You’re crazy. You must’ve been reading too much of that stupid book you’ve got there.”
“Look at this ‘stupid book,’” said the man, and he slowly opened it to the middle. On the left side were words printed in structured paragraphs—it could have been any book and any page. On the right, the pages were blank, and the centers had been cut out, leaving behind only the picture-frame shape of the pages and a deep hollow—like a hidden storage space.
Irene stared at the odd book for several seconds, then shrugged. “What does it mean?” she asked carefully.
“You certainly don’t do much thinking for yourself,” the man commented, then tapped the left side of the book. “Here is the structure, the formulas, if you will, for a good book. If this were your life, this side is all that happens to you.” He moved his hand to the right side of the book. “Here is the place for what you come away with after reading. In your life, this is what you decide to make of your experiences: how you consider them, in what regard you hold them, what you use them for.
“You are both the reader and the author. You must create meaning as well as discover it. This is what will bring meaning to your life. And meaning is what brings you closer, I think, to God.” As he finished speaking, the man closed the book. “Transcend the boundaries of yourself, experience the world with ardor and transcend too its boundaries. Allow yourself to fall in love—not just with someone, but with ideas. Combine everything with energy and passion. This is the only way to live.”
He rose, tucking the tome under his arm, and walked toward the door. Irene half-expected him to disappear at the threshold, but he exited the building and entered the streets like any normal person would.

III. By Blood Are We Reborn

An ascending phoenix came to mind as Irene stepped through the doorway and onto the sidewalk. A cool breeze sighed; the sun shone strongly. With a deep breath, Irene rolled up her sleeve and looked for the first time at the mark[11] on her forearm. Of course, she had seen it before, but every time she’d quickly pulled her glance away from the symbol of her destruction.
It was her death as much as it was Garridan’s.
But now, as she looked at the scar on the underside of her forearm, she could almost see the blood streaming from her veins again.
Maybe it was not only my death...but my life as well.
She had lost the love of her life, but gained the freedom to discover this life. She lost his physical presence, but gained his eternal memory. It was too soon to fall in love with another man. But she could fall in love with life and living—this would bring her strength and meaning and joy...everything she had from her love of Garridan.
“Ich suche Gott! Ich suche Gott!” The crazy man’s voice emerged among the crowd as Irene passed through the city the way she had come. He’s starting at the wrong end of things... she thought. And then, fully aware of the world around her and the people gawking at her, Irene shouted, “Ich suche auch Gott! Aber zuerst such’ ich mich selbst und die Welt, und die Bedeutung von diesen![12]’’

[1] 1. This chapter’s title and all quotes in German are taken from F. Nietzsche’s Die Fröliche Wissenschaft, Kapitel 125. Translations are my own.

[2] “We have killed him.... We all are his murderers!”
[3] “Do we smell nothing yet of the rotting of God?”
[4] “Gods also rot! God is dead! God remains dead!”
[5] original reads “ihnen” – “them” instead of “you”
[6] original reads “haben sie dieselbe” – “they themselves have”
[7] “This deed is infinitely farther from you than the farthest stars, and yet you yourself have done it!”
[8] In reference to the last line of Kapitel 125: “Was sind denn diese Kirchen noch, wenn sie nicht die Grüfte und Grabmäler Gottes sind?” – “What, then, are these churches yet now, if they are not the graves and sepulchers of God?”
[9] Elements from Longinus’s On Sublimity
[10] Elements of interpretation from Dante’s The Letter to Can Grande
[11] The mark of Cain was a symbol of his blessing (God’s protection from murderers) as well as his curse.
[12] (Not from Nietzsche): “I am also searching for God! But first I’ll search for myself and the world, and the meaning of these!”


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