"It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If it were not so...all things must needs be a compound in one: wherefore if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having neither life nor death."
"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of parturition between us...for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace...From whom the whole body fitly joined together, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Lehi and Paul both speak of the idea of "one body," but while Lehi's vision is of an undead zombie-like being, Paul praises the peace and perfection, the edification in love. Why are they so different?
Originally, we are one body but to stay that way is a dead end. This is the body Lehi speaks of, our premortal formlessness where we are everything and nothing, where light and dark mush together and all is fuzzy. The endless, unified ocean of precreation. We must break free from this infantile urobouros and enter the world of opposition in order to come to know ourselves and to grow.
In this world of opposition that Lehi sketches, everything is fragmented and alienated. We are broken to bits by this world, divided from God, from others, from ourselves. It is a painful process, but it's through this that we come to know who we are, who we were, to discover all that was undifferentiated in us before and bring it to light. We go through life and come upon moments of recognition, when we realize that we've discovered something that we never knew was lost until we found it. People, places, art, music, poems, animals, anything can trigger these startling recognitions, and give us a glimpse of a piece of ourselves.
And so we wander through the world, gathering ourselves back together, like Egyptian Isis painstakingly gathering up the body parts of her dismembered husband. And as we piece these fragments back together we become whole again, a whole body, the twain made one. This is the redeemed body that Paul speaks of. We restore the original unity, not through a regression into comforting oblivion, but through the active union of the parts of ourselves we have discovered and reorganized. William Blake called it Organized Innocence--the edenic, golden innocence of infancy is lost to us forever, and for good reason. The new Innocence is achieved through gathering, loving, recognizing, seeking, organizing, creating.
The life-in-death and death-in-life body of Lehi is our unsustainable past; the reintegrated, self-aware Body of Paul is our possibility.
His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters
-Doctrine & Covenants 110:3
In Joseph Smith's vision of God, God is depicted like a snow-capped mountain in spring. His head, His mind, contains stored energy, snow, frozen thought, heated by the fires of the sun and melted, transformed into the mighty rushing of great waters that is His voice. He is the God of nature. The God of eternal stasis (immovability of the mountain) and eternal mutability (ever-changing seasons, water cycles, etc.), the interplay of which creates Eternal Life. The Fountain of Living Waters. Stillness, frigidity, and warmth, combine to create energy, eternal delight. The voice of the Lord is action and a source of eternal satisfaction for our thirst, for our longing.
The Lord contains opposites, and created a world of opposition. It's the tension between opposites that produces the energy of creation, the movement of Life.The Lord is still at His center, moving and spinning quickly in His actions and exterior.
Moses sees the Lord as a mountain shrouded in clouds, when he appears on Sinai. The certainty of the mountain and the nebulous unknown of the clouds.
In no particular order, here are ten books I greatly enjoyed discovering this year:
1. Elective Affinities, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Geometry infused with passion. A Mozartean book in which a tightly ordered structure of ideas is illuminated by sheer beauty of sentiment. Every word seems to count in this book, in an almost claustrophobic way. The story of four people who love and interchange lovers in accordance with scientific principles. Elegant and disturbing in its implications.
2. The Rainbow, by D. H. Lawrence
Lawrence's cross-generational epic of the relations between men and women. Observed with a coldly penetrating eye and sometimes hard to take, but revealed with such fire that you become caught up in the wonder and pain of it and experience excitement as the characters begin to discover themselves.
3. Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neoscientific Novel, by Alfred Jarry
An amazing title. Concerns the surreal odyssey of one Dr. Faustroll who, among other things, sails in a sieve with his baboon and visits a series of bizarre and satirical islands (all apparently located within downtown Paris) before transforming into an astral body and attempting to calculate the surface of God. Along the way he invents "pataphysics," which is described as "the science of imaginary solutions." It's all very Rabelaisan and loads of fun. (This is my own cover design, by the way. Just for fun)
4. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, by Dennis Covington
Another irresistible title (particularly the subtitle). I started this one expecting a wild ride through Southern grotesquery and redneck madness. I got all that but so much more, as the book opens up into authentic spiritual territory and refuses to condescend or ridicule. Genuinely moving and profound, a real-life Flannery O'Connor novel.
5. Burning Your Boats: Collected Stories, by Angela Carter
Fairy tales, surrealism, puppets, axe-murder, Jan Svankmajer, feminism, werewolves, and reams of gorgeous prose. This is a book bursting with wonders. Carter was an amazing writer and I'll need to read some of her novels now.
6. The Driver's Seat, by Muriel Spark
A disturbing little book that has had a surprising staying power since I read it in the spring. A "metaphysical shocker," it concerns the holiday of Lise, a young woman whose grisly fate we are told of very early in the story. This lends an inexorability and startling amount of suspense to this bleak, harrowing, savage little tale. Could easily be called "Lise and the Devil," like the splendid Mario Bava movie I also discovered this year.
7. My Life, by Lyn Hejinian
A beautiful autobiographical prose-poem, and, like any life, a continuous work in progress and revision. The original book, written when Hejinian was 37 years old, contains 37 chapters of 37 sentences each. The revised edition (which I read) was written when she was 45, and contains 45 chapters of 45 sentences each. So not only are there 8 new chapters, but there are also 8 new sentences added within each of the original 37 chapters. A wonderful way to depict the way life expands forward and backward at the same time, and written with luminously evocative wordcraft.
8. Spring and All, by William Carlos Williams
I'm not sure how I made it into my mid-twenties without discovering William Carlos Williams. This is one of the most exciting books of poetry I've read in a while, and it really must be read as a volume. I never much cared for the brief snippets of Williams I had encountered in the past, but in context, strung out one after the other, the book is luminous and astonishing. (It's contained in the volume "Imaginations," along with "Kora in Hell" and something else, if I remember)
9. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
One of the most perfect books I've ever read. The story is about the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother and is suffused with the glories of the natural world, the humor and pain of childhood, and stripped of any cloying sentimentality. Tove Jansson was a really incredible writer, and this book sings. It's a book to celebrate, and to remind you that life is delicious and that the world is overflowing with wonder.
10. Robert Schumann: Herald of a "New Poetic Age", by John Daverio
A great biography and a fascinating appreciation of Schumann's work. Schumann was one of the great musical geniuses of the Romantic movement. Daverio is especially adept at pointing out the mastery in Schumann's often overlooked large-scale later works like "Scenes from Goethe's Faust" or "Das Paradies und die Peri", finding no loss in quality due to Schumann's supposed mental illness. Ear-opening and thought-provoking, delves into Schumann's literary interests (Jean-Paul, Hoffmann, Goethe, etc.) and illuminates the ways in which he endeavored to create a new musical-literary poetics. Made me think differently about the way I create art.