01 February 2008

Friday's Always A Good Day For Some Sabbath

I've neglected writing (and I mean really writing) the past few days for a few reasons, the main one being that my brain has been so incredibly jumbled with thoughts that I have failed to get any structure underneath or behind them. Wednesday I got a whole bunch done, primarily finishing J-K Huysmans' The Damned (Là Bas) and making an ultimately successful trip to the Met.

I guess it makes sense to start discussing the book, but I really have no idea where to start. For starters I thoroughly enjoyed the read; Huysmans' prose is phenomenally descriptive and entrancing (apparently that is a word!), bordering on the "otherworldly". I only vaguely know what I mean by this latter description, but I think it stems from the characters inhabiting a social environment far removed from the mainstream fin-de-siècle Paris in which the story is set. Detest of the modern world has lead these few characters towards infatuation with a form of "romantic medievalism" and Catholic Mysticism (otherwise known as Western Occultism). Huysmans based the main character, Durtal, on himself, and the pessimism mixed with Catholic occult obsession foreshadows the author's eventual adoption of Catholicism.

Though I am a lapsed (or shed) Catholic by upbringing, I do find elements of the occult rather intriguing: the history of symbolism and saints and sacrilege. Huysmans dutifully researched for this book and, actually, the core plot device is the production of a biography of Gilles de Rais by Durtal. I highly recommend looking into this character (I'm not going to spoil any fun here!) because he is quite interesting on his own, regardless of how his story is woven into the novel. Ultimately, what drove people crazy about this book when it was published was the description of Satanism, its rites, its culture and its connection with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

While it may seem that I am not the type of person that would go for such an un-Naturalist work like this (and I'm a bit surprised myself), the pessimism of the main agents, their dialogue and what moves them through life transfixed me in a manner that left me ready to return to the dark ages of magic and occultism and saintly miracles. Possibly within all of us there are seeds of romanticism and assorted wonderments that need feeding. They counter the extreme rationalism of our wired world of glass and missiles and plague. Perhaps I abhor so much new age rubbish because of the methodology and not so much because of the nature of what may be unknowable to our instruments and material tools...

Hans Memling The Last Judgment 1467-71

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