24 January 2007

Toward reconstruction

There is a school of thought called "deconstructionism" which is familiar to anyone who's been involved in academia/liberal arts at the college level. Derrida is an author whose work I've not read but which I understand to be important in this study. It's also my understanding that the deconstructionists evolved, if you will, from the pragmatists - Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al. In graduate English classes, I understood its essential aim is to eliminate all non-essentials from written expression, until the words themselves do the job of conveying meaning, rather than the emotions they invoke. I deliberately have avoided becoming too familiar with it, because I perceived that it is not good for people.

Unlike a writing technique or story structure method or anything else, deconstructionism is a kind of perverse philosophy which ends up requiring one to see all things through a lens which dismisses or explains away anything but the essence of what is meant. In religion, the same experience can be encountered in Christian Science, where all that is seen, encountered, or felt must be filtered and explained through the lens of its particular understanding.

In art, deconstructionism usually ends up in "non-representational" works - meaning, no people or recognizable figures which would convey meaning. That's cheating, in a way, in this school of thought. Instead, the construct - whether it be in art, or language, or music - should stand alone, absolutely without the trappings of culture, story, or anything else. It is judged by whether its meaning comes through without that "baggage." One must "go deeper" into the art in order to get at its meaning. In a way, it draws upon the kind of Buddhist practice of self-emptying and utter detachment, until there is nothing left but the essence of one's self. Christian mysticism seeks the same kind of self-surrender, yet it is entirely different. To the Christian, meaning and essence resolve in the one-in-three Person: love. Deconstructionism is ultimately sterile; there is no motivation to do anything but keep explaining and clearing away nonessentials. For the healthy Christian, the process results in a full and happy life.

Deconstructionism is considered courageous, and it is, in an ignorantly reckless way, because to put the self out there without any buffer or societal help to interpret life, the ordinary framework of decision-making and support is gone. Deconstructionists dismiss the Liar along with the Beautiful One, but that doesn't mean either doesn't exist.
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my home from which I came.' But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation.
Part of the fallout from this kind of thinking is a refusal to allow any kind of emotion into public discourse. Things are reduced to their absolute meaning. Anything evoking emotion is wrong. In fact, not content to have impoverished their own souls, this camp wages a lively war against the sentiments which protect all of us in our journey along the treacherous path of life.

Nowhere is this more glaringly obvious than in the area of family and motherhood. The family used to be a favourite topic of artists, writers, and preachers. It was the most important of all human relationships. Without it, we would not be here. It served as the model for our understanding of God and our role in the world. However, in its essence, family does not exist. It is a mental and societal construct, not a fact. Once that concept is deconstructed to its essence, the facts remaining are DNA - but, just because you share someone's DNA, you are not therefore required to have anything to do with them based on that fact alone.

In the ideal of the Judeo-Christian tradition, sex was best reserved for husband and wife, a legal and intensely personal bond which formed a family. Deconstructed, sex is merely "friendly exercise."

Nothing meant so much throughout time as a baby. Our Lord elected to become one of us as a baby because he knew what that would do to people as they tried to get their minds and hearts around it. But, in its essence, a fetus is a product of conception - no more.

Because it is rigorously logical, it is a seductive school of thought. To those whose catechesis was lacking, who drank in the entrenched professional academic cynicism of the 50s and 60s and 70s, it is non-negotiable. They literally know no better. To them, the only way to protect from spin is to avoid anything that would interpret the facts.

Its influence could already be seen in the 60s, as interior decoration became spare and basic, and women's clothing became less adorned. Cynicism became chic. The Vietnam war fostered both cynicism and hard-bitten detachment from all that would engender emotion. God - a construct if there ever was one - was immediately dismissed as an option. Belief was not real and therefore was repudiated.

Those involved in Vatican II - the heirs of it, if you will, the ones charged with carrying it out - were fresh out of college and university, their minds filled with this complex and exceedingly subtle bias towards disinterpretation. To them, the deposit of Faith was an accretion which needed to be cleared away in order to expose the truth about what was going on. Representational art - statuary - needed to be removed in order to open the mind to consider the pure truth, without all the clutter of devotionals, candles, customs, genuflections, novenas, prayers, etc. etc. etc. In their zeal, and because they were not contemplatives, and because they were ignorant of mysticism because it was disallowed in their understanding, they completely missed the point. Better men than they had already walked that path and done the deconstruction; men like St. John of the Cross. But the mystics emptied their minds and souls and hearts of all except the Love they followed and served. They did not empty themselves to nothingness, but to clear away the impediments to union with God. Love healed and restored them, rebuilding their understanding until they were able to see through the obscuring layers of nonsense that people throw up around their souls and their personalities and their comprehension just to get by and through this crazy life - just as Jesus did.

It is hard to talk to these people. Not only are they utterly convinced their stance is correct, the philosophy has seeped into all corners of society where academics, especially those in the liberal arts, hold sway. All public education is tinged with it. It's rampant throughout the commercial arts of movies and popular music. Government has uncomfortably adopted its tenets, accepting as fact that the separation of church and state will be endangered by the exercise of freedom of speech about forms of belief, which are not necessary (pragmatist) and nonessential to truth (deconstructionist). Saddest of all, though, are the children of all ages, pre-born, growing, and adult, because they have been robbed of so much that makes life sweet and grand. Sex is not the mystical and devoted union celebrated in Scripture (in Tobit, the Song of Songs, the Psalms, Isaiah and elsewhere). If the spiritual is allowed, it veers off into the tantric instead of seeing it for what it is: two individuals, united as one in all ways. Discussion of the conception, birth and growth of children is sterile and factual, because the societal constructs are forbidden. Anyone who would appeal to the emotions is ridiculed or shouted down as being "unfair".

Deconstructionism is an interesting and worthwhile theory, and it is useful when applied to art, following the same path as St. John of the Cross did when he progressively surrendered all to deliberately descend into the dark night of the soul, then being born anew, was raised up, made whole by Love. In the same way an artist can peel away all the nonessentials to learn and expose the essential behind painting; this may mean giving up representational art for a while. But it is true annihilation to stay in that place. Instead, one needs to come back to life, to show the truth of life through its trappings. Michelangelo, Beethoven, Rubens - these come to mind as artists whose art consciously covers itself in common constructs, but you can see the essence right through, and talk about meaning and intent for years.

The Catholic Church knows all this - and it is probable that she doesn't know that she knows. According to Paul, we are all part of the body; just as the body knows things - I'm typing unconsciously, for example - the soul can know them, too. We know Christ in the breaking of the bread. We see him in our fellow man - the Sisters of Charity literally dragging people out of the gutter because they are Christ, suffering and alone. And, while the Catholic Church goes on doing what she does, laity confused and taken aback by the superficial abandonment of what they most need, she is protected by One who created the one who whispered the thoughts of deconstruction into its proponents, and chortles with glee as its soul-deadening maxims are promulgated throughout society. And we know this by simply looking at our Leader in Christ's stead. Like John Paul II before him, he is one of the few of whom I'm aware who can deal with the most subtle and determined proponent of deconstructionism on their own ground. He is an intellectual swordsman, anticipating and disarming even the strongest arguments with a gentle touch, deep courtesy, and airtight reasoning - "rightly dividing the word of truth."

If those students of Derrida would honestly and seriously read through some of the works produced by the last two popes, and be willing to consider their points in thoughtful debate, their skill in understanding might find a whole new field of endeavour, where they could use their intellectual muscle to tread the path of real deconstruction - the kind that leads unavoidably to the tomb. But this self-emptying withdrawal from constructed meaning goes far beyond picking apart the rags of mortal existence. This deconstruction of self has been demonstrated by our Master. He calls us to take the narrow path away from self and world-clutter insofar as we can. His way requires acceptance of annihilation and nothingness and the lack of meaning in experience; but he will not let you stay there. He leads you out of the darkness through the way you cannot see from the outside. When Love itself disappears from the soul's sight in the blackness, it is the soul's choice to stay there, and despair, or to reach out and ask to be led home. There is no tomb so dark and deep he cannot find it. There is no soul so empty and lost he cannot hear its silent call to him in faith. There is no soul he cannot ransom if it hopes in him. There is no soul he does not love.

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