Category Archives: Philosophy: Theory & Practice

On Jung’s “Answer to Job.”

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5).[1]

I have some serious reservations about the book of Job.  Not the kind of reservations that keep me up at night, but the kind that cause me to squint whenever someone recites the story to me in order to illustrate the incomprehensible mystery of God’s ways and the folly of attempting to understand the divine will.

Whenever I’m given this sort of gloss on Job, I resist it, because the upshot is inevitably, “You’ve got to accept injustice because, really, it’s for a purpose you can’t understand.”  Some people can accept this.  I can’t.  It seems to me that there’s something there that needs dealing with.  I’ve come back to Job periodically in my studies and in conversations, but I’d yet to encounter anything that really challenged the traditional interpretation of the text; all of the commentary I’d come across seemed to merely be trying to provide a new spin on the same old argument.  It was all the same to me—it was neither provocative nor enlightening.  Until recently, that is.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you’re interpreting a text, you’re not doing it in a vacuum; you’re working from within a paradigm.  And paradigms can change.

I re-discovered Job not too long ago by reading it from within two different paradigms—Jungian and Kantian—which fundamentally altered my understanding of what the book could mean and what it could be saying about the nature of God.  (So that there’s no mistake, I want to make it clear from the outset that this isn’t an attempt to proselytize.  I’m going to be exploring philosophical interpretations of a text which happens to be religious.  I’m intentionally abstaining from endorsing anything apart from having an open mind.)

Sometimes, looking at something from a new perspective, one incommensurate with any others you’d previously considered, can change your life.  Even if you don’t necessarily adopt the perspective as your own, being able to understand it can be a catalyst for growth and understanding, for change.

Change.

That’s what this all comes down to.

But I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.  Before we really get started wrestling with this text, what we need is a barebones refresher of what happened to Job, to make sure we’re on the same page.  So, here goes: Continue reading

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Today’s World of Tomorrow: On Orwell’s 1984

Who controls the present controls the past.  Who controls the past controls the future.

1984

The central conflict in 1984 is an intellectual one.  Freedom, Winston Smith wrote in his journal, is the freedom to say that 2+2=4.  If that is granted then the rest will follow.  Those two sentences carry a lot of weight.  They imply a world where truths as basic and indubitable as “2+2=4” not only are disbelieved in, but can be forbidden to speak of.  They imply a world in which there’s a war between sanity and insanity.  Can a proposition which seems so self-evidently true, such as 2+2=4, really be true if you’re the only one who believes it?  In other words: is a consensus of one necessarily insane, simply because it consists of a man alone?  Can the rest of the world be so insane that it denies basic realities?  And regardless, shouldn’t you have the right to believe what you want?  1984 is obviously a warning against the dangers of an oppressive government; but 1984 is as much about the importance, and objective reality, of the world, and more importantly the past, as it is about the struggle to be an individual voice of dissent in an oppressive society.  In fact, the former may come close to eclipsing the latter. Continue reading

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Modern Myths

Of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome, Scanners, Crash) said, “I don’t think they are making them [comic book movies] an elevated art form.  I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape.”  He went on to claim that, “A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s a comic book.  It’s for kids.  It’s adolescent in its core.”  Before rebutting these assertions, I want to take a step back and try to glean what it is that Cronenberg actually meant, since these are verbal quotes and people are not always as accurate verbally as they would be otherwise (if they were leisurely writing their opinions, for example).  So — Cronenberg’s argument, on the face of things, seems to be:

  1.  A comic book is for kids; it is, in its core, adolescent.
  2.  Adolescent art cannot be elevated art.
  3.  A superhero movie is a comic book movie.
  4. Adolescent source material ensures an adolescent derivative work.
  5.  A comic book movie is, in its core, adolescent because of its source material (1-4)

Conclusion: A comic book movie, and by extension, a superhero movie, cannot be elevated art (2,4,5)

Now, it seems ridiculous to say that all, or even most, comic books and, thus, all (or most) movies based on comic books are adolescent.  Firstly, to say that comic books are inherently adolescent in their core is to make a generalization that is nearly indefensible.  What is it about comic books that could render them intrinsically immature?  The fact that we have pictures and words combining to tell a story?  Along these lines, one might charge that comic books are for people too lazy or dumb or unsophisticated to read novels.  But using logic similar to this, one could say that movies are for people too lazy or dumb or unsophisticated to read novels.  As rational people, I assume we’re willing to easily grant that the latter claim is preposterous.  Movies and novels are two distinct forms of art, each of which is able to explore people, places, and ideas in ways the other is incapable of (or at least less adept at).  We can say that movies and novels are both capable of being elevated art because they can explore their subject matter in unique ways with the appropriate seriousness.  So, why can’t we say the same of comics? Continue reading

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A Sit-down with Lon K. Montag

Montag sat down for a lengthy Q&A session yesterday where he addressed questions about himself, his work, art generally, and much more. 

–   Q: From your biographical blurb, it looks like you’ve been all over the place.  But The Dichotomy really focuses on the Southwest.  Was there any particular reason you chose that area, or was it just the one you were the most familiar with?

–  A: I think that a good story can be transposed to different times or places and the core of it will remain essentially the same though the details might change.  The Dichotomy is literally based on a dream I once had many years ago (well, three quarters of the first chapter are based on a dream, anyway).  The rest of the book is me just taking that idea and running with it.  To answer your question, the dream made very specific use of location and I didn’t see any need to change that when I put it to paper years later.  I think that there are some qualities which are very specific to the Southwest and I really drew on those, but I do believe that The Dichotomy could have taken place pretty much anywhere and still remained fundamentally the same.

–  Q: Your cast of characters is fairly diverse – your heroes are a white man, an Asian woman, and a black man romantically linked with a white woman.  But you don’t seem to take the opportunity to explore any social issues.  Why not?

–  A: Social issues are obviously very important since they affect us all, but when I sat down to write The Dichotomy, I was concerned with exploring the different facets of humanity that are revealed when we come face-to-face with fantastic and horrifying adversity.  I wrote a short essay recently which drew on Flannery O’Connor’s claim that we come to know who we are fundamentally only when we’re thrust into extraordinary circumstances (more specifically, violent ones); I think that what she says is largely true, though I wouldn’t agree that violence is the only sort of extraordinary circumstance that serves this function.  So in a sense, I wanted to explore some more fundamental themes and issues (which are, frankly, more interesting to me).

Also, I would say that I have a real hesitance to explore social issues in any sort of obvious way; I think that the temptation to really propagandize and proselytize is too strong when one tries to use fiction as a means of making a social or philosophical point.  I also wrote a short essay about this a few years ago; Sartre thought that fiction should be of service toward the end of making change in the world, of advancing particular philosophies or causes, and I think that idea gets things all wrong; as I wrote, writing in that way is inauthentic and manipulative.  I don’t mean to say that authors shouldn’t explore social issues, generally, only that they need to be careful to stay true to the characters and stories they tell; they need to resist the urge to manipulate characters and events like puppets.  A story, if it’s to be efficacious, needs readers to become invested in its characters; as such, an author needs to make use of real people (who just happen to inhabit a different, fictional world).  If an author fails to do this, then the work is robbed of its poignancy (since the characters in this case become paper thin stand-ins); or, worse, the work lies to us by making us feel for these lifelike constructions (when they’re really artifices which exist just to make a point). Continue reading

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Lon K. Montag Asks: “Who am I?”

Most of us are probably aware now of the shooting that took place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  Twelve dead.  Fifty-eight injured.

Three men lost their lives last week as they shielded others from the gunfire coming their way.  The selflessness of these young men is getting some good traction in the media and I’m glad to see it, because as terrible as this event is, and as much as it reveals the destructive capacities inhering in man (as I discussed a few weeks back; see “What Horrifies You?”), it also reveals the courage and compassion man is capable of.

I wonder sometimes how I would stack up if subject suddenly to such a violent test.  And that’s no easy question, because, to answer it, I have to try to step back and make an honest assessment of myself; I have to ask myself, “Who am I?”  And would the person I am be courageous enough to do what’s necessary when the time comes?  How can I know? Continue reading

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