Sunday, October 30, 2016

Let's Blog VALIS! Part 4 of 14

The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.

4. In which Horselover Fat is confined to a lunatarium.

This chapter parallels the history of the primitive church. IMHO.
The entire time of persecution, extending long after 70 C. E., is mirrored in Fat’s experiences in the Mental Hospital of the County of Orange. 

He begins by dying – watching his heart flatline on the monitor – after trying to commit suicide by Three different means (pills, razor blade, and car engine) and being treated for stage Three digitalis poisoning, Fat is delivered into captivity. As the Church, the body of Christ, he has died with Christ and been reborn.  

 In captivity, Fat is visited only by characters from outside who have been identified as Christian: Sherri, then David. Since existence is trans-temporal, they can participate, if only vicariously, in his captivity, but Kevin, the cynical voice, does not visit him, and he is glad, for he no longer needs mockery to reinforce his delusion. In captivity Fatdoes not witness boldly: like so many of the early Christians faced with persecution, he flinches from martyrdom in the face of his interrogators, and seeks to conform himself to the things of his world. But he cannot keep from saying one true thing that he states to be true: “I thought Beth would hurt Christopher.” (Elizabeth is the name I would have had if I were a girl, by the way. Just arrogantly inserting myself into the narrative.) Suicide is not in any way a rational response to the fear that Beth would hurt Christopher. What could it mean, eschatologically? I dunno.

Strangely, when Kevin does contact Fat - not in person: he rings him up - he is not the cynical voice Fat feared, but is enthusiastic in providing his own interpretation of Fat's theophany, eagerly asserting that he has in some way made contact with the 'upper realm'. This indicate, I think, that the fact of the Incarnation is so dramatic that it calls out for some explanation from even the most cynical representatives of the world.

In captivity Fat interacts with two women who have names which show that they are the archetypes of the heroine in the  Jewish and  Graeco-Roman roots of our Western Civilisation, respectively. Debbie and Penny. Deborah and Penelope. It does not matter, I think, that their names mean ‘bee’ and ‘duck’. 

Debbie is described as a Jehovah’s witness – a witness of YHWH – and having eyes like pools of fire. She represents the Jewish contribution to the early Church’s understanding of its theophany. This is what she says to Fat: “Our Lord God has prepared for us a place to live where there will be no pain and no fear and see? The animals lie happily together, the lion and the lamb, as we shall be, all of us, friends who love on another, without suffering and death, forever and ever with our Lord Jehovah who loves us and will never abandon us, whatever we do.  ... All beasts, all men, all living creatures great and small will bask in the wamrth of Jehovah’s love, when the Kingdom arrives. You think it will be a long time, but Christ Jesus is with us today.”

Penny’s words to Fat are much briefer. She is a ‘psych tech’ – two Greek fragments – and she says:  ‘Why don’t you play cards? ... I think you should play cards.” This is the Graeco-Roman contribution to Christianity. You should have rules. You should have arbitrary rules which are independent of the content of the revelation, formed by a priori human logic, and you should manipulate symbols according to these rules. There is no profit in it, says Fat; but it is the rule of the civilisation in which the Church is captive, and he and Debbie find value in it: “they play kid’s games like Fish”. They become as little children, and their games centre on the Fish symbol which was the catalyst for Fat’s theophany and the symbol of the hidden Christians.

As for Doug – well, Douglas is ‘black water’ and Dougal is ‘black stranger’ – and with his hidden knowledge and fakir-like self-abomination he represents the influence of “Eastern Mysticism” – that current of Manichaeism that led to the gnosticism that so overshadows Horselover Fat’s intepretation of his theophany. 


“When  they all made out their lunch orders Doug wrote:


“That should read ‘prefrontal’” Doug said, and wrote in the ‘pre’.

“How do you know that?” Fat said.

“There are two ways of knowing,” Doug said. “Either knowledge arises through the sense organs and is called empirical knowledge, or it arises within your head and it’s called a priori.”

  ... this assertion of Doug's regarding the two ways of knowing is one of the great harms done by this Neo-Platonist stream in Christianity, IMHO, and the same has been asserted to me in a private communication by Prof Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University, although he traces the main part of the infection to Descartes - the mind/body dualism that has so handicapped the acceptance of religion in the modern world is bound up with this esoteric assertion that knowledge can arise within your head, in a way that is not accessible to anyone else. But we can think of these two ways of knowing as the two possible ways of knowing, one of which does not actually exist, in which case Doug's assertion is harmless.

And about this time in the story – in the clearest indication yet that in this chapter Fat is recapitulating the early history of the Church – Fat begins to inscribe on the shields he draws ‘In hoc signo vinces’, just like Constantine marked on his banners.

And then, Fat's escape from his captivity when he is believed, or pretended to be believed, by a man named Stone – Stone, as in “I am Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”  The first name of Dr Stone is “Leon”, which comes from Lion, so may indicate that he is an image of Christ: “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”  (Revelation 5:5) Leon was a common name adopted by Jews in mediaeval Europe as a calque for Judah, which also means 'lion', btw.
I had thought that Dr Stone might possibly be emblematic of the sephirot yesod, יסוד ,“foundation” – which Wikipedia tells me corresponds to the Holy Spirit – but I am not so sure.

The chapter ends: “Now Fat would never depart from faith in his encounter with God. Dr.Stone had nailed it down.”

The Wikipedia article on the Bach remedies does not have an ‘instances in popular culture’ so does not mention VALIS. O tempora, o mores!

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