Part one is here.
|H. R. Giger, Birth Machine, 1910.|
Wikipedia + Creative Commons license
For many decades now, we have lived in a world where marketers choose what most people read and watch. We have relinquished to them the power of creating our own culture by exploration and affirmation of what is true, good, and beautiful. This mode of establishing the direction of the main stream of culture has curious results.
If we take a look at The Hunger Games, the Twilight series, or some superhero saga like the latest Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we may believe that we find some clever, well-made movies of their kind--I'm not going to jump into an argument about individual films--but we also find an absence of muse, angel, and duende. Instead, there is a rejection of the powers of inspiration that come from Lorca's angel and muse, as well as an evasion of soulfulness. We find a strong insistence on the individual's ability and power to take control of his or her own life and wrest it away from the terrible structures made by human beings, as well as from the powers of death and God. Appointed deaths are ducked for the hero and heroine in The Hunger Games. Death dies for the central characters in the Twilight stories, and the risk to the soul no longer has any meaning. Vampires in Forks have little trouble with the burden of great, lonely age; they all have equal partners to console them for the endless cold. Captain America? In The Winter Soldier, Captain America shares with the old-fashioned vampire a burden of age that outlives mortal love. In all these cases, the one thing the protagonist must come to accept is friendship and the need to renew and make connections in order to survive.
Lorca's vision of the storyteller's trinity of possible inspiration--the angel who brings light and grace and thorn-crown of fire, the muse who may dictate and brings shapeliness and intellect to the work, and the earth spirit who burns in our blood and brings a baptism in dark water--is simply not needed or wanted in these Hollywood stories. They are ruled by another power entirely, the time ghost, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist. And that is in great part why they are so popular. Matthew Arnold, coiner of the term, thought of the zeitgeist as a force that powered events, and from which we might want to take refuge.
The zeitgeist so evident in these and many other blockbuster movies is composed of interlocking parts like a toy transformer--technological, apocalyptic, and conspiratorial. A sense of overwhelming technological progress broods over the movies, and even invades places that could possibly be a wild refuge. Even what used to be raw and wild is internet-connected, and the powers of characters take on a technological edge. (Indeed, it's hard not to be frequently aware of the wonders of CGI when viewing most movies these days.) The wind of the zeitgeist blows through a landscape that is as violent and cruel as the killing grounds of the 20th century, but now the spirit of the age as seen in popular story is entangled in webs of conspiracy. Inside our filmic governments and powers are elaborate, subterranean schemes and initiatives that ordinary people are helpless to understand, even if we sense them or glimpse what we are allowed to see of them. The idea of widespread, powerful conspiracy rules the movie world, and tends toward the making (and unmaking) of apocalyptic events. Dread is the atmosphere we breathe. The human soul is in peril, liable to destruction or reduction.
In the face of such threats in movie land, our human (or once-human) characters do the thing that good capitalists do: they network. They make a counter-web to set against conspiracy and destruction. Our created blockbuster characters tend to give up all concern for the soul in their cornered efforts to survive the whelming technological and human plots against them. It's not so different from our daily lives, surrounded from waking with technological connections and pelted with disturbing news about the institutions intended to keep people safe. In our everyday life, we are bombarded with trivia and threats, distracted from depth and reflection.
|Bernini, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, c. 1660. Apse of|
St. Peter's Basilica. Wikipedia Commons, public domain.
The lost drama of salvation returns in Noah, and the soul strives to grasp God and divine intention. In that realm, everything human beings do again matters and is of the very highest moment. The effort to understand God and do what is demanded can push a man to the teetery brink of madness. Oh, the movie has flaws, like some passages that seem pilfered from Peter Jackson's version of Middle Earth battles and from Jackson's mountains that step out as stone giants. But Aronofsky wrestles with the power of the angel and calls forcibly to the muse. He invokes the black sounds of duende and Lorca's baptism by dark water through the creation of a Noah of anguish and the fear of abandonment and death, through the man's passionate courting of heaven, and through the force of the blood tie of family that, in the end, saves the world a second time.
Angel, muse, duende: these are the three who battle the zeitgeist on our behalf, wielding their strange, piercing weapons. Perhaps they will yet bring us to fresher, truer, stronger stories, if we can only hand down the memory of what Melville called "deep diving," and the knowledge of how to read and see.
|"Muses Sarcophagus," The Louvre|
Roman, 2nd century A. D.
Public domain, via Wikipedia