One Mutual Sheaf

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Following a recent episode of The Great Concavity, I was going to meditate upon some of the research that Lucas Thompson has offered in Global Wallace, which looks at the non-obvious influences upon David Foster Wallace, since there are clear connections with Evan Dara.  But, to expand upon a particular point regarding Dara’s stylistic choices, I returned to page 1 (or p. 5) in The Lost Scrapbook, which contains the epigraphs.  Here, in the first notes sounded in his debut, he includes a quote from Kierkegaard (“To honor every man, absolutely every man, is the truth.”) and a potentially misleading section of Marcus Andronicus’s speech near the end of Shakespeare’s pulp bloodbath, Titus Andronicus:

“O let me teach you how to knit again

This scattered corn into one mutual sheaf,

These broken limbs again into one body;”

Let’s start with Kierkegaard.  On the surface, it is fairly anodyne, immune to controversy and resistant to meaningful reflection.  You can almost hear the college sophomore slowly exhaling this after an inferior lobe tickling bong hit: “Yep, honoring every man, absolutely every man, mm-hmm, that is the truth.”  It’s something suitable for stitching on an oversized pillow or engraving on a wall in a wayward boys academy, an oblique inspiration.

However, two things stand out here.  The first is that the quote is but a fragment, from his autobiography The Point of View of My Work as an Author: 

“To honor every man, absolutely every man, is the truth, and this is what it is to fear God and love one’s neighbor.”

We hear the echo of the Book of Matthew echoing the Book of Leviticus, and we’re left to wonder why Dara chopped it where he did, or if he considered using the book’s first ellipsis to surgically remove the religious signifier, which, even as I type it, is ridiculous to even suggest.  But the idea of honoring every man being the way you love one’s neighbor is bubbling under the surface of the book, like the Hexa permeating Isaura’s water supply.  There is a growing weight to this challenge, with populations bulging and communities falling asunder and/or fleeing.

Compounding the external conditions is the idea that the individual is falling inward, and slowly losing the skills to work within the framework of a community.  To quote the old Ralph Chaplin union hymn, “Oh what force on earth could be weaker than the feeble strength of one.”  For Kierkegaard, this is a fundamental tension, since part of achieving communion with God was through agonizing solitude.

For readers of The Lost Scrapbook, the undertones are probably obvious.  But I’m not doctorally prepared to step much further into this philosophical minefield.

A second point about this quote is that it comes from a book that serves as an extended defense of Kierkegaard’s use of pseudonyms, which included Victor Eremita, Johannes Climacus, and Johannes de Silentio (recall that the final word in TLS is “Silence”). Here is part of his explanation:

“I will allow someone else to speak, my poet, who, when he comes, will usher me to the place among those who have suffered for an idea and say: ‘The martyrdom this author suffered can be described quite briefly in this way: He suffered being a genius in a market town….Yet also here in the world he found what he sought: ‘that single individual’; if no one else was that, he himself was and became that more and more.'”

Throughout his career, Kierkegaard drew names to carry particular points of view, especially those that were on opposite sides of various rhetorical divides, ranging from the Christian to the Hegelian.  Perhaps Dara’s decision to operate under a pseudonym was inspired by this idea, assembling and cross-cutting all of these voices, letters, and inner monologues under an all-encompassing nom de plume (you could write a whole book on defining Dara).  A natural hypothesis, lacking hard data.

Titus Andronicus

In a play besotted with blood and buried in bodies, Dara rescues a hopeful phrase from a shellshocked oration, offered by Marcus Andronicus, one of two characters who somehow cross the finish line with life and limbs.  For context, here are Marcus’s words, uttered moments after the murders of Titus and Saturninus, marking what looks to be a temporary ceasefire:

You sad-faced men, people and sons of Rome,
By uproar sever’d, like a flight of fowl
Scatter’d by winds and high tempestuous gusts,
O, let me teach you how to knit again
This scatter’d corn into one mutual sheaf,
These broken limbs again into one body;
Lest Rome herself be bane unto herself,
And she whom mighty kingdoms court’sy to,
Like a forlorn and desperate castaway,
Do shameful execution on herself.

The surrounding stanza casts the epigraph in an altered light, though it doesn’t pull the rug out from under it either.  What’s interesting is that these words flow from a speaker who has neither the credibility nor the experience to convince anyone of his ability to foster renewal.  Of course, coming at the end of this rollercoaster of necrophilia and violence, which might pair well with Pasolini’s Salo for a double feature of human desolation, this lovely metaphor in the service of propaganda might not even register with the punchdrunk audience.

In Croteau and Jean-Cooke’s Apocalyptic Shakespeare: essays on visions of chaos and revelation in recent film adaptations, the authors argue that:

“There is little in the play to suggest that Marcus, or anyone else, could do either the requisite knitting or teaching.  For example, it is not clear at the end that Marcus has learned the play’s lessons: his images…presume that in the beginning was a primary unity that has been somehow ruptured. But Shakespeare takes great pains to suggest that such an originary unity was never really there and does nothing to suggest that Marcus possesses a vision of difference sufficiently comprehensive upon which to ground his instruction….Marcus’s offer of instruction seems more like a question: how can the numerous differences in the world of the play be resolved or reconciled? How can so many disparate things be unified, knit together in one “mutual sheaf”? Titus’s tragedy, and that of Rome, is that these questions were not responsibly dealt with from the outset.”

The adrenaline wave which carries the reader through the last hundred pages of The Lost Scrapbook deposits them on the shores of a multitude of toxic beaches (I was going to say Times Beach, which is an hour’s drive up I-44 from Crawford County (where Isaura is located), but that’s another story), where these same questions haunt us. The country’s originary unity is an illusion, and none of its questions have been responsibly dealt with.

Of course, this suggests another narrow view, the reading of a progressive who mainlined Chomsky in his day, seeking to align the idea of history’s arc bending toward justice within an equation where the timescale seems considerably wider:

“Where you will die I will die and Where are the new crusaders? but by then the signals were faint, the sounds and the signals were flickering and faint, yes, the signals were flickering out, flickering into the amassing regathering, into the conclusive regathering where physics becomes math become psychology becomes biology, yes flickering and lost to the definitive regathering, the comforting regathering into continuity, into continuousness, into abundance, into that abundance that is silently and invisibly working on every variation, into full and enfolding abundance, into the extreme abundance of silence, yes into its opulent abundance, its sweet unity and abundance…” (p.476)

Those epigraphs are neither ornamental nor simplistic. And they aren’t accidental. They could use further scrutiny. Many of the rewards of The Lost Scrapbook are found in the second, third, and fifteenth readings, sandwiched between Shakespeare and silence. It is certainly an opulent abundance.

 

 

 

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