London’s Theology of the Wild

I was reading out loud to my son on Thanksgiving holiday. We were snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets by the fire. Two sentences into his 1915 legend White Fang, Jack London writes:

A vast silence reigned over the land.  The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness.  There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility.  It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.  It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild…

On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over,—a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.  It is not the way of the Wild to like movement.  Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.  It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man—man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement…

On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.  It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver.  It crushed them with the weight of unending vastness and unalterable decree.  It crushed them into the remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.

Striking in its language, London employs the words of a systematic theology to describe the Incomprehensible Other of the frozen Wild: “silence,” “incommunicable wisdom of eternity,” “crushed weight,” and vast stillness. London writes of the Yukon and the Klondike as the scholastics wrote of the mysterium tremendum. The majestic immanence of the Wild reveals a horrifying transcendence.

At the end of chapter three, at a key narrative turn that could spell disaster for the protagonist before even coming into existence, London introduces a holy tautology: “But the Wild is the Wild…” Evoking the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew scriptures (“I Am is that I Am”), White Fang introduces readers to that which was, which is, and which is to come. The Wild is. The Wild is the Wild.

London is laying out his theology. The functional atheism of the Gold Rush cannot restrain the divine attributes of the frozen Wild. London’s characters are sinners in the hands of an angry Wilderness, at the mercy of its harshest elements. Where Captain Ahab faced an omnisciently cunning white whale, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley faced the Wholly Other of alien space, in London’s cosmos John Thornton (Call of the Wild), Weedon Scott (White Fang), and the chechaquo (“To Build A Fire”) face the most dangerous and omnipotent antagonist in the Wild. The divine presence is everywhere communicated in nature, and London writes of the eternal stillness of the frozen Wild for this purpose.

Salvation Among the Wolves
Riding the line of this boundary between divine nature and mortal tragedy are the protagonists, Buck (in Call of the Wild) and the eponymous White Fang. Early on, we discover that White Fang is actually a wolfdog, sired by a wolf father and wolfdog mother. This hypostatic union of feral wolf and domesticated dog is the main plot arc for White Fang, as the union of these two natures war for supremacy in the protagonist. Buck, who does not incarnate the two natures, tells the story of when a dog is predestined to remember its instinctual life in a wolf’s world.

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2020 In Review

You’ve probably never heard this, but this past year was unprecedented
Anyway, instead of the pleasantries and pontificating, let’s get on to what was interesting this past year.

Music
My two favorite albums this year were Wild, Free by Acceptance and What’s New, Tomboy? by Damien Jurado. Both albums show significant departure of style from previous works. I miss the power pop of Acceptance, and some of Jurado’s other albums had more singles that I loved. Nevertheless, I found myself listening to these over and over. There are a number of stand out tracks on each album. For Acceptance, “Cold Air” is an obvious single, but “Wildfires” is where its at for my money.

On the Jurado album, “Arthur Aware” is my favorite offering:

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Violence, Social Tribalism, and Redemption in O’Connor’s “Revelation”

Aside

You should take a few minutes this weekend and read one of the last stories Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Revelation.” You can download the PDF here, or read it in Everything That Rises Must Converge or her Collected Works. It isn’t a long read, but it is provocative.

Main character Ruby Turbin is both someone who is brusque, and is treated brusquely. The oft-quoted line from O’Connor is very true here: “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” As you read, consider a theme of pity: Ruby pities Mary Grace, but her final experience is an act of pity/mercy for her.

The castes of Ruby’s world are very offensive to our modern, PC-culture. But I find that reading “Revelation” is revelatory in a very personal way. Tolle lege!

Repetition Needs An Editor

Aside

Schreiner_PaulBookDr. Thomas Schreiner’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ is one of my favorite texts on Pauline theology (see also Herman Ridderbos). Methodological concerns of a Pauline “center,” etc., are always challenging, but I think Schreiner – and the scholars that he has influenced – are often closer to going in the right direction than many others.

Here’s my question: did his editor see these?!

Some of Schreiner’s words seem nearly identical, mere sentences away from each other.

Here’s a few examples:

Some see this as “stuffy” orthodoxy and a bourgeois ethic.
4 sentences later…
Some may perceive this as a rigid orthodoxy that focuses on tradition and does not comport with the authentic Paul.
(p. 390)

The singular overseer is sometimes seen as distinct from the plural elders, but it is more likely that overseer is a generic term here.
1 sentence later…!
The singular for overseer is likely generic.
(p. 387)

No big deal, certainly, but it still left me bemused!

No big deal, certainly, but it still left me bemused!

Dr. Thomas Schreiner’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ is one of my favori

Malick: Only in Russian Characters

Quote

…combine the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters

on filming To the Wonder

To-the-Wonder-4

So, for example, he recommended that Kurylenko read The Idiot with a particular eye on two characters: the young and prideful Aglaya Yepanchin, and the fallen, tragic Nastassya Filippovna. “He wanted me to combine their influences — the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. ‘For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters,’ he said to me.”

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As prompts for the actors, Malick shared representative works of art and literature. For Affleck, he suggested Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. (Affleck read Martin Heidegger on his own, having known that Malick had translated one of the German philosopher’s works as a grad student.) For Kurylenko, he also recommended Tolstoy and Dostoevsky — specifically, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot. “Those books were, in a way, his script,” she says. But he did more than give the actors the books; he suggested ways to approach the texts and characters to focus on. So, for example, he recommended that Kurylenko read The Idiot with a particular eye on two characters: the young and prideful Aglaya Yepanchin, and the fallen, tragic Nastassya Filippovna. “He wanted me to combine their influences — the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. ‘For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters,’ he said to me.”

source

Abigail Adams on Slavery and Union

I’ve finished David McCullough’s riveting John Adams, and I’m continuously struck by Adams moral fortitude, discipline, and character as he fulfilled a variety of economic and political roles in the birth pangs of America. I’ve been especially intrigued by McCullough’s differentiation between Adams’ view of America – land-owning, thrify, plain, honest, pious, and somewhat rural – and Thomas Jefferson’s view – slave-owning, indebted, lavish, cosmopolitan, and Enlightened. Surely there are generalities here, but it has been fascinating nonetheless, and I hope to reflect more on it in the future.

Abigail Adams, wife to the second President, was known as an emotional and intellectual symbiote for Adams, the “ballast in his ship.” I was struck by her words in a letter to her sister:

I firmly believe, that if I live ten years longer, I shall see a division of the Southern and Northern states, unless more candor and less intrigue, of which I have no hopes, should prevail. (p. 434)

What is most striking is to remember that Abigail was writing in 1792, seventy-three years before the Civil War would end. Further, before a trip to France when John was the foreign minister there, Abigail had never set foot outside of her county, and travel terrified her. That leads me to conclude that the well-read Mrs. Adams had not only read of the differences between North and South, but some of her experiences with Southern gentlemen & ladies led her to a fairly certain conviction. The context doesn’t appear to be only, or merely, slavery; but also various forms of other cultural differences.

Clearly, the “War Between the States” was addressing differences that were a long time in coming.