Friday, March 27, 2009

Chicago 21.11.1994: Rachel Weeping and Christic Misfits

Here at AAR, as always, I compare myself with my classmates, most of whom—almost all of whom—are tenured and secure. They write and study in relative peace. . . . None has endured the egregiously punitive behavior of Belmont Abbey. . . .

What is prayer, that yields no sense of connection to a listening ear? What can prayer be, as one screams over and over into the dark, and no help comes?

Steve pointed this out to me: as we sat talking today, a woman in a motorized wheelchair whizzed past. She was apparently totally paralyzed, able to operate the machine with only a single finger. Her head lolled back on the wheelchair’s headrest. She was smiling.

She was also wheeling recklessly, at high speed, through a maze of tables and chairs. She seemed to enjoy doing this, even to relish a bit the fright she gave others.

Steve saw the scene as Flannery O’Connoresque. He spoke of the woman as a christic misfit, who inhabits a salvific space.

I don’t know any long what such language means. At one time, I would have resonated with such pious discourse. Now, I don’t want to hear it. If it means that she’s already all broken, and so has nothing to fear as she rides fearlessly and smiling down the hallway—if that’s salvific grace—then I have to ask why God must go to such extremes, to save.

If this rhetoric means that we’re all essentially broken, and must find signs of transcendence amidst our brokenness, then I just don’t want to hear that bourgeois existential garbage. It’s just not true—most of the straight men who are legion at AAR are far from broken, except in some evanescent, hopelessly subjective sense. They’re atop, astride, the world. This existential rhetoric is a sentimental gloss on bourgeois, patriarchal capitalism, something that intends for us to prescind from critique and hope piously that we’ll all be as fortunate as those who have, ostensibly, “made it” by sheer dint of hard work and chutzpah.

Without liberation, with seeing my oppressors routed and their oppression overturned, I don’t know how to believe. I don’t know how to pray, except to beg—Who? What?—for liberation from my oppression.

+ + + + +

A whirlwind tour of the Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and modern wings of the Chicago Art Institute. Writing now in retrospect . . . .

The painting that reached out and grabbed me was a recently acquired Chagall. It’s a crucifixion of the Jewish Jesus, with scenes of German soldiers et al. despoiling synagogues, desecrating Jewish cemeteries, burning Jewish houses. Rachel and the patriarchs hover behind and above the cross, mourning. Jesus wears various insignia that identify him as Jewish.

Why did this grab me? The obvious religious themes, of course, their subversive-critical application, the theme of dispossession that keeps luring my heart so (why? the flight to spirit and from soul, à la Thomas Moore?).

And there’s Chagall himself—the bittersweet and yet dionysiac vision, and specifically, this vision applied to village life, folk life. Even in the cows and byres, peasants with clumsy hobnail boots fly. Beside the Chagall stained windows in the museum, a plaque with Chagall saying that he prefers a life into which surprise always intrudes. The joyousness (and deep sympathy) of this vision.

What sustains it? What theology lies at its roots? I need to read Chagall’s account of his childhood, which I have at home.

The van Goghs stood out for me, too. Even in the early “serene” phase, such incipient sadness. In the light, the air, the pitiless sky, there’s often that unmitigated loneliness of an Edward Hopper urban landscape.

It doesn’t escape my attention that I’m drawn, filing to the magnet, by the tragic, by dispossession, early death, talent unrealized. Why? Am I the perpetual adolescent, nurturing dreams of tragic-romantic self-torture, in order to escape adult male responsibility? To a great extent, social and ecclesial structures make gay men unfulfilled adolescents. We need desperately to rebel vs. the stifling images of male sobriety and success foisted on us by straight men. But we also need to do this as those who’ve achieved belonging in the world of straight men.

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