Posted tagged ‘dark night of the soul’

Spell it backward: dog in search of dog

August 30, 2011

I’m currently reading Iris Murdoch’s novel The Green Knight (the second to last of her 26+ novels and so the second to last in my quest to read them all in sequence). In it a dog named Anax desperately wants to get back to his former master. He’s been living with four nice women who care for him, but they cannot replace the love he felt for his original owner (who rescued him from the pound). The poor, forlorn dog bides its time and makes an escape when a door is left open too long. Anax then goes on a journey through London that is, I’m sure, supposed to mirror a human’s search for the divine (not necessarily the western “God” everyone thinks of but, in Murdoch’s cosmology, more of a greater goodness), which is pretty much a theme in all of her works.

We get some insight into the dog’s nature, and they we join him on his flight:

“He did not believe that his master rejected him or found him unworthy, indeed he could not imagine this. Nor did he imagine his master might be dead . . . Only lately had he realised that there would be no return and that it was for him, Anax, to seek his Lord, who might be somewhere in need, perhaps captive too, waiting, deprived and unconsoled. Nor did Anax doubt the authentic authority of the magnetism which would, when the time came, draw him back to his master . . . If he could only run towards the beloved he would be with him, nothing more was needed than that of flinging himself into the great void of that dreadful absence . . . Once he had started Anax found that he knew his way perfectly well, he was guided . . . Suddenly the spirit that directed him had seemed to fail . . . Perhaps his loss of certainty was simply due to exhaustion . . . He ran on quickly, then walked, hoping still to regain the magnetic message, along a road which prompted no recognition, where railings enclosed the front gardens of big houses . . . Anax was now completely lost. He hurried on, then wandered randomly on, trying to recognise some landmark or be guided in some direction, but now he had given up hope, he had lost all sense of orientation. The magnetic beam was quenched, the purposeful certainty, the energy, which had made him able to run so far and so fast, had vanished from him. He felt tired, hungry, and now frightened.”

And so it goes. He must fight for a crust of bread. He meets kind people and unkind ones. He is naked for he wasn’t wearing his collar. He faces evil in the form of a fearless cat that attacks him. He experiences hunger, fear, doubt, despair. All in his quest to regain his master. Much like the dark night of the soul so many mystics experience when they lose touch with their divine, which is, of course, what Murdoch is trying to depict in this passage.

Not coincidentally, Anax’s former master had given him away so that he might complete a spiritual quest of his own; he intends to join a monastery.

Shall I tell you how it ends? Anax is found by someone who was not even looking for him. The man — the actual Green Knight of this story — recognizes him and returns him to the four women, for which Anax is grateful. Will he ever be reunited with his former master? I must read on to learn that.

Literary tour groups in London actually retrace Anax’s journey, based on the many clues and cues that Murdoch includes in the passage. No reports on whether they find their divine however.

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Larger and Larger

August 2, 2010

I knew when I reached the inevitable crisis of doubt in writing my current WIP, Larger than Life — my certainty that the story was no good, that the writing was no good, and that my talent was no good — that I just needed to press on and the worth of it would come to me. This happened to me (more than once) as I was working through The Sleep of Reason (for which I have no news yet — good or bad — about landing an agent). I was hopeful that Larger than Life would pass through its own dark night of the soul and into a fresh hopefulness.

This happened over the weekend. Two revelations presented themselves as I was making notes about the overall story that gave me the perspective I needed.

One was that I identified a very good controlling metaphor. I’ve already spoken a little bit about it in this post, but I’ve since developed it a great deal more. I’ve often thought that a float trip is an ideal metaphor for life. Long stretches of ease punctuated by quick passages of excitement and challenge. The potential for surprises waiting around each bend. The occasional upset and recovery. I’m not exactly doing this with Larger than Life, but the idea of floating through life, and the various ways one can be seen doing so, will influence how I conceive and thus write the whole novel. I’ve already noted a number of ways a person can feel a weightlessness, literally and figuratively, that I’ll use. Weightlessness, in this sense, can be both good and bad for a character in a developing plot. In fairness to my mysterious creative mechanism, I already had several chapters planned that used this kind of metaphor, but I didn’t realize it. The flash of hopefulness I had over the weekend came in recognizing that this element was recurring in my plot. Once again I am beginning to feel that my story exists somewhere “out there” and that I’m being given the privilege of scribbling it all down.

The second flash of hopefulness came in a realization that my title, Larger than Life, had a second, deeper meaning than I had originally understood. A good character, especially a protagonist, will grow in some way over the course of the story. My protagonist, let’s call him Chris since that’s what I’m already doing, must get outside of himself in order to achieve the change he desperately needs (and sees that he needs). He’ll be able to do so when he makes his life larger than it is. (I also hinted about this idea in this post.) I suppose I had this understanding about the title in some unconscious way from the start. It is a title that just “popped into my head” and I suspect those things don’t generally just happen, at least to creative people.

Anyway, I think perhaps I have achieved the critical mass I mentioned in a recent post. The story has developed sufficiently for me to believe it is whole and worth pursuing across the distance.