Tuesday, April 9, 2013

if you’re fortunate like the Son of God

 Pray do not mock me,
I am a very foolish fond old man. 
And to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
--King Lear, Act IV, Scene 7

When you approach a Caravaggio, you enter into his painted world, a play of light and shadow.
The stuff of the world, of human existence: the men talking in the corner, the food on the table, the pilgrims kneeling in the darkness, etc., etc. is all the shadowland.
Everything happens there in shades and dark colors, walking shadows that strut and fret their hour upon the stage of the canvas.
You can only see the action because of the light breaking into the painting.
The light, usually, is from Somewhere Else.


If you read Kant, you think, first off that he will drive you completely mad with his talk of judgments of perception and judgements of experience; experiences and essences; analytics and synthetics.
Kant is attempting to turn reason inward to understand exactly how it works. It's like a child giving himself cross-eyes to try to see inside his eye.
An eye can't see itself, sadly, except in a mirror.
But if you pay attention to Kant long enough (and that's a Herculean effort in itself. It's like he's trying to confuse you), you begin to sense something familiar in his moanings.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
--Psalm 139

Just like the Psalmist, Kant is trying to understand the way the world works, and an even more difficult question, why he himself works the way he does.
He just has a different way of going about it.

Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness
-Psalm 86

Some people use poetry to understand their world; some use metaphysics.

Some, like Lear, let their world fall into pieces, and don't attempt to understand.
One of the most illuminating pieces of theatre I have seen in London was last night when I saw My Perfect Mind at the Young Vic.
Like a brilliant prism, the piece captured the fancies of the audience with a delightful rainbow of story.
A man enters the space.
We have been told that he is actually King Lear, although he is under the delusion he is the famous English actor Edward Petherbridge.
We laugh, because we know who Edward Petherbridge is, and we have a program which tells us that this is Edward Petherbridge.
And Edward Petherbridge seems to think that he is Edward Petherbridge; so the harlequin that told us he is actually Lear must be mistaken.
But, as the story of Edward Petherbridge trying to play Lear is lightly sketched out by two elderly, dryly hilarious British Gentlemen, we see that maybe Petherbridge has more in common with Lear than we think.
The story of the old king and the gentle actor have beautiful parallels that are teased out and drawn together.

This man who desired so desperately to play Lear already is Lear.
He is Lear, who is under the delusion he is Edward Petherbridge.
He is Edward Petherbridge, under the delusion that he is Lear.
His world is slanted at an alarmingly disorienting rake, just like the stage.
It's a very pretentious set-up, as the actors admit.
“It is either very careless or very pretentious. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps.”
We need stories to understand our own lives, sometimes.

The light that illuminates the Shadowland of Mr. Petherbridge's story is the text of King Lear.
Incredible, you see, that the stories we tell can help detangle the tangled web of story that we live.

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