Sunday, January 18, 2009

still haven't found what I'm looking for

On the plane ride home from Argentina, I started reading What is the What, an account of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. You can have your issues with Dave Eggers, but it's interesting to me that he more or less submerges his entire writing style and voice in order to recount the tale of Valentino Achak Deng. There are none of his usual clever tricks or wisecracks. And yet, there's still something rather Eggers-ly about it.

A friend and I were talking about how unrelenting literature can be these days. But I'm in a mood of late, so I feel I'm getting assaulted from all sides. It's not just the books that are so bleak. In What is the What, the Lost Boys walk for miles and miles across Sudan, in circles at times, encountering all manner of danger, but they are propelled forward by both the instinct to survive and the promise of Ethiopia. They are told once they get to the border, there will be water, food, clothes, comfort. Maybe their families will be waiting for them. I'm probably not spoiling any story for you by telling you that it's not quite so pleasant.

The merciless BSG Season 4.5 premiere continues along the same theme. This ragtag group has been clinging to the hope that they will find Earth, and when they finally do, suddenly everyone's postures seem to relax. They think it is time now, time to lay down the burdens they have carried, and now they can begin to start anew. Of course, upon arriving on Earth, instead they find a radioactive wasteland.

I'll quote the poem, I've quoted before:

I have come far to have found nothing
or to have found that what was found
was only to be lost, lost finally
in that absence whose trace is silence.

It's a variation on a theme- all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again. Sisyphus rolls the rock up the hill every day, in vain. You come far to find nothing, or worse than nothing- what was found was only to be lost. You can only hang on to a perfect moment of contentment for a fleeting nanosecond, and then reality sets in.

It's a weird thing to write about, I know, when this is considered a time of hope for so many. But maybe that's exactly why I'm writing about it. What do you do when you recognize the pattern? When you see it's a futile cycle? Do you stop pushing against the tide and let the current take you out to sea?

People look to Barack Obama in that way, as if he will save us. He won't, and that's not a criticism of him.

But this is not necessarily a post about despair. This is not necessarily a time of despair. In Henderson the Rain King, Henderson is something of a farce. He is an exaggeration, but he wants. He can't stop wanting, and the resolution of his story is not that he is cured of his wanting. One can predict with great certainty that he will be making a mess of things sure enough. But that's not really the point. The point:

will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

The cycle will continue. It's not what you thought when you first began it. But it's enough, enough left to live by. Drifting out to sea is giving in, and giving in is shutting your eyes. Entropy, after all, should technically always win, and yet our entire existence is defined by fighting it as best as we can.

No comments: