After S examines the painting of The Sleeping Dog in the Storehouse in El H__, he notices other paintings (p241-242). In one of them he sees…
a young man in ill-fitting clothes playing a violin before a well-heeled crowd, the look in his eyes capturing the commingled joy and terror of creation.
Compare the violinist’s commingled joy and terror to the description of the creation myth that S, Corbeau, and Pfeifer witness in the caves of the K__ (p178-179). The ancient drawings reveal…
an epic clash between bird-figures of the skies and wolf-figures of the earth, the figures collectively twisting and curling around one another, diving and tumbling and bursting into one ultimate frame of harmony and grace directly above the altar: one humanoid figure with a crown of feathers and a vulpine tail, balanced on one leg at the needle-tip top of a mountain peak, surrounded by sheer drops and sky – a precarious position, to be sure, but the figure’s face expresses only serenity, no fear, no apprehension.
This delicate balance of two seeming opposites or incongruences is reflected throughout S. Signe Rabe (p 361) means, literally, sign of the raven. The raven is also known as the wolf-bird, which represents the balance of the bird-figures of the skies and the wolf-figures of the earth that come together in the creation myth. On p158, Jen Hayward writes sensible vultures and then mentions a paper she is doing on The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. Jen alludes, intentionally or not, to TS Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility, where poets became imbalanced after a divorce of intellect and feeling in their words. For Eliot, the balance between the mind and feeling must be balanced carefully and included together or else the poetry suffers a one-sided and incomplete portrayal of the human condition.
The magpie (in Czech, straka) is known as the bringer of balance, the yin-yang of the bird world. In Straka’s final book, S learns to bring this balance in the end.
This same theme is reiterated in Nietzsche’s Birth of a Tragedy where dramatists insist on finding self-affirmation…in the terror and ecstasy alike. And again in Hermann Hesse’s Gertrud, where the famous composer Kuhn learns to balance the Apollonian and Dionysian extremes represented by Gertrud and Muoth, respectively. (Hermann Hesse is also the author of The Glass Bead Game, which we have seen is important to making connections in S). We see Hermann Hesse again in Steppenwolf as he presents us with a classic case of Caledonian Antisyzygy, where dueling opposites exist and must be balanced (see marginalia p227 where Jen mentions the Caledonian Society for Literature). And we see it again in the scale of the cave in LOST, where Jacob has balanced the white rock and the black rock – refusing to destroy his bad twin. The Man-in-Black, however, has upset the balance by destroying his brother.
T.S. Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility is a literary attempt to reconcile the division and imbalance so often found in the written word so that it fully embraces both intellect and feeling. Doing so, in the tradition of the metaphysical poets, means the story may be a bit different. Metaphysical poems…
are all highly intellectualized, use rather strange imagery, use frequent paradox and contain extremely complicated thought.
Sounds a bit like “S”, doesn’t it? Cabins atop volcanoes on Obsidian Islands, winter cities where the inhabitants are palimpsests, crewmen without names who sew their mouths shut with thread, stars in the sky that wander from their designated constellations, etc.
Metaphysical poetry also makes use of conceits, or elaborate metaphors that draw parallels between two dissimilar objects. Like, perhaps, between a human being with an identity crisis and a mysterious ship. Or between Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in Real Time and an assassination montage.
It seems that our challenge is to grapple with the complicated thoughts, discover the elaborate metaphors, and make the appropriate connections.
An effective metaphysical conceit is noteworthy when a seemingly absurd gesture of parallelism begins to render as startling appropriate and makes the reader look at something in a totally new way.