Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been fairly taken with Gustave Doré lately. I’m not particularly interested in his depictions of God – it’s always a let down when artists depict God as a mere man (with a beard!) (in a toga!) – but his engravings are arresting. A friend of mine and I were discussing how Salvador Dali’s colors seem to glow and how we can’t seem to figure out how he did that. I feel that way about Doré and his engravings. There is only black and white, yet there seems to be light coming from the inks. Look at the rays from the clouds, and more importantly follow the trajectory of that light as Leviathan attempts to flee. The print would have worked especially well had he left “God” out and just let the light be the thing striking fear into Leviathan. Anthropomorphization must be the Romanticism bleeding through.

The inscription reads: In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea…(Isaiah 27:1). 

Source material in illustration is apparently a boon.

Renaming the Reader

The Bible won’t be reduced to mere representations and symbols, although it has those. The Bible is much like the angel that Jacob wrestles, refusing to be pinned. Refusing to be named or seen completely. Able with a touch to ruin the reader and able to bless him forever. Even to rename the reader.

And the name it gives the reader? One who struggles with God.

 Jack Baumgartner, an artist from Kansas, engraved this linocut print called Jacob Wrestling with the Angel of God.  (A special thanks to Jack for allowing me to use an image of his print.)

In a few minutes the door opened and a young mozo stood there and he and the rider spoke and the man nodded toward the outside and the mozo looked toward the outer door and at the other rider and at the boy and then withdrew and shut the door. They waited. – Cormac McCarthy. The Crossing.

I pulled this sentence from McCarthy’s The Crossing for a couple of reasons.

  1. The content of the sentence isn’t profound, as in it will never be found in quotebooks, but it’s interesting to see how a master handles minutae. Three people meet and stand there looking at each other. It’s not profound. It’s not critical to the plot. But it is critical to the making of the world, both for the reader and the author. All of McCarthy’s books reshape the desires of the heart like a magnet in metal shavings, and they do it by sparking the imagination. It’s important for the author because he has to love what he is creating. It’s important for the reader because his love has to be ignited and moved. Essentially, he is creating a world in which both the author and the reader can inhabit and cultivate and move about the spectrum of human experience. And experience is nothing but minutae. Sometimes one experience becomes profound, such as the birth of a child, but it is still only one experience in the millions we have each day. McCarthy handles insignificant events, such as the quoted one, with the same language as he does the disappearance and death of a brother later in the book.
  2. Secondly, in one sentence McCarthy uses the conjunction and nine times without using a single comma. In effect, the rhythm makes the reader wait. You can feel the tension of the plot even in the grammar. It’s common knowledge that the King James version of the Bible has been a major influence on McCarthy, both stylistically and thematically, but one can easily see the influence in a sentence like this. Take a look at the book of Genesis: The creation account of Chapter 1 has 35 sentences; all but two begin with the word “and”. Also, there are over 100 occurrences of the word “and” in those 35 sentences. Interestingly, the narrators of the Bible handle significant events, like birth, death, battle, the creation of the world, with the same language as any of the insignificant events, like the market rate of real estate. I think the effect that it has is raising all of the events to a higher level of significance; like a quiet man whose words are wise, and who holds weight in conversation. He has no need to shout, but men rather stop their own chatter to listen.