Ozymandias vs. God vs. the Author
The following was cut from my word-study on "descent" in Paradise Lost:
Instead of including my crackpot theory in my very super-duper serious school essay, I decided to include here. Here's the deal:
- My favorite poem, Ozymandias, tells the tale of a man who meets a messenger from an antique land who says that a dilapidated statue stands in the desert. On the pedestal of the once-statue declares: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;// Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Through irony, we see that the physical works of the once-king have dilapidated while the words of the sculptor remain. Additionally, the words of the sculptor are being transmitted from the messenger to the speaker, and then from the speaker to you, the reader. The poem is a clusterfuck of recursive beauty, all culminating into the notion that language is the most powerful structure.
- Book 7 of Paradise Lost tells the tale of a man (the author, Milton) who invokes a goddess (Urania) to help him tell the tale of a man (Adam) who beseeches the angel Raphael to tell him the tale of what happened after Lucifer fell from Heaven and God created the world. In it, God is referred to as an "author," as a "word," as "uncircumscribed," as "invisible," "filling infinitude." The word "word" is described as "omnific" (e.g. "by the Omnific word of God".) Perhaps when God says: "what I will is fate," what it really means is that the next words to appear are fated. The entire plot of Paradise Lost revolves around the fall of man from grace, and Lucifer's descent from heaven, and is told from the perspective of higher beings deigning down to lower beings. There is literal cosmic irony at play.
I think the most chilling experience is the absurd. One day, you look into the mirror, and you see your reflection blink. Heading to bed in the darkened hallway, you look into the dark void of the bathroom and see a man with no pupils holding a knife. In the middle of class, you drop your pencil and, embarrassingly picking it up, you realize everyone in the classroom is staring at you angrily; they open their mouths and scream in unison, but instead of a scream, it comes out more like static.
The most scary place is in one's own mind. How insane is that? My friend Maxwell wrote this great article about materialism in Cavendish's work. He proposes that when Cavendish infers that knowledge really is material (i.e. it has weight, takes up space,) that means that when she thinks, she literally creates a universe for herself. Not figuratively. You may be subjected to pain physically, and beaten into submission, but within your own mind you are free. Except, of course, if you view your mind as a prison. Perhaps the reality is that nothing makes sense, everything is absurd—the only thing making sense is that nothing makes sense. In that case, the scary thing isn't that our mind is insidiously tricking us into believing the false reality that this all makes sense—because existence doesn't (make sense, I mean)—but rather that our mind is literally what creates the reality we live in, and that reality doesn't make sense. Existence necessitates the mind that conjures it.
The construction of works of art and works of literature is a construction of the mind. We imagine a new reality, yet, grafted from our old reality, or from previously-grafted realities. Yet, if thoughts do not explicitly have to come from past experiences (inductive reasoning, etc,) can we believe that works of art and works of literature can come from something beyond the mind?
Language itself lay in paradox—not only are we unable to effectively communicate our experiences to others ("traversing the gulf of consciousness" so to speak, in order to break solipsism) but definition in and of itself is impossible. Describe "the very smallest number that can't be described in under twenty-two syllables"—wait, "very smallest number that can't be described in under twenty-two syllables" is twenty-one syllables. Even if we were able to perfectly define everything, and communicate perfectly with one another, we are still trapped here together, alone.
None of this really means much, since it's all thought experiment and senseless theory. Perhaps it hints at some inherent disconnect humans feel towards one another, but, in the long run, I feel strongly that it's pointless to refute human connection. In fact, I only really divulged into this after an evening of reading Michael Ondaatje poems and feeling pretty solemn.