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"THE SOUL OF MAN MUST QUICKEN TO CREATION"
Chorus IX, from "The Rock," by T.S. Eliot
Man is a being aware of his existence. This self-awareness is a function of man's intellect, or as the Greeks might say his nous. The gift of nous provides us with the knowledge that "existence has noetic structure" and can move beyond immanent existence in the search for knowledge, it allows us to understand we are not a world unto ourselves but rather "an existent among others," it tells us that we are not the creator of existents, that the origin of things lies outside our being.
This discovery by the Greeks marks something of a philosophical "big bang" defining as it does the "truth of existence...as the awareness of the fundamental structure of existence together with the willingness to accept it as the condicio humana." Very simply, the human condition is man's search for God, truth, and order complicated by our cohabitation in an ambiguous world-reality with hatred, confusion, despair, and the perverse passion for the libido dominandi. And, so it is that the modern or post-modern world is a confusing paradox and in order to make sense of it we often turn to religion, philosophy, and literature.
One contemporary author whose oeuvre consistently contrasts postmodern reductionism with the condicio humana is Dean Koontz.
His latest effort, The Darkest Evening of the Year is an imaginative and superbly crafted examination of the noetic structure of existence counterpoised against post modernity's Second Realities.
While he was always aware of the theophanic symbols, and incorporated the meaning of those symbols into the body of his work, this novel is fully immersed in a mysticism that transcends the immanent world-reality and moves at full speed along the tension of existence toward the divine Ground. Whereas, he was once seeking, he has come to the existential reality of "being," as one who dwells in the truth of existence!
This work of literature is predicated on the love of God, and the fact that by definition the "love of God" requires that man live in a condition of "hope," no matter how difficult, disappointing, or oppressive our existence. The kicker, of course, is Free Will: we may choose to dwell in open existence in a condition of love with God, or close that existence by turning away from the Creator. "To many people," Koontz writes, "free will is a license to rebel not against what is unjust or hard in life but against what is best for them and true."
In the case of those who choose a "closed existence" the author provides the most malignant and spiritually deformed characters in literature. Characters who are the spawn of the deculturation of the West where the direction of existence, first expressed in the Platonic insight that "the double meaning of life and death is the symbolism engendered by man's experience of his being pulled in various directions among which he has to choose the right one," is truncated into a Sartrean deformation expressed as the existential moi, or self.
There is the concupiscent "Moongirl," beautiful, seductive, and totally depraved; the debauched Wallace, the first derailed homeschooler in literary history; and the totally "sane," Billy Pilgrim who'd "read Finnegans Wake three times, three times, he had decanted all those brilliant beautiful scalding ideas into his head, thousands of volumes of death works, and because you are the ideas you pour into yourself, he had in a sense been killed by what he had read, was already dead to any truth except the truth that no truth exists."
The protagonists, human and therefore flawed, move along the existential tension of the "push and pull" of free will as well, driven by the necessary suffering engendered by the experienced past. But, the heroine, Amy Redwing, has moved beyond, literally! She has experienced the pneumatic (spiritual) epiphany, a sense of God's movement in the world-reality. And, in that experience there exists the potential confusion of the unknown where Koontz writes, "When you believe life has meaning and can glimpse patterns that seem to suggest design, you risk seeking signs instead of waiting to receive them as grace. Omens seem to be scattered as extravagantly as litter in the wake of a wind storm, and in the rain of reckless imagination, portents spring up in mushroom clusters."
Amy's boyfriend, Brian McCarthy, has his own demons to contend with and chief among them was his fathering of a Downs Syndrome child, out of wedlock, ten years earlier. To reveal more would be to give away too much of the plot, but in telling the story of this child, her secret joys and her suffering, Koontz achieves a level of insight into the value and worth of human life undreamt of by his contemporaries. By defining this beautiful child ontologically as a symbolic gift, rendered in the metaliptic reality, or in the mutual participation of both the human and the divine, Koontz succeeds at defining the "direction in existence" where "if we follow it or not, life can be death, and death be life eternal."
A key element of the novel is the Golden Retrievers! But it is one Golden, "Nickie," who becomes the focus for she has "an ineffable quality...(that is) by its nature one that can't be defined, only felt." Here Koontz raises a "true" philosophical question. Can beings, other than man, have souls? "To the observant, all dogs have an air of mystery, an inner life deeper than science will concede," Koontz writes, "but whatever the true nature of their minds or the condition of their souls, they are limited to the wisdom of their kind, and each is shaped by the experiences of its one life."
And, it is here that this story becomes deeply poignant as a result of the death of Koontz's Golden Retriever, Trixie, who died while the author was writing the novel.
Trixie gave Koontz a gift even greater than the love and affection between dog and man. In her death the author recognized "a transcendent experience," perhaps one in which the movement of being in the Platonic Metaxy, the In-Between of the immanent world-reality and the divine Ground, is in fact, the same reality of existence, expressed in "degrees of differentiation" as those posited by the Gospels, where the truth of existence is found in the Logos!
There is something of the "saving tale of divine (I)ncarnation, death, and resurrection" in this novel that reveals the truth of man's existence. We bear witness then to one man's pneumatic epiphany, initiated by the passing of his dog, that is expressed in his art, and in his grief.
Koontz's mythopoesis was always expressed in terms of the "human-divine participation in the In-Between," but now in The Darkest Evening of the Year, the author incorporates a noetic exegesis, an examination of the truth of existence, predicated on a pneumatic insight, that reveals "the area of reality which articulates itself through the symbols of mythical imagination."
Koontz explores the possibilities inherent in the nature of man, in the search for revealed truth, not in the "grotesque rubble into which the image of God is broken today..." His focus lays not in the decultration of the West but rather in the insight existing in the condicio humana with its hope for the communion of the human and Divine.
© 2008 Robert C. Cheeks
Robert Cheeks is a freelance writer living in Ohio. His recent work has appeared in Philosophy Now, The University Bookman, Crisis, Touchstone, and The South Carolina Review.