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"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost."
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto I, l.
The classical Greeks described, in etiological terms, the search or quest for "the ground of existence" by the use of the word aition. Aristotle applies the word Nous to define Reason (intellect) as "the ground of existence for man" that is predicated on a directional tension moving toward transcendence. We might say, then, that the truth of reality is understood, in a noetic sense, as a tensional existence found within the poles of the immanent world-reality and the transcendent.
That is reality, though it is not commonly acknowledged among the cognoscenti these days. For example the pre-Socratic Greeks were very much aware of this reality, this existence in truth, and they attached to it a vocabulary that would assist us in understanding the tension. The words love, hope, and faith were used by Heraclitus to symbolize the (love) of man toward the "Divine Being," the (hope) for a inter-relational experience with the divine, and the "openness of the soul (faith) in existence that is an orienting center in the life of man." (See Eric Voegelin's essay, In Search of the Ground, Published Essays, 1953-1965, Volume 11, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, University of Missouri Press, 2000)
When this definition of human existence is portrayed in literature we have found a writer who dwells in the Metaxy, the place between these tensional poles, and one who has experienced the truth of reality. And, if we share a yearning for the truth, or reality, or seek to understand the humana condicio, then we must read his work in order to understand. In this instance the writer in question is Dean Koontz, and the book in review is his latest: Your Heart Belongs To Me.
It is, by far, his finest effort.
But, first, let me qualify "...his finest effort."
The form and structure of this novel is the same, or similar to, the time tested method Koontz has employed for decades: fast paced, vibrant descriptions, sympathetic protagonists, a bit of technos and, of course, a heavy dose of unmistakable evil. It is almost as if his books are purposefully designed with some special paper that allows the pages to be quickly turned.
What is unique about Your Heart Belongs To Me is Koontz's in-depth exegesis of existential consciousness, premised on an understanding that the ideological distortions of modernity have derailed the reality of man's existence, and made opaque the divine Ground.
The novel exists in a tension between what appears as a metonymic series that is a mystical space "analogous to the literary figure of the "a mise en abime"-a "casting into the abyss"-that locates the reader within an "infinite regress," constantly moving toward the opposite pole, the revelation of the "quiddity," or "whatness," of the protagonist, Ryan Perry. (See Carmel Bendon Davis, Mysticism and Space, CUA Press, 2008, pg. 6.)
Ryan, dear fellow, has it all: youth, good looks, brains, wealth, and even something of a conscience. He's not some dreadful ner-do-well, some scallywag, he's rather an everyman; a nice guy who has made it! But there is a problem, in fact there's more than one, and its those other problems, the one's lying beneath the surface, that Koontz loves to poke and scratch and worry!
But the first problem and the one upon which all the richly layered subtexts cling is Ryan's faulty heart. And so it is that Ryan believes that if he gets a new heart he can marry his main squeeze, Samantha, and live quite handsomely ever after. But the new heart, successfully implanted, brings with it attempts on Ryan's life and the obligatory search for the perps. This quest, rather than merely revealing why Ryan is targeted also moves inexorably toward the ultimate questions of existence, and that is a road upon which Koontz is the toll keeper.
While the author has previously applied these existential concepts in a more differentiated Christian form, this novel achieves a penetrating phenomenological explication of contemporary man in the persona of Ryan Perry by illuminating the subtle and inimical effects of materialism, progressivism, and technos, upon his psyche. Perhaps a better understanding of this psychopathology (or, perhaps, pneumopathology) is found in Kierkegaard's "anxiety of existence" where Pascal observed that man can not stand still, or be in "repos," that he requires work, play, movement, anything but quiet, because in the quiet comes the actualization of nothingness. And, Koontz incorporates this phenomenon of frenetic movement in his portrayal of Ryan's efforts to discover those who seek to kill him.
Ryan is so totally immanentized that he fails to understand or even to consider that the nature of man -- his reason (noesis) -- is predicated on his existence within the tension between himself and the transcendent. Ryan exists outside this tension, he exists as an anthropomorphic being, so thoroughly and, sometimes subtly, immanetized and given over to narcissism, that he cannot recognize the derailment inherent in his pride, greed, and concupiscent passions, and most importantly, his "...hatred for the truth." He becomes the archetypal representative of a dying culture made up of lonely, confused, and desperate people.
The Jesuit philosopher/theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes, "Truth is the unconcealment of being. All being is unveiled as such, insofar as it can emerge into existence from its sheltering concealment in nothingness..., and be laid open, as manifest essence, to the eyes of knowledge." (See Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Theologic, I. The Truth of the World, Ignatius Press, 2000 (reprint).)
In the end Koontz, unlike modern philosophers who have successfully criticized the perverse ideologies of the past century only to fail to recapture the truth of reality, is aware that there must be a periagoge, a turning around toward the Ground.
© 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.