A while back in class I studied two works by Franz Kafka--The Metamorphosis and The Trial.
I'd read Metamorphosis before, identified with poor Gregor, felt I more or less understood its themes of alienation and dehumanization, but The Trial was beyond me. I didn't end up preparing it for my exams, but what little I read and was taught about it didn't make me feel I'd made any progress understanding or even identifying with it than if I'd been reading it on my own. (which is highly improbable; I would have put it down after the first chapter.)
Basically the protagonist K is told he's under arrest, for unspecified reasons, but is allowed to continue living his life per normal. He tries vaguely to get a lawyer, never really finds out why he's being arrested--or really seems to care as much as we'd expect--and finally after a long interlude is taken out by two officers and shot. This summary sounds very inadequate and probably is, but that's pretty much the main plot.
Apparently one of the central themes of The Trial is the significance of guilt to the human condition, within the philosophy of existentialism. Kafka's own life story was pretty tragic and very much revolved around guilt, not surprisingly.
That aside, I didn't quite see the point. Guilt as central to being human? Really? Of course I said nothing in class, assuming that maybe I hadn't really understood it, or didn't know enough abut existentialism, or just hadn't lived long enough (which is more often the case than we'd like to admit!) After all, I was twenty-one and very much in love with life...
Now at twenty-two (and still loving life, albeit for different reasons) I think I won't be writing The Trial off so easily. Guilt really is probably one of the most crippling and horrible things that we could faec in life, looking at life from an existential perspective.
The Bible talks about guilt without God as 'worldly sorrow', and acknowledges its bleak hopelessness. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
If this earth is the only thing we can expect to experience, what happens to us here and what we do have terrifyingly final significance. Our one chance, our one experience of life, can be ruined by one mistake. You can't turn back time.
If ourselves and others are the only ones we can look to, we have no hope of ever really remedying our mistakes. What's done can't ever be undone. We can only try, often as not messing it up too--and live with the consequences as well as we can. We were made for ideals, and the conflict that subsequently comes of the less-than-ideal state of ourselves and the world only highlights that.
As such, guilt would be without hope. Guilt would be horrible. A psychological and internal disease we can't ever resolve completely, which we will inevitably suffer, and which will haunt us to the end of our lives as reminders of our failure.
I have so many things to feel guilty for, which could so easily warp how I see the past, and cripple how I see the future. People I have let down. Relationships I have let go when I should have fought for them. Selfish decisions or carelessness, or just plain ignorance, which hurt myself and hurt others. It's so easy to obsess over these things, to agonize over what-ifs and if-onlys, to beat yourself up over what went wrong. These things haunt you years down the road, ruin quiet moments of reflection, crush you repeatedly every time they surface in your mind.
But that's guilt without God. Or 'worldly sorrow,' as the Bible calls it.
Because we believe that this earth and our linear existence under the bondage of time, our limited knowledge and consciousness, and most of all the significance of this life--aren't everything.
Because we believe that there is a God Whose existence transcends the sort of existence we know, Whose knowledge transcends our knowledge, and Whose being is in itself evidence that life as we know it in this earthly form is not the ultimate. Because we believe that there is more than our limitations and our life here. Because we believe that even our mistakes and sins are not final.
Christ's death transformed the concept of guilt by enabling hope.
"The best writing--whether 'realistic' or 'fantasy'--tends to involve us in life more deeply...Good literature may give us escape, but it also brings us back, rearmed with insight for our everyday experiences and with a new appreciation for the texture of actual life. Bad literature makes us despise our lives, wishing we could be like the fictional people we read about and causing us to regard our ordinary lives are boring. Good literature makes us understand and appreciate our lives, opening our eyes to the drama and significance of the story we are living."
(Reading Between the Lines by Gene Edward Veith)
To continue on the concept of glamour, I learnt something surprisingly similar to Veith's observation.
After all, I'm no different. I know what glamour looks like and how it makes you feel. I envied a lifestyle which certain pictures and blogs and captions evoked--I didn't know exactly why, but they gave me certain vibes, good vibes obviously, which I wanted to have when I looked at my own life. Interestingly, it was hard to define what exactly I wanted when I closely examined this feeling. And in a moment of insight that I've been grateful for ever since, I realized that sometimes I was aimlessly envying the vague vibes of this personal definition of glamour, when I already had my own version in my life.
When I broke them down into something as concrete as possible I realized that--discovery of the year!--I actually had many of them in my life already. Except they weren't packaged the same way. They weren't picture-perfect and sometimes they didn't look the same on the outside, but deep down, the essence of what I desired was there.
For example--which is embarrassing but probably necessary, since I lack C.S Lewis's genius for expressing an idea with breathtaking clarity and simplicity.
Those idyllic images of cushy window seats with an open book and a steaming cup--half of them feature a girl in floppy oversized sweaters and her hair in a deceptively messy-chic bun (I have never been able to pull off a bun, which probably added to the allure of it.) Bonus point if it's raining outside. (reference above image for a good example, pulled from thousands of others on Pinterest.) They were especially appealing when my bedroom was a mess, I ought to have been studying, and I could see my schedule in my peripheral vision (I learnt this impressive phrase from my physiotherapist sister,) lying open with its pages woefully full of empty boxes to tick and scribbly dog-eared memos falling out...
Pictures like that exude a warm, fuzzy, but admittedly vague sense of comfort and serenity. They make me feel '...if only my life was like that, if I had moments like that, I would know I had it together...I would be happy.'
Which is pretty much the effect of glamour which John Berger describes (though window seats and books may not be exactly what you associate with glamour.)
I'd overlooked my 6 am quiet mornings, with an orange mug that's unabashedly ugly but able to contain a glorious amount of that wonderful beverage tea; an old Bible filled with fading bookmarks, and an open journal covered with my spidery handwriting. Not much of a view, because the sky is black still; but the magic peacefulness of a house when its humans are asleep. Forget about the window seat and messy bun (one day, maybe.) When I see photos like that on Pinterest, I can relate the feelings they evoke to moments in my life, enjoy both better, experience the aesthetic delight of the spectator without the taint of envy.
And so Veith's comment on how good literature--and good art, I would suppose, though not being an artist I shouldn't dare speculate--should empower you to live your real life more fully, with greater appreciation and value and understanding, became something that adjusted my perspective of Pinterest. (you weren't expecting that now, were you?)
I thoroughly enjoy Pinterest, as should be pretty obvious, and as such Veith's words were helpful in learning to have a balanced relationship with it. As with anything else, it can become a black hole of time wastage. In particular you can end up constructing your ideal life vicariously in boards, neglecting your actual life. (I used to think that the temptation to get lost in virtual reality was absurd in computer games and Sims etc, but here I see its very real appeal!) Apply Veith! It's pretty straightforward with Pinterest--your pinning ideally should end up enhancing your real life. Master a great recipe or learn how to create something, throw a wonderful party, or have a badass room makeover. Whatever. It's a good sign if it gets you excited to get off the screen and do something about reality.
I appreciate Veith's wisdom and John Berger's insight, for helping me be more conscious of the effect that certain things in the media have on me. For helping me appreciate and value my own life better, and be better equipped to use it better. And of course, for helping me to identify life-changing value in what I read and see--whether through the experience of truth (and I think of Dostoevsky) or beauty (and I think of Shakespeare) or--what a great blessing!--both (and I think of C.S Lewis and John Donne.)
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are