Despite the high-sounding title, my blog is meant to be both serious and light-hearted, full of sadness and mirth, and reflecting the human condition. Join in the pilgrimmage and be surprised and maybe even astonished and humbled.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dante's "Inferno": War, Inertia, and the Prayerful Imagination (1)

For my first post, I want to begin with the word "inertia." The English word "inertia" derives from the French inars through the Latin inert/inertia, meaning, roughly, "idle," "idleness," or "without art, work, or power." Inertia--absolute zero ice--is at the center of Dante's Hell. When General William T. Sherman bluntly stated, "War is Hell," he had in mind Milton's Hell of burning sulphur and "darkness visible" and not Dante's with its cold, heartless inertia. Sadly, it seems to me that inertia in thinking and its corollary, reaction, lead to the torture and destruction Sherman attempted to describe. James Hillman in his recent thoughtful and imaginative book, A Terrible Love of War, writes:
If we want war's horror to be abated so that life may go on, it is necessary to understand and imagine. We humans are the species privileged in regard to understanding, Only we have the faculty and scope for comprehending the planet's quandaries. Perhaps that is what we are here for: to bring appreciative understanding to the phenomena that have no need to understand themselves. It may even be a moral obligation to try to comprehend war. That famous phrase of William James, "the moral equivalent of war," with which he meant the mobilization of moral effort, today means the effort of the imagination . . . . Is it war's fault that we have not grasped its meanings? (5)
Loreena McKennitt's haunting music combines a Russian Orthodox Easter hymn with her own music and imaginative lyrics about a prayer Dante might have uttered after he and Virgil had left Hell's icy center and were journeying close to the threshold between Hell and Purgatory. I have placed just above this post a creation combining her song and a video about American soldiers in the Iraqi war--it is a creation within my creation (this blog) which is located within a creation we call cyberspace. Listen and watch. Read the lyrics as she sings them. The melody and the words melt frozen inertia and transform the vision of war, thus moving us across a threshold to an active, engaged imagination. Words and music separately and together move us, give us new life after frozen death, altering our suffering and memory. When we cross a threshold, we are changed.
How have you responded to this cyber creation? How have you crossed a threshold? Has some of your inertia melted? How have you changed? I invite you to tell your story.


Richard Beck said...

Welcome to the world of blog! I'm still on vacation so my web-time has been limited, so sorry for not showing up earlier. I'm excited about your site! Perhaps we can plan out some exchange posts between us on some topic?

SteveA said...

Finally I get to learn more about you . I am looking forward to your blog and you are now on my blogroll. What books by James Hillman would you recommend for a layman like myself?


Jason said...

George, I've always enjoyed reading your posts on Richard's blog. I'm looking forward to see what you do here.

George Cooper said...

Richard, Steve, Jason,

I am on vacation in Taos, New Mexico. Wonderful, wide-open, relaxing place--the only place in the world where a radio station has a liquor license and a cememtary has a pay phone! Last night we took in a Billy Bob Thornton concert at that station. Tonight we plan a vigil at the cemetary to see if anyone uses the phone.

Richard, I'll be happy to work on some exchange posts with you.

Steve, most of Hillman's books are for the layperson. I'll recommend some when I get back to my own computer.


George C.

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in Taos. That might explain a lot....

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.

Lyrics to "Dante's Prayer"


When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and the fire
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Please remember me
Please remember me . . . .

-Loreena McKennitt

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies, my love,
To the dark and the empty skies.

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
And felt your heart beat close to mine
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love
That was there at my command.

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time my love
It would last till the end of time my love

The first time ever I saw your face,
your face, your face, your face

Roberta Flack