Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Narrative, Ambiguity, and Apocalypse

As I prepare myself to work on the final edits to my novel, I find myself wrestling with something of a paradox.

What I'm writing is apocalyptic literature, in the most classical sense of the term.  As a biblical narrative genre--and yes, it's a biblical narrative genre--apocalyptic literature is intended to open up the eyes of the reader.  ἀποκάλυψις, in the Greek, means an "unveiling," a revealing of truths otherwise hidden.

That "revealing" happens when something comes along to shatter conventional reality, as the patterns and norms of our societal power dynamics are obliterated.  That can involve zombies, asteroids, and pandemic plagues.  It can involve the tearing apart of the heavens, and the arrival of the four horsemen.  The core idea is the same.

As a biblical genre, apocalypse reveals the way ahead, the Path That Is God's Will.

I'll freely admit that some Biblical apocalypses don't do that revealing part well.  John da Revelatah was notorious for not getting that memo, masking his truths in secret-code language and fever-dream abstractions.

But what he was trying for, what all those who speak in apocalyptic language are trying for, is to open our eyes to the Way Things Are.

In working to refine my manuscript, though, I'm realizing that ambiguity is a necessary part of apocalyptic.  As I work with my excellent, capable editor, I find myself trying to keep the narrative as open-ended as possible, struggling create a conclusion that is both satisfying but also allows the reader freedom of interpretation.

Why?  Because narratives that only have a single possible outcome reveal nothing.  By saying: this is the plan, there is no variance from the plan, and everything will go according to plan, we are masking ourselves with a false certainty.

What does that mean?  Hmm.  If you give a person only one choice, it tells you nothing about them.  "You may only do this," you say.  "OK," they say, and they do it.  Their choosing that path means nothing, because that is the only path you have left open to them.  It does not reveal anything about their nature.

As it stands in relationship to a reader, such a narrative is not apocalyptic.

It is Calyptic literature, literature that masks and veils and hides the truth behind its rigidity.  This is what fundamentalist literalism does to the sacred texts of Scripture.  It does not test.  It does not challenge.  It does not do what Jesus did when he taught in parables, which were designed to give the hearer the opportunity to misinterpret them.

But if you say, here you are free to choose, free to interpret, free to act as you wish?  Then that choosing reveals a truth about the soul that decides.  Do they choose for good or ill or some admixture of the both?  Do they choose based on grasping self-interest, or compassion?

Ambiguity may not reveal the One Truth of Reality.  But it reveals the truth about anyone who encounters it.

In that, ambiguity is the nature of our apocalypse, the apocalypse that God is working right now.

And that Divine Ambiguity is the fire in which we--as persons, as cultures--are tested and known.