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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Sunday, July 31, 2005

out of the waste land

No rain after all. More sun.

For morning notes I keyed from From Eden to Exile and, after some deliberation, The Grail Legend, which I haven't opened in a while.

I was glad I did. The Grail Legend has been lying buried in my coffee-table stack for the past few months, unread. As I typed over my second cup of coffee (from chapter 6, "Perceval's Task", much of which was highlighted) I felt myself being nourished and inspired by the insights of Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz. This is the type of thematic background that might help me recover my sense of purpose in writing my book.

If I understand correctly, the authors contend that the central task and meaning of the Age of Pisces (the age of the Grail) is for humanity to bring to consciousness the hidden unconscious contents of our minds: to effect a conscious reconciliation of the opposites, in particular good and evil, that lie fused in the unconscious. And this also is the task of Perceval:

When Perceval has to solve the riddle of the Grail, this means that he should make his own psychic problems and his extensive inner nature conscious.

Thus Perceval is the hero of our age, just as Joseph Campbell contends in his Creative Mythology. Presumably, or potentially, as he goes, so go we all.

I admit that I don't understand this. I don't know exactly what it means. I do know that it has a bearing of some kind on my work, and that somehow these ideas are steering me. Emma Jung worked on her book for 25 years, and it was still unfinished on her death. It took Jung's student Marie-Louise von Franz 15 more years to finish it. Much reflection and thought has gone into it, and for that reason alone it's worth reading, even apart from its significance in shining a light on the meaning of our time.

I think about Campbell's mention of the "golden seeds" of our human potentialities that lie within each of us, awaiting the moment, the right stimulus, to awaken. This is akin to the Buddhist view that our nature is intrinsically complete; we do not need to--indeed we cannot--import things from outside to enlarge or "complete" ourselves. But the seed image--like James Hillman's "acorn"--suggests the journey quality of life, the growth required of us all. The oak is in the acorn, but only in a manner of speaking--only in potential. There is a sometimes perilous journey from acorn to oak.

The Waste Land is the place where there is no divinity to be found without ("God is dead") or within ("man is just a collection of appetites, or an ape that reads"). In short, it is our own modern world. Perceval was the redeemer of the Waste Land, and so he is our hero, specifically our hero of the current modern age. The literary geniuses of 800 years ago were already sketching out our salvation when the religious authorities formally entrusted with it were losing their grip on people's souls and, even more importantly, on their imagination.

Perceval redeemed the Grail kingdom by posing a single question--not by finding an answer. He exhibited the intention to become conscious.

Since this morning these thoughts have been burbling through the background of my mind, while we planted begonias and impatiens out front, and while we walked to London Drugs so I could buy some highlighters. I also bought a novel (rare for me): The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Yes, it's already an international bestseller, but I'll still report back on my findings.

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