In Tangled Thoughts (Dennis Aubrey)

In thoughts from visions of the night,
When deep sleep falleth upon men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling,
Which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit glided before my face –
The hair of my flesh rose up –
It stood still, but its form I could not discern;
A figure before mine eyes; Silence – and I heard a voice.

Eliphaz, Job IV v 12-16

We have a male cat named Rudy who is the very model of sweet affection unless he is disturbed in his comfortable rest. My belly, shoulders and thighs are a network of small cuts from the sharp claws that he digs into me when he must be moved from my lap or my shoulder (his favorite resting place). It is his protest to the change. Apparently, I am like him, because PJ calls us her “two old guys.”

For my part, when caught up in perplexing, tangled thoughts, I dig in my claws and try to hold on to the world that I love. As much as I try, I can’t seem to come to the heart of darkness that surrounds the world. I can recognize the evil and greed in the heart of man but don’t understand it.

Capital - Moses and the Golden Calf, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Capital – Moses and the Golden Calf, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

It seems that the “how”, “what”, and “who” are easy enough to determine, at least by dint of research. The “why”, however, is less susceptible to explanation, because we have to plumb the murky waters of the human mind or the even more opaque depths of the human soul. On the Via Lucis blog, we write most often the “how” – stories of the churches that can be researched. Sometimes we attempt to examine the “why”. Often we cannot see the answer directly, but must infer it in some way from other evidence.

Corbel detail, Prieuré Sainte Gemme, Sainte Gemme (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Corbel detail, Prieuré Sainte Gemme, Sainte Gemme (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The plays of Shakespeare, for example, perfectly suited the exuberance of the Elizabethan age, but despite their brilliance, within a generation they had lost their popularity. The were replaced by the dark, cynical Jacobean dramas of Middleton, Webster, Tourneur, and Ford. We see The Revenger’s Tragedy, Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Duchess of Malfi, and The White Devil. While Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Kyd may have used the same plot elements, the pervasive evil and melancholy that dominates the later tragedies were not present.

Refectory tympanum detail, Abbaye Saint Aubin, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Refectory tympanum detail, Abbaye Saint Aubin, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The brooding sense of hopelessness against tragedy reflects something in the world of England that was not present earlier. This was apparent even in the literature of the day; in 1621, Robert Burton published his eccentric treatise, the Anatomy of Melancholy, of which Samuel Johnson said “It is the only book that ever took me out of bed two hours sooner than I wished to rise.” But as John Aubrey wrote in his Brief Lives, “Mr. Burton, of whom ’tis whispered that, non obstante all his astrologie and his booke of Melanchollie, he ended his dayes in that chamber by hanging him selfe.”

Capital, Église Sainte Marie-du-Mont, Sainte Marie-du-Mont (Manche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Capital, Église Sainte Marie-du-Mont, Sainte Marie-du-Mont (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We sense this profound change even if we cannot explain it with the Thirty Year’s War, the Gunpowder Plot, a pervasive fear of witches, or the great plague. We can only see it reflected, as it were, as a shadow in the art of the time.

When we try to understand the world of the Romanesque church, we are often forced to look at the same shadows for explanations of the “why”. I believe in some ways this was an enlightened and optimistic age, but there was always a darkness on the periphery. For all the promise of the redemption of the Christ, there was a sense of the brooding Old Testament Lord of Hosts standing watch over the struggle of good and evil, the combat for the souls of humankind.

Fall of Simon Magus, Cathédrale Saint Lazare, Autun (Côte-d'Or)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Fall of Simon Magus, Cathédrale Saint Lazare, Autun (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Carl Jung states that people believed in evil as something outside of themselves because they project their shadow onto others. His Answer to Job gives an explanation for the difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New and suggests that that difference was created when God himself saw his own shadow projected on the stubborn and enduring Job. Jungian scholar Murray Stein claims Jung viewed the Book of Job as an example of God’s own religious experience:

“And out of this astonishing self-reflection, induced in God by Job’s stubborn righteousness, He, the Almighty, is pushed into a process of transformation that leads eventually to His incarnation as Jesus. God develops empathy and love through his confrontation with Job, and out of it a new relationship between God and humankind is born.”

In this world, even God must face his own shadow and reflect on himself in order to reveal his complete nature. Human beings must do likewise. Perhaps we cannot look directly as God could, but can only do so obliquely. But if we look at what we too often call art – the transitory, self-indulgent, and the numbingly inert creations that drown us – how will we manage to call forth love and empathy? Where do we look to duplicate the transformation that Jung described?

Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay  (Côte-d'Or)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

So for now, unable to answer this question, I am content to write. Rudy joins me late at night, makes himself comfortable on my desk, nestled in my arms as I type. His tail twitches idly as he rests his head on my forearm. We listen to “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” and for the briefest moment, and for him, all is right with the world.

13 thoughts on “In Tangled Thoughts (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dennis – a little more listening to accompany such profound contemplation -

  2. Hi, Dennis:
    What a thought provoking post on this early, warm and sunny morning in southern Arizona. This mornings local news brought word of a small child who will live with a severe brain injury following a beating by his parents. Again, one ponders the ‘why.’

    1. Completely understand your incomprehension. I am left speechless daily by the horrors we inflict on each other. I have not been posting much recently because PJ has been gone most of the time for the last month, and that always has an effect on me. When I read her this post this morning and asked worriedly, “Is it too much?” she replied, “No, but it is of a type.”

  3. Cher Denis,
    Le modillon a trois faces de la façade Ouest de la prieurale de Sainte-Gemme date des années 1869-1870. C’est époque de la restauration de cette façade, fortement dégradée et soutenue par trois contreforts massifs.

    1. Andrei, Merci pour votre commentaire. Je me souviens quand vous avez écrit plus tôt à ce sujet et corrigé mon post sur les “Corbeaux curieux de Saint Gemme.” Sur un autre sujet, je suis un grand admirateur de votre travail sur Saint Gemme. Seriez-vous intéressé par un article, pour Via Lucis sur la modélisation de l’église que vous faites?

      1. Avec plaisir.
        Je vous enverrai un petit article sur les restitutions 3D du prieure de Sainte-Gemme dans 7-10 jous.
        à bientôt

  4. Sorry for your tangled thoughts. With patience you’ll unravel them. Meanwhile I want to tell you that the last image of telescoping arches is brilliant. I would buy it and put it on my wall, if I could.

    1. Trish, appreciate your kind words. Tangled thoughts are inevitable, I imagine. It is interesting that you like the Fontenay arches, which has always been one of my favorites.

  5. A darkness on the periphery…it’s your photos that tell the story!

    Your site is about architecture and I agree with P.J. that this post is definitely of a slightly different type, but what indeed were the fears, and hopes, and sense of the “unseen” that led people into these buildings?

  6. The garden is in mourning. Cool rain seeps into the flowers. Summertime shudders, quietly awaiting his end … (R. Strauss’ September) Yes, JPAubrey certainly knows how to select music for your “tangled thoughts”.

    1. Covetotop, John Paul is my youngest sibling, a professional horn player for many years. Sometimes I call him and tell him what I am feeling and he sends me music for consolation and reflection. When PJ and I got married, our selection was “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”. John Paul introduced that to us some time earlier.

      “I am dead to the world’s tumult,
      And I rest in a quiet realm!
      I live alone in my heaven,
      In my love and in my song!”

      1. Congratulations, then you have a great musical advisor! 🙂 Apart from Mahler’s Rückert Lieder (as you know, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” belongs to that awesome cycle of songs), Richard Strauss’ last four songs reflect perfectly the spirit of your post. I was referring to one of them –“September”- because the interpretation of Gundula Janowitz suggested by your brother John Paul (I followed the YouTube link that he included in his comment above) is simply superb. I am crazy about classical music (I blogged about it very recently) and cannot help commenting about classical music whenever I find an opportunity. Thank you, and thank to your brother.

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