The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

anxiety

 

It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

U2’s “The Lights of Home” – How U2 and You Too Can Pray

Thou didst hide thy face,

I was dismayed

To thee, O Lord, I cried;

and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death,

if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise thee?

Will it tell of thy faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me!

O Lord, be thou my helper!”

Psalm 30:7b-10

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with god. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly be;songs to the conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God. Thus these psalms make the important connection: everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.” (Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 1984, p. 52)

I shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead
I can see the lights in front of me
I believe my best days are ahead
I can see the lights in front of me
Oh Jesus if I’m still your friend
What the hell
What the hell you got for me
I gotta get out from under my bed
I can see again the lights in front of me
Hey I’ve been waiting to get home a long time
Hey now, do you know my name
Hey now, where I’m going
If I can’t get an answer
In your eyes I see it
The lights of home
The lights of home

“40” is from U2’s 1983 Album “War.” Thirty-five years later they are still praying. I hope that you too, are brought to speech.

Thanks for reading, listening,

Comments, questions, always welcome!

 

Is There Any Solution in Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now?”

Many professional record critics have complained about “Everything Now” on the basis that the album is all “problem” with no “solution.” I think that is because the “problem” is fairly obvious not only throughout the songs, but also in our lives. And more pointedly, perhaps the songs hit too close to where we all live, and in lieu of any obvious of solution (that is the supposed accusation) we are left with an album that exists mainly for our listening depression.

But do they not offer any solution? My critique of the critics is that they have completely missed it and that is why they think the album is only about our big problem of “Everything Now.” (And I would agree that nobody only wants to hear about our big problem.)

So what is the solution? Well first let me make a point. What do you think could be the solution to our entire society’s problem? See, most of us don’t have an answer and therefore we don’t even know what to look for and can’t see it when it is offered. In other words, we miss the solution because we don’t even know what it looks like.

I believe their solution is in the transition in their narrative from songs about the problems of consumerism of everything, including our wanting even God to be another commodity (“God in heaven, could you please me?“) to songs about relationship. Peter Pan, Chemistry, Put Your Money on Me, We Don’t Deserve Love are all relational. But a relationship with who?

Well, for the sake of keeping this fairly short I’ll just mention several key points of who I think this mystery person might be. In “Chemistry” we learn that we haven’t yet “met” them. In “Put Your Money On Me” we learn that their “race for our heart” began “before we were born” and that they win that race for it when they “wake” following their death. Also their “mother” was “crying on the day of our wedding” alluding to the sorrow of Mary the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion of her son Jesus, which event was also the sealing through the blood of the New Covenant of Jesus/God with his people. In “We Don’t Deserve Love” we learn that we are like a biblical “Mary” Magdalene who has been repeatedly left by her previous lovers, the “Christ types” that always “leave you alone.” But the singer pleads with “Mary” (us) to “roll away the stone” behind which is not the imposter “Christ types” but I think the real Christ.

Now if anyone has any other ideas of some other person that can do fit in all of these descriptions, I’d love to hear it. I also realize that the biblical illiteracy in our culture is nearly complete, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most of these allusions go completely over the heads of the professional critics and masses of fans of Arcade Fire.
So this answer to the problem of “Everything Now” – that relationship to God is the solution, certainly raises many other questions – mainly “how can a relationship with God save me from “Everything Now?”

Well that question is more than I can tackle at this point, but listening to the entire album more with this “solution” in mind might help. For now I’m contented to post this excerpt from the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann:

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; You hold my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)
This is no casual hand-holding. This is a life-or-death grip that does not let go. “No-Sabbath” existence imagines getting through on our own, surrounded by commodities to accumulate and before which to bow down. But a commodity cannot hold one’s hand. Only late does the psalmist come to know otherwise. Only late may we also come to know. We may know, but likely not without Sabbath, a rest rooted in God’s own restfulness and extended to our neighbors who also must rest. We, with our hurts, fears, and exhaustion, are left restless until then.” (From “Sabbath as Resistance – Saying No to the Culture of Now.”)

Comments, questions, outrage, are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – Track 1: “Everything_Now (Continued)” The Prologue: “I’m in the black again”

The first track on “Everything Now” is a concise prologue that provides the main context for the album which is a sort of travelogue of the human condition. The track’s lyrics are as follows:

“Everything_Now (Continued)”

I’m in the black again
Can’t make it back again
We can just pretend
We’ll make it home again
From everything now

The first track is the first 40 seconds or so of this video:

“I’m in the black again” provides a double meaning. The literal sense is from the accounting term “in the black” and means that one is “profitably in business.”  The investments and expenditures that first put one “in the red” of debt, have “paid off” and the profits/benefits are being received. The metaphorical sense of “in the black” here is that of being in depression and darkness. Immediately we are thrust into a world of juxtaposition and contrast, a dualistic “place” of light & dark, good & evil, reality & appearance. Things may not be what they seem to be. More generally, it introduces the fact that our lives consist in sorts of “contracts” or “covenants” that we have committed ourselves to, as a theme of the album.

“Can’t make it back again” introduces the experiential realities of a struggle: failure, discouragement, futility, despair, hopelessness, in short… lostness. It plays off the usual positive meaning of “in the black” with a dramatic and dark counterpoint. Again, generally speaking it introduces the theme of “struggle.”

“We can just pretend” introduces the possibilities of living in a false realities, created by self-deception for the sake of providing a way to cope with the place we find ourselves. This introduces the theme of false reality.

“We’ll make it home again” introduces the place we are lost from, the place we long for, the place called “home.” This introduces the theme of pilgrimage – the return journey to home that makes the sojourner a “stranger and pilgrim” in the land being traveled through. It also thus introduces the theme of home and associated deeper traditional associations thereof such as “paradise lost” or Eden; or more personally the finding of one’s “true self.”

“From everything now” introduces the place we now live, the place we wish to be freed from. We might call it the place of bondage, servitude, captivity. It is interesting that this first track pictures “everything now” as a place, when it is more precisely a temporal rather than a spatial image. But by making it a spatial designation they have been able to deconstruct “everything now” from being a positive experience of “nowness” – and showing (I think) that it is in reality a pretending, a diversion from what might be called original  or possibly intended reality. In other words, “everything now” is a social construct of humans that we have created as an alternative to “home.” In biblical imagery this is the “Egypt” in which the Israelites were enslaved by Pharaoh, the Babylon that captured Israel. Original or intended reality is what God intended, or what we are “meant for” however we might understand it.

But something we could easily miss in all this analysis is that this place in which we find ourselves is what we have willingly purchased. This is why the double meaning of “in the black” is so important. We lament the darkness of “everything now” even though it is what we have “put our money on.” And we can’t seem to free ourselves from our chosen bondage. The scariest thought is that pretending we can “make it home again” might prove to be one of two possibilities:

  • There actually is no home anyway – “everything now” is everything
  • We are hypocrites only fooling ourselves- we don’t actually want home anyway

So Arcade Fire’s prologue track introduces these themes, and thus also many questions about ourselves and the nature of reality. Many people might say that this album is “simply about consumerism.” In a sense I agree, but the real question is “what is consumerism? I think that in this album it is but the symptom of the much deeper seated dis-ease we call “the human condition.” So perhaps the main questions could be summarized by these two:

  • Is there anything other than “everything now?”
  • Do “sell outs” like us really want anything other than “everything now?”

I think that these are perhaps two of the main questions that “Everything Now” deals with. The first one is about objective reality “outside” us, and the second the subjective reality “within” us. I find it amazing that with these five short lines Arcade Fire can not merely present a context for their philosophizing, but can actually present to us our own inner narrative – the one where if we sometimes seem to have arrived we then ask ourselves “have we?” – or where we may just always invariably arrive back “in the black” of depression.

An explanatory note on my “method” of interpretation. I realize that it may seem that I am coloring or nuancing the themes I see toward a certain narrative. The reason I am doing this is because of more explicit factors that are “revealed” as the album continues. So I am interpreting from the standpoint of having a view already of the entire album and the “narrative” that develops therein. This could make it seem that I am “begging the question” or “reading into” the songs already discussed. Perhaps I could have written the posts using a different methodology, but I think that require a much more difficult method of engaging in either a sort of “higher criticism” of AF’s songwriting process or merely being required to leave so much ambiguity that it would be difficult to say much regarding what I think they are saying. I’d have to continually qualify the narrative by saying things like “at this point I think they are saying this… but they could be saying that… ” etc.

As always, questions, comments, etc.

Thanks for reading.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Note: the featured image for this post is from here.

On Understanding Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'Connor

Illustration by Ande Cook

“Sometimes Flannery O ’Connor turns readers away bewildered by her violence and seemingly hostile attitude toward life. Perhaps in her writing she is like the peacock who does not present its glory when the observer wants it, nor, even when it spreads its tail, immediately displays the “best” side. What the viewer has to accept first is the peacock’s rear:

When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing, haloed suns. (Flannery O’Connor: Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), pp. 9-10).

To seek out and demand the beautiful directly (or the happy or the edifying) does not bring results from Flannery O ’Connor either. Like the peacock she continues to present her awkward characters in their funda­mental weakness and need of salvation.” (Entire excerpt is from Flannery O’Connor and the Peacock by David R. Mayer)

Explanatory “footnote” from Manifest Propensity: This post aims to merely present a few hints for understanding Flannery O’Connor, for those interested, through the beautiful artwork of Ande Cook and the excerpt from an essay by David R. Mayer. An understanding of her life and mysterious writings are well worth pursuing and these two sources I’ve shared in this post seem to quite ably set one on the right course for that pursuit.

BMC @ Manifest propensity, 2016.

Questions & comments are always welcomed. Thanks for reading. (Now go read Flannery!)

 

“Tiny Vessels” – adrift in the nihilism of the sexual revolution (Death Cab for Cutie)

This is the only album by Death Cab for Cutie that I have, but it is a great one. This is also not one of the saddest, but one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. The mass of meaninglessness depicted: in the song; in the breakdown; in the “revolution.” I can’t believe intelligent people choose to live like this. Then again I can – knowing my own solidarity with the human species. But it’s time for the counter-revolution of the new man.

Lyrics:
This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don’t.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.

I spent two weeks in Silver lake
The California sun cascading down my face
There was a girl with light brown streaks,
And she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.

I wanted to believe in all the words that I was speaking,
As we moved together in the dark
And all the friends that I was telling
All the playful misspellings
and every bite I gave you left a mark

Tiny vessels oozed into your neck
And formed the bruises
That you said you didn’t want to fade
But they did, and so did I that day

All I see are dark Grey clouds
In the distance moving closer with every hour
So when you ask “Is something wrong?”
I think “You’re damn right there is but we can’t talk about it now.
No, we can’t talk about it now.”

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
and you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me
yeah you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me (x2)
Music
“Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3 • eMusic)
Artist
Death Cab for Cutie
Category
Music
License
Standard YouTube License

U2’s “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and the Deep Crisis in the Church

Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

When I first heard this song I was humbled inasmuch as I have been an uncaring and unsympathetic Christian. Of course that lack is also a basic human shortcoming, but it is especially tragic when the Church is meant to shine hope before all the world as it lives within the greatest things of “faith, hope, and love.”

There has been much decline in the churches of all stripes, for many different reasons, but what U2 has said about hope being “where the door is” explains perhaps the most important reason. Certainly the churches have portrayed hope, but when we also know that there is much truth and many lives effected by failures to portray hope, we are called not to re-assuring ourselves or congratulating on ourselves wherein we have been faithful. Instead we are always called to look at our communities, our neighbors, and yes, our enemies and consider whether they see hope.

I think that the difficulty the churches face today, namely to be witnesses to the particular hope that is specifically Christian, is because of past instances where we have acted in specifically unchristian ways. So there is some “payback” going on, some of which may be motivated by similar uncharitableness, but some of which is also the reaction of those that have been hurt. So we actually ought to assume that even in this, Christ is trying to tell something to the churches that show him to the world.

It should be obvious, when we look at Jesus in the Gospel accounts, that he always “felt someone else’s pain” and in the end went to the cross to die for the sake of their pain.

Would you care to discuss this? I am hoping to do so here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/permalink/446259668864995/

Thanks, BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015