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.

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.

“No Cars Go” by Arcade Fire and the human desire for some other “place”

In “No Cars Go” Win Butler & Arcade Fire express a desire for a place where “no cars go.” The song doesn’t say why such a place is desired. Maybe it is a self-evident truth for our time. What does seem evident is that the desire touches upon “spiritual” or “summum bonum” issues. In a few previous posts I have presented other thoughts related to the automobile and such issues based on some things the fiction writer Flannery O’Connor has written. Ralph Wood relates how O’Connor explored the issue through her character Hazel Motes:

(Hazel Motes’s) broken-down car serves as the single sacrament of his nihilistic religion, the true viaticum for escaping everything that would lay claim on him. O’Connor was an early discerner, together with Walker Percy, that the automobile, even more than the movies and television, is the great American Dream Machine. It fulfills our fantasies of individualist autonomy, enabling us to strike out for the proverbial territories whenever the limits of social existence press in upon us. As Motes’s only sacred space, the car serves as both pulpit and residence, enabling him to incarnate his message in a life of perpetual isolation and vagabondage. (Comment on the novel “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood, p. 169 )

essex

Hazel Motes preaching from his pulpit

Flannery O’Connor wrote of the car as the vehicle that seemingly enables self-justification for nihilistic consumerist escape from our modern materialistic world, but which falls short of the desired escape.

Fittingly, Arcade Fire sing of the car, along with other vehicles of transportation, as only capable of movement within this world of seeming nihilism. The world does not seem to contain any place beyond our limited modes of transportation and their nihilistic presence. Their reference to “spaceships” seems to expand the realm of possible nihilism, just as the Soviet cosmonauts in the sixties reported that they did not “find God” in outer space.

So it seems that Arcade Fire sings of a “place” beyond the normal realm. Are they speaking of “heaven?” They sing of knowing about this place.

“…where we know”.

Is this “spiritual” knowledge?

A place we know of in which no cars go! They seem to be bearers of good news! But, they don’t say how they know, or where exactly this place is?

“…don’t know where we’re going”

Interestingly, they don’t know where it is, but they seem to know when it is, or perhaps when it occurs. It occurs in the time

“….between the click of the light and the start of the dream”?

What does their “answer” mean? Is it merely the time of deep sleep, before dreaming, when there seems to be nothing? In the final analysis, are they still subject to nihilism?

Or is this space in time of waking, yet in the dark, when making love can seem to exclude all other reality? Bruce Cockburn sang of this space in time in his song “The Coldest Night of the Year.”

When two lovers really love there’s nothing there
But this suddenly compact universe
Skin and breath and hair

I don’t believe that “making love” or human relationships are a small thing, but are they the answer to nihilism? Many seem to live as such, as expressed in “A Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway:

You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got.”

So does Arcade Fire believe there is a real place that “No Cars Go?” It is hard to say anything definitive, based on this song alone. But can their longing for such a place mean anything in itself? Theologians like C.S. Lewis thought so, and developed an apologetical “argument from desire” for theism as opposed to nihilism.

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; book 3, chapter 10.)

Hemingway also wrote in “A Farewell to Arms” that “all thinking men are atheists.” But Pascal the religious thinker thought otherwise.

I conclude this song merely by noting that this early Arcade Fire song is a good one, and perhaps it is even somewhat Pascalian. Could the “click of the light” indicate the limitation of human reason, while the “start of the dream” indicates openness to the “reasons of the heart” that Pascal discovered? The more I think about the lyrics, with the call in the song to “little babies, women and children, old folks,” I am led to think that the interpretations explored above fall short of the sheer drive of the song toward an exodus type movement to another type of place. The use of “dream” may throw us off as indicating unreality, but even the Biblical prophets spoke of the coming of God’s new kingdom in relation to visions of young men and dreams of old men.

Joel 2:28-29
New International Version (NIV)
The Day of the Lord

28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(See Acts 2:16-18)

Perhaps “between the click of the light and the start of the dream” does not refer to the time in which this other place occurs, but to the revelational method by which one knows about the place, i.e. the Pascalian method of knowledge.

Below is a video someone put together for Bruce Cockburn’s song referenced above. By the way, Bruce Cockburn believes in the reasons of the heart and the movement of the Holy Spirit, and does not make relationships his religion.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging 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.

 

The Oscars and “Celluloid Heroes” – “God Save the Kinks!”

AwardOscar_thumb[9]

I heard this old classic by the Kinks the other day, so when I saw the special segment on the Oscar’s last night that honored all the famous persons affiliated with Hollywood this song naturally popped into my mind. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest rock songs ever.

celluloid heroes

I believe that the song beautifully deconstructs the romanticist hopes our culture places in what Robert Bellah called “expressive individualism,” by revealing the avoided but painfully obvious reality that the “Celluloid Heroes” that “never really die” are not real persons. But our cultural narrative of expressive individualism is strong, making our nihilistic faith almost necessary. Thus we buy into the hope that we can transcend death through such achievements. Our cultural narrative is quite persuasive, supported by a propagandizing consumerism wherein “Image is everything” and  “Nike”  rule. This ensures that our religious allegiance is almost a foregone conclusion. Continue reading

“Born in Captivity” by T Bone Burnett (with Victor Lebow and Abraham Heschel)


burnett

This post presents an old song by “The Alpha Band,” of which T Bone Burnett was a member. The song is basically about the fact that Americans, especially since the time of the baby-boomer generation which the Alpha band was part of, are born as captives. Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor’s “Hazel Motes” and nihilistic materialistic “justification” through the “American Dream Machine”

wise-blood-brad-dourif

“Nobody with a good car needs to be justified!” (Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes)

Hazel Motes is the main character of Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, “Wise Blood,” from 1952.  Leon C. Wood, in his book on Flannery O’Connor says the following about the significance of Hazel’s car in his “religion”:

This broken-down car serves as the single sacrament of his nihilistic religion, the true viaticum for escaping everything that would lay claim on him. O’Connor was an early discerner, together with Walker Percy, that the automobile, even more than the movies and television, is the great American Dream Machine. It fulfills our fantasies of individualist autonomy, enabling us to strike out for the proverbial territories whenever the limits of social existence press in upon us. As Motes’s only sacred space, the car serves as both pulpit and residence, enabling him to incarnate his message in a life of perpetual isolation and vagabondage. (Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, p. 169)

flannerycomautotetrato

Flannery O’Connor

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013