“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.

 

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“Way To Blue” by Nick Drake – on the longing for a way

In a previous post on Nick Drake’s song “Tow the Line” I touched on the question of what may have been some of the deeper longings expressed in that song. “Way to Blue” is perhaps even more explicit regarding his longings for a “way.” Continue reading

“Godric” by Frederick Buechner – The advice Godric received from Tom Ball

godric3

“This life of ours is like a street that passes many doors,” Ball said, “nor think you all doors I mean are wood. Every day’s a door and every night. When a man throws wide his arms to you in friendship, it’s a door he opens same as when a woman opens hers in wantonness. The street forks out, and there’s two doors to choose between. The meadow that tempts you rest your bones and dream a while. The rackribbed child that begs for scraps the dogs have left. The sea that calls a man to travel far. They all are doors, some God’s and some the Fiend’s. So choose with care which one’s you take, my son, and one day – who can say – you’ll reach the holy door itself.”

Godric, p. 24

I find these medieval views of life to be quite refreshing in their “black and white” morality versus the “grey areas” relativism of our postmodern age, and in their sheer meaningfulness. Have we postmoderns relativized our lives into practical meaninglessness? And are we requiring our children to make bricks with their lives without giving them any straw to make them with?

220px-Figures_The_Israelites'_Cruel_Bondage_in_Egypt

A depiction of the Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt, during which they were forced to make bricks without straw.

Comments, questions, critiques, likes, are always welcome.

Thank you!

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

“So Beautiful or So What” by Paul Simon – On Dr. Martin Luther King and other “figures in the distance”

paulsimon_sbosw

Paul Simon’s song, “So Beautiful or So What,” from his latest release is a great song for many reasons, and I will allow the song itself to mainly support my statement. I decided to post this song since today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and since the reference to that tragic event in this song is quite intriguing. I think the song’s meaning (or purpose?) is summarized in the short question that is the chorus:

“So Beautiful, So beautiful, So what” Continue reading

The ironies of life – “Strong Hand of Love” – by Mark Heard via Bruce Cockburn

strong hand

Here is one of the most simple and beautiful songs about life I have ever heard, written by the late Mark Heard and sung here by Bruce Cockburn on a tribute project to Mark following his passing. The overall theme of the song seems to be about the ironies of life. Continue reading

“If life’s for livin’ what’s livin’ for…” – A simple question from the Kinks

muswell hillbillies

“If life’s for livin’ what’s livin’ for…”

A simple question, or is it?

Do they know the answer in Oklahoma, USA?

“All life we work but work is a bore,

   if life’s for livin’ what’s livin’ for?”

A beautiful song by the Kinks, that begs for an answer!

Comments, questions?

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013