Monday, February 18, 2013
MacKenzie, Time Fuidity and the Underpinnings of the Mythic Self
Under the pen of this sublime writer, time becomes a fluid stream of consciousness; we travel along its tributaries accompanying Rod on his journey of discovery, traversing the landscape of self - mind as unfettered as his body was confined. The seamless narrative weave depicts a back and forth, past events that loom larger then fade, to be followed by another, all intertwined with vibrant dreamscapes that serve to place the reader within the darkly fetid confines of cell - the mind unleashed and unheeded, overrun by recollections, remembrances, disjointed and untethered from flesh and bone; all transcending time and place in a restless quest for meaning, for the urgent need to define self when confronted with the dark horror of nothingness.
The powerfully lucid narrative propels the reader to the South African coast, to the divisions of apartheid and the experience of a small boy growing to maturity. The childhood episodes are recounted with a clarity of precision - almost as if we are seeing them through the crisply brilliant kaleidoscope of dreams that possesses the imprisoned man....he is an adolescent, then a child, remembering his fervent devotion to his first tricycle that incurs his stepfather's wrath....the raising of chickens, pigs, gruesome axe-death of a cow, the stiff obedience of Villiersdorp school and the horrific cliff-hurtling accident that killed a schoolmate...his memories are recounted in matter-of-fact narrative that is utterly engaging.
Not only does MacKenzie deftly intertwine memory, dream and the darkness of confinement, but he also scrutinizes the essential attribute of humanity; the distillation of the soul laid bare in the crucible of appalling physical and mental suffering. This literary work pulls apart religious and cultural suppositions, examining ritual through the independently curious perspective of a self-proclaimed outsider - whose young life has been spent on the peripheries, but who possesses penetrating insights into his own uncertain family life, as well as religious and political conventions...ultimately it is Roderick's resilient courage in asserting and maintaining his independence that decide his prison fate. Unwilling to submit, defiant in the face of military intractability, Rod endures the unendurable: 118 days of dark ravenous solitude; where one reverts to the most primal of states, visceral, raw, traveling through the emotional gamut of an almost blissful resignation to death to the clawing despair of crumbling fortitude; constantly plagued by the ever-present fear that as the body loses flesh the mind is similarly becoming altogether unhinged. Prior to his incarceration the young man was broadly (and rightly so!) derisive of the religious hypocrisy of obfuscating materialism that distances one from the divine, and, ironically, it is only when he is so confined, so restrained, so weakened by neglect and abuse, that he makes the most epic odyssey of all: the night journey into the very depths of himself where, confronted by the abyss, he embraces the inner divine and reconciles the warring polarities that define the human struggle.
A deeply philosophical work, Night Journey chronicles the disintegration of the external self, examining the roots and nature of the inner man when all extraneous trappings have been stripped away. While the body is chained and weakened, the mind soars, and given flight expands through the blackness like the birth of a star; a consciousness far-flung across the reaches of the universe, musing on the the mythic underpinnings of self, the archetypes and dream-states that define us not only as individuals but the broader connections that unite us as meaning-seekers. The imprisoned man is broken down to nothingness and in the process discovers the essential attributes of self, the visceral fragments of soul that are buried, layered over and hidden beneath, slumbering and dark. MacKenzie renders them translucent, as he recounts the horrendous grappling with darktime hours, with the pervasive memories of youth, of poignant love and loss and yearning - of unbearable loneliness and hunger - and the intervening segments of dream sequences where fears and desires are given evocative form.
These symbols and motifs (so eloquently presented in MacKenzie's dreams) are representative of Jungian archetypes, those that connect us to our deeper selves. I ponder the manner in which one enables access to this inner divine, and am also reminded of Viktor Frankl's work Man's Search for Meaning where in the desperate deprivation of a concentration camp he formulates a stripped-down strategy for finding value in the ability to choose, to hope, an inner strength and fortitude that resides within even the most extreme of suffering; perhaps it is when one is stripped down to fundamental things, to skin and bones, to hunger and fear of the cornered animal kind; perhaps this is when we penetrate ourselves so deeply, when the glittering trappings of materialism, consumerism, rationalism and other cultural facades are removed; perhaps we find true inner bliss when only the dark shadows of soul remain, and to know it, to embrace it, that, perhaps, is the brilliant gift that accompanies such grievous suffering.
MacKenzie's narrative is simply beautiful. One feels a poignant affection for the boyish scrawny young man as he comes of age, deeply impressed by his unmitigated courage and determined resilience, his unfailing curiosity and deeply intrinsic awe for the beauty of the natural world. I did not read this novel as much as I devoured it, and in those intervening moments between reading-times, it lingered in my mind - having cast it's gossamer tendrils into speculative thought, the poignant journey into the darkest depths is one that finds echo in our own perpetual quest for self.