I’ve been posting lately about a possible psychological intervention focusing on sorrow. As usual, I find it easier to say what this thing is not. Is isn’t therapy for depression where the goal is to treat a disorder. It isn’t grief counseling where the goal is to work through a specific loss. It’s more a personal exploration of the ways in which sorrow lays a shadow across everything: self, relationships, world. What would be the point of undertaking this personal exploration? I think it has something to do with achieving innocence.
Sam and I have been talking about this a bit on the Man of Sorrows post with reference to literature. He points out that in Great Expectations Pip retains his innocence into adulthood, not becoming embittered through grievous disappointment like Miss Havisham. The world is hard and cold but, as Estella discovers, becoming conformed to the world doesn’t really protect you from it. Pip holds great expectations for his life, but when these expectations aren’t met he remains open to the possibility of surprise. He even maintains an open-heartedness toward those who have hurt him the most.
The delirious discussions at Cultural Parody Center return again and again to David Lynch’s Inland Empire. I’ve seen this movie twice, posted a couple times on it, have reflected on it a bit. But now I’m thinking about it in the context of sorrow and loss. I’m seeing it as a kind of surrealist variant on the Stations of the Cross, imbued with variations on the Lacanian theme of loss. I realize that the film is not cathartic; that the sorrow is never even fully experienced, let alone resolved; that perhaps this is Jesus’s Via Dolorosa transfigured into a woman half-born trapped in a labyrinth. Maybe these ideas too will remain half-born, but thinking about the film in terms of sorrow opens up new horizons for my experiencing of the movie.
The European churches present a wide variety of interpretations of the Stations of the Cross, some that predate the convergence on fourteen prescribed scenes. But the literal renderings don’t exhaust the possibilities. There’s a starkly magnificent installation by modernist Barnett Newman at the National Gallery in Washington: huge unprepared canvases painted stark white, each one distinctively “slashed” in black top to bottom. Newman was Jewish, and his lifelong output of works was quite meager: I don’t know what motivated him to create, over a period of several years, this series of paintings. Maybe he rendered the Christian tragedy in modernist idiom, or commemorated some deeply personal sorrow, or expressed abstractly the universal experience of suffering.
If I were to delve into sorrow as a psychological intervention, I believe that a fabric of sorrow would weave itself together, suspending the world in delicate threads strong as death, strong as life. I would become a vector of sorrow traversing that suspended world. Every action would be transformed into a pilgrimage; every gesture would reveal sorrow. Something reminiscent of innocence would begin to penetrate the world. It would be a different sort of innocence, one that doesn’t regret or deny experience but that goes through it to the other side of experience, until it enters into the beginning of something like wisdom.