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Soul Reflection

December 20, 2008

In March of 2007 artist Cosimo Cavallaro displayed a sculpture titled “My Sweet Lord” at a gallery within the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan.  The Roman Catholic Church immediately protested and marked the piece offensive.  The sculpted Jesus was made of chocolate and entirely nude.


Was this the proper display of the artist’s perspective?  Can we even ask the question, or rather, question the appropriateness of how one seeks to express their self?  What about the self, one’s soul?  If the goal of rhetoric is to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action” does the nature of the soul matter? 


It is possible to strictly reveal the true condition of the soul fitting one’s speech and acts appropriately to it.  The weight of truth would fall upon the act of revealing rather than upon the soul.  The question becomes not what the soul is and ought to be, but how well one is able to disclose the present state and condition of the soul.


The importance of relation is displaced by removing purpose.  It matters not what relation the soul holds with truth because truth becomes relativized by its association only with what a thing is without any reference to how it relates to the good or ill of other things.  By removing the question of relation the moral nature of the soul is lost. 


In act three of Hamlet particular attention is given to discerning the true nature of the soul.  Hamlet seeks to disclose his mother’s soul by questioning the particular act she has engaged. 


                You go not till I set you up a glass

                Where you may see the inmost part of you.


The queen is uncertain as to what act Hamlet is speaking of and so Hamlet proceeds to unveil the marriage union that she embraced with her husband’s traitorous and murderous brother. 


At this point Hamlet questions his mother’s sight.  “What devil was’t / That thus hath cozened you at hoodman-blind? / Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight, . . . O shame, where is thy blush?”  How is it, Hamlet asks, that you have so veiled your soul that you show no visible form of guilt?  What is ailing Hamlet is the complete disconnect of his mother’s action from her soul, her form from her content. 


Hamlet is laying forth the absurdities that come in the separation of art from matter, and here we encounter the question of truth’s relation to the good.  Form cannot be emancipated from content any more than truth can be liberated from the good.  The cause behind bad art is corrupted matter.  The guilty soul can only be clothed with dirty rags.    


                O Hamlet, speak no more,

                Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul,

                And there I see such black and grained spots

                As will not leave their tinct.


If there ought to be a correlation between the nature of the soul and its physical form embodied in one’s acts, then what moral compass can be placed upon the authentic expressions of the soul?  Does the expression alone suffice for what we may consider as true and right, and there find our rest?


Modern convention pushes for contentment in what a thing is in itself apart from any exterior relations to the past or the future.  The past is far too restrictive and the future too narrow.  Today’s culture also seeks to give explanation for, or rather explain away, those things that are “out of joint” in order to grant justification for them. 


We have no need to look beyond the present state of things, for it should be nothing other than what it is.  We have no moral compass because the compass points somewhere and we have been taught that pointing is not nice.  For a culture that is prematurely instituting rest there is nowhere for us to go.  Any direction suits our actions because direction is no longer a relevant category for action.  So we attempt to celebrate what is, and are too easily content with the world we now inhabit.


It is not enough to set our sights only upon the present, and by this I mean to find satisfaction with the current state and condition of our souls.  Expression alone is incomplete, for Hamlet reveals that the corrupted soul can take on a disguise veiling truth with masked goodness.  The restoration of true goodness comes when we accept the relations of the soul to the things that lay outside of it.  Virtue does not rest within one’s self only.  To truly witness virtue one must consider and take into account the relation of things.  As Wendell Berry notes, “All things are connected; the context of everything is everything else” (The Way of Ignorance). 


                Hamlet:  It is not madness

                That I have uttered; bring me to the test

And I the matter will re-word, which madness

Would gambol from.  Mother, for love of grace,

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,

That not your trespass but my madness speaks,

It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,

Whiles rank corruption mining all within,

Infects unseen.  Confess yourself to heaven,

Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come,

And do not spread the compost on the weeds

To make them ranker. . . .


Queen:  O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.


Hamlet: O throw away the worser part of it,

And live the purer with the other half.


The disclosed soul is directed toward the good when the reflection of Hamlet’s mirror is perceived.  This requires a perception beyond the outer veil into the very heart of the soul.  Perhaps the short-sightedness of our day is really a form of blindness, a shallow perception that is incapable of piercing into the soul.  To draw the soul into focus we must begin looking at what has lain behind and what lies before it.  Such sight comes with inherent pain because it requires more light.  It requires self sacrifice because it recognizes that the soul stands in relation to things outside of itself.  The relation of truth to goodness matters. 






From → Literature

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