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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Jeweler's Shop, Part III - The Jeweler Himself

In a previous post, I spoke of the possibility of characters "who come close to this Christ-like status by identifying with the context of the play and being the condition that makes the play possible", and in this post I shall explore one such figure, the Jeweler of John Paul II's The Jeweler's Shop, exploring his demiurgic resemblance to Christ but also the manner in which he, as a character in a play, cannot be fully Christ-like and thereby raise the theatre up to a supernatural "religion of transcendence".

The Jeweler is a bit of an enigmatic figure. He is not God, exactly; on the surface meaning of the text (from which all deeper levels are uncovered), he is simply an old man with a philosophical bent. I wish to propose that the best description of him is perhaps the revelation or intimation within the created realm of the apophatic and transcendent meaning of our existence. In his soliloquy on “the proper weight of man”, he hints at man’s transcendent origin without actually telling it to us outright or even seemingly being capable of telling us. The best parallel in other literature is the unstated but implicit sense of God’s presence - what C. S. Lewis experienced as holiness, and what I experienced more as a sense of transcendent meaning - in George Macdonald’s Phantastes. More tangible but less adequate parallels include the Master in Novalis’ The Apprentices at Sais, who in guiding his students along the path to wisdom reveals himself to be the ultimate mystery. Another is Chesterton’s Sunday in The Man Who Was Thursday, a seemingly diabolical figure who turns out to be Nature, the mask - or back-side - of God; yet again we see the quasi-divine yet quite finite mysterious bride in C. S. Lewis’ Dymer, and the archetypal sacerdotal figure of Prester John in Charles Williams’ War in Heaven. The Jeweler is a bit like all of these - a spokesman for God, divine in a sense but without actually being God per se.

Not being God in an exact sense, the Jeweler does not reveal to us the mysteries of God’s Providence; and yet through his soliloquy the mystery is made perfectly clear, leaving nothing to be asked. A mystery when seen does not leave any questions to be asked; it is seen in a simple insight, and even amidst this insight remains totally incomprehensible. Thus the saints in Heaven will have no questions to ask about the essence of God; they will see Him, face to face. The situation is probably analogous to the Zen experience of satori, though involving divine and lofty mysteries rather than simple natural (and quite often banal) ones. The ultimate answer to the mystery of man’s existence is not a statement; it is rather an act of humility and awe.

“The weight of these golden rings,”
he said, “is not the weight of metal,
but the proper weight of man,
each of you separately
and both together.
Ah, man’s own weight,
the proper weight of man!
Can it be at once heavier,
and more intangible?
It is the weight of constant gravity,
riveted to a short flight.
The flight has the shape of a spiral, an ellipse - and the
shape of the heart…
Ah, the proper weight of man!
This rift, this tangle, this ultimate depth -
this clinging, when it is so hard
to unstuck heart and thought.
And in all this - freedom,
a freedom, and sometimes frenzy,
the frenzy of freedom trapped in this tangle.
And in all this - love,
which springs from freedom,
as water springs from an oblique rift in the earth.
This is man! He is not transparent,
not monumental,
not simple,
in fact he is poor.
This is one man - and what about two people,
four, a hundred, a million -
multiply all this
(multiply all the greatness by the weakness),
and you have the product of humanity,
the product of human life.”

The Jeweler does not tell us anything outright, because it is He who is the questioner, not us; the Jeweler is the Hound of Heaven. Nor does He question us with words; He questions us with his eyes, the icons of the soul. “At one point,” Andrew says, “my eyes once more met the gaze of the old jeweler. I felt just then that His gaze was not only sounding in our hearts, but also trying to impart something to us. We found ourselves not only on the level of His gaze, but also on the level of His life. Our whole existence stood before Him. His eyes were flashing signals which we were not able to receive fully just then, as once we had been unable to receive fully the signals in the mountains - and yet, they reached to our inner hearts. And somehow we went in their direction, and they covered the fabric of our whole lives.”

In the next post, I shall show how this scene reveals the nature of Wojtyla's play - uncovering its hidden Brechtian narrative - as an eschatological romance.

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