Shadows Within Shadows
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The Jews of old created a canon of imagery to explain the defeat of their ancient kingdom and to expiate their guilt, as righteous warriors, before Jehovah. Vanquished, they yet overcame by re-inventing a tale learned in Zoroastrian Persia: There is an universal struggle between good and evil which ends rapturously in the triumph of the Just. The Jewish twist to the tale holds that they, the chosen of God, because of their rejection of other nations' uncleaness and immorality, will one day be lifted up, in the flesh, by their Messiah, over their enemies, in apocalyptic ecstasy, into a new redeemed Kingdom. Devised by the male ego, the story demonstrates the human inability to absorb the idea of the absolute, unmediated existence of God, comprising both good and evil, clean and unclean, light and dark. This was the heresy of Manes and his heirs and of the Gnostics and theirs.
Re-invented many times throughout Judeo-Christian time, from John of Patmos to Joachim of Fiore, despite all scientific discovery and dither, the story persists and is used as the basis for apocalypticist historical analysis. It is actually an extended metaphor for racial/cultural dominance.
In America, the tale of the about-to-be-vaporized-and-raptured-into-the-sky Just was popularized by William Miller, who preached and converted thousands to the expectation that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in 1843. Though he twice had to push his date forward, and finally gave up and died in 1849, his apocalypticism and millenarianism gave rise to a variety of sects of American Adventists.
David Koresh, a Millerite, interjected the story into our lives at Waco. Another Millerite preacher, John Hagee in San Antonio, Texas, a relentless gay-baiter, has two million followers today.
"In case of rapture" one Manichaean-Millerite bumper-sticker, reads, "This vehicle will be unmanned!" Why?
A new Ice Age. Global Warming, apocalyptic Earth changes, the end of the world, Doomsday, Nuclear Holocaust, The Holocaust, Eco-genocide, cataclysmic weather and war, judicial and police murder, race-based attack and reprisal, the sheer fascist brutality of the current American scene of sex and gender contradiction and reaction. Rather than take responsibility for these problems and trying to help with their solution through good will and love of neighbor, as Jesus suggested, the Manichaean-Millerites take the easy way out, planning to be assumed into heaven just when the proverbial shit hits the fan, blaming other people for the problems and totally denying any seeds of these problems in themselves.
Shadows within shadows.
Ironically, Miller, Koresh, Hagee and their anticipatory-of--and-impatient-for--redemption flock, along with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Company, are in danger of self-anathematization. For they do not realize that all hatred is heresy to the tradition of God as Love, and that their preaching and practice against homosexuals is a heresy within a heresy.
Manichaeans, as well as the Orthodoxies, typify homosexuals as harbingers of the end time. But the end time is ahistorical and randomly organized, and everyone is confused in our day about metaphor. In a way, they are right. Homosexual love is the Apocalypse, itself, because it is metaphor as form, just as heterosexual love finally is with the liberation of women. For in same-sex love, always and absolutely, there is no issue but Love. Understood and practiced rightly, this is the poetry of the transformation of the self, through transmutation by Love.
To avoid projecting his own shadows onto the world and having to live in them, a spiritually clever gay man, resolves himself, morally, spiritually, against all oppression of Love, even and especially, his own tendency to oppress It. He pledges his trust with God against all doctrines of evil and hatred, maintained in the name of the natural order. He acts then as best as one man can in that light.
But civil morality is an historical form of the male relationship to the other. It is a sexual and sexualized idiom. Love, as Plato knew, is the root of philosophy and of the state. The individual soul, conscioussness and love are male concepts, at the root, re-conceived, here, beyond mere phallic prowess, priority and prevalence, as sublime gifts to all of humanity by our sex. The affirmation of the existence of this historical, a priori concept of Love is the ultimate resource for homosexuals, in our struggle for full participation in the world's democracies. This affirmation is also the primary inheritance for all from Greece and Judea. This is the positive view.
Denial Even in Auschwitz
The forms of apocalyptic shadow-making are consistent from Babylon to Patmos to Waco, by way of the concentration camp. Italian philosopher/writer and Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi, as modern and enlightened as he was, created a figure of blame in his autobiographical essay The Drowned And The Saved. This is the character of "the Musselman," as the most doomed of the prisoners were called, the ones about to be executed. Levi presents such a Musselman as a category of pure evil, which tortures the just man in memory beyond even his Nazi captors. Levi blames the Nazis for his "promiscuity" in Auschwitz, but he doesn't--he can't--describe that promiscuity. His remark is quick and singular, but it acknowledges that he had sex in the deathcamps.
I say that his experience was homosexual. Otherwise he, as a straight man, would have called it love and refuge rather than the ultimate humiliation. Classic shadow-making.
The execration he visits upon the agent of his sexual pleasure in his captivity is a moral error, a projection of his own guilt. Levi was overwhelmed and acquiescent to the error because his homosexual experience was for him an abomination. Levi does not acknowledge the person or persons who serviced him in the camp as human. That specific, that queer person becomes for Levi an imp of the demon German, his projection a specific error, general to the ethos of the Just.
Just a shadow within a shadow was that Musselman, that one who gave Levi tenderness, that one of all of the stigmatized, typified and scourged human beings, upon whom the void waits presently. All expendable, oppressed people, from "wog" to "nigger" to "faggot" are assigned this place by both the Just and the Acquiescent.
Primo Levi can confess his "sin" only as a consequence of the actions of the Nazis. But we are at all times and ultimately responsible for what we do for Love. That luminous duty is the only representation of immortality, the only God, allowed us. And sins against Love in the shadows are no less sins against God and humanity than those committed in the common light.
"My enemies will be dust. My friends will be dust. I will be dust," says the Dalai Lama, in the Martin Scorcese movie Kundun. The Tibetan attitude contains the exact correction to the apocalypticism of the West, whether figural as in the Bible or literal as at Auschwitz: our common fate, our common origin, our common destination is the dust of the Earth. This prayer is "right thinking" itself.
And who was Primo Levi's Musselman, if not whom Jesus called "the-least-of-these"?
Playing to the Shadow
Gay people come uniquely to the world. Our political consciousness is born out of the knowledge of what can still happen to us: the flames of the auto da fe, the filth of the stoning pillory, the dungeons and the living graves of the mutilated and violated made modish again. All of our mutilated and violated are present at every gay murder. They are also with us at the heart.
Emerging from our enforced positions of ethnic, economic and political anonymity, it is easy, once on the public stage, to assume forms of vengeance in the wake of our experiences in the world: vampires, succubi, ghouls, copraphiliac demons of the first and second chakras, those infernal, internal realms fantasized into expression in the homoerotic sub-zones of Hollywood and New York and the rest of the urban globe. Many have assumed such guise.
But these roles play to the shadow. Like the demons of the prophets and the horsemen of the Evangelist, like the phantoms of the modern subconscious, they do not really exist. They are artifacts of consciousness only. Their effects, pain and suffering, exist, but they are not independent forms of being. For only light and love actually exist. Despite our worst transgressions against the truth of it, everything is made of light and assumes human form in order to have the unique pleasures of love and the five senses, those precious, human intensifications of experience.
Rare individuals can stand and live in the full, absolute realization of that consciousness. Most of us cannot. The absolute, brilliant stillness of the void, the imagery of the immensity of the universe as we now know it, and the brutality of the world terrify us. And in that rush of emotion animal fear is all, and suddenly, the light wobbles, and what-is-not and what-was-not is and was... a shadow, a deluded projection of the otherwise creative, human mind.
The Shadow in a Texas Town
In Fall, 1980, I went to La Hoya, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to teach speech and drama at the high school. The flat, windswept landscape, the giant palms and orange groves, the heat and the light were as unexpectedly exotic as the people, mostly migrant farmworkers. The men were statuesque, the women beautiful.
The previous teacher in my job, a gay man, had been actively sexual with the football team. He wasn't the instigator of the scene, just its bottom-feeder. The instigator was the fullback. Apparently the men and boys of the Valley do not censor sex with one another, but deny it to the point of murderous violence if exposed.
The initial interview for the job had taken place in Austin with La Hoya's principal and superintendant. Team La Hoya had returned to the school board reporting that I was the most qualifed and their first choice, but that I was gay. They hired their second choice. He bailed out. They called me. I accepted and arrived to teach, unaware of all of this baggage.
I have never had the intention nor the temptation to tryst with any of my students. The erotic does not jibe with the paedogogical for me. But my reticence was completely tried and tested.
By October, several boys on the football team had made themselves very plain to me. I declined the solicitations, but many handsome athletes chose the drama club as one of their three extra-curricular activities. I saw that the girls were watching everything with rage. Yet they participated in the attempt to subborn me. One of them, the superintendant's daughter, privy to all official gossip, taunted me with the previous teacher's looks, his "cute little butt and moustache."
I was professionally concerned about the highly charged developments and tried to enlist the help of the administration, who were thoroughly aware of what had happened the year before. The administration wasn't up to the job. They didn't run the school anyway. The school, the town's only industry, was run by the local political machine as a patronage system.
The girls rioted one Monday morning. They had arrived at school to find that someone had left a printed leaflet in their lockers that called them bloody cunts. The rumor had circulated by noon that I had done the deed. As I threaded my way through the day I got little support from anyone, except a fellow teacher, who told me all of what had happened before my arrival. She also said that I was on my own, that the school would not stand by me.
That Tuesday afternoon, one of my students bicycled by the trailer I was living in. He was a precocious-in-the-loins ninth-grader, cute, lanky, hard-muscled. He woke me from a nap, came into my bedroom and plopped himself down on my bed as I groggily shielded myself with the top-sheet and reached for my underwear. I retreated to a chair, exhausted from the day at school to recover myself. It took me a moment, but when I looked at him there was no mistake. His black eyes fairly burned in the shaded room. He was so cocksure, though, that his manner was almost lilting. He spread his legs and showed me that his considerable piece was swelling. He was murmuring something about the girls at the carnival on Saturdays and what he wanted to do to them. I ushered him out without taking too much care for his feelings.
Wednesday morning, I resigned unwilling to sacrifice myself upon that particular altar of shadows, grateful, even today that my portion of the light allowed me to see through...
Homosexuals can persist against the assaults that history excercises against us only by refusing to be the evil projected upon us by Orthodoxy and Manichaeism alike. There is no despair in the necessity. In fact it is a blessing to have no choice, but to do and to be good. We have only to inculcate and to bring to bear upon our oppression and upon our oppressors the very things, that, uncorrupted as human beings, we bring to the world, like everyone else: love and light. Then when we die, we need not fear. For God is all in All.
Dennis Paddie is author of Morning Sounds in the Warehouse, a book of poems, the novel Dark Ground and Pitches: Three Screen Stories.
Last update Dec 15 2000