‘The Moon on a Stick’
This phrase was a favourite of one of the teachers at our children’s primary school. At home, we’d never heard of it, and found it really funny. But here is William Blake’s cartoon, drawn in the 18th century, and named ‘I want! I want!’ The tiny person on Earth is trying to catch the moon on a stick!
Our longing for a perfect Planet
‘Dystopia, noun: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia.’ Underneath this dictionary definition come some quotes illustrating the use of the word, and under that, there was a space for comments. One of the comments reads something like ‘the state this world is in’.
The state this world has always been in, more or less. With the development of communication technology, it can’t be ignored. Technology, the hope of decreasing suffering and improving lives, the yearning for utopia, has produced the opposite. Each war, natural disaster, campus carnage, hewn down rainforest, kidnapped child, arrives in our homes almost before the ‘unpleasant or bad’ stuff happens. Even more so since 2015.
The novel response
Fiction writers, sensitive to the irony of this, turn to creating dystopias, pointing up the beastliness of it all. Creation is said to be pattern-making, seeing and making patterns out of chaos. A bit Genesis 1. Creation is about integration, and about bringing sense out of chaos.
As a fiction writer, I’ve had to return to working on my WIP after a year of interruptions, including computer chaos. Technology is not always kind! Now, enormous plotting and planning sessions are yielding results…integration is just beginning …
Both UK shortlisted novels for the Man Booker prize (2015, when I wrote the original of this piece) reflect the state this world is in: Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island dystopically plays on words, concepts, and ideas. Examples: Satin Island, Staten Island. The protagonist, when asked who he is, replies ‘U’. ‘You’, or maybe ‘everyman’ in 21st century guise? Sanjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways was maybe inspired: 2015 began a ‘migrant crisis’ in Europe. While not exactly dystopic, the novel’s theme is topically dys-utopia: a group of young, Indian, underprivileged, men who’ve migrated to the UK hoping for a better life. Told very differently to the McCarthy, with attention to intimate detail and characterisation, this book also illustrates the dissonance, discomfort, and non-utopian realities of our world.
The enduring of ancient wisdom
Paul writes (Romans 8.22-24) that We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son ship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. He describes (Galatians 5.22) the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Looking back a year and half after writing the previous blog I’ve updated for today, the words integrity and integration leap from the page. Our time, 2017, is now labeled (in Western countries) a ‘post-truth era’, that’s beyond living in a ‘post-religious age…’. But, the age may be post-anything: no-one needs to follow along, blindly accepting that ‘fake news’ or lies, leading to emotional rather than rational, reasoned, informed responses, relying on proven truth or facts, should constrain everyone.
As writers, the underlying feature which shines through our work can, is, and needs even more to be, integrity. We have the opportunity of relating our work to the function of literature and the arts as commentary, critique, or reflection of human society. And, to demonstrate integrity and integration (or ‘pattern-making’) through and within story,
Christ be our Light …
Integrity is what we see less of in our leaders, and integrity sums up the spiritual gifts. The other ‘solution’ to the utopia/dystopia of our world, is integration, which comes through and in Christ. The majority may have little conception of what the message of Christ actually is, as opposed to the practice of ‘religion’. Without ‘preaching’, fiction writers, whether for children or adults, have the chance to demonstrate something of the characteristics of the Spirit, and hopefully of how and where they are found. People may find that attractive, in unsafe world … not as ‘pie in the sky’ but as a map for living, a lighted path ….
Utopia has proved impossible to achieve through technology, politics, our own efforts. Dystopia, a world in which everything is bad, and nature destroyed, need not be the only future. It’s a spiritual battle of words …
Clare Weiner writes fiction as Mari Howard and paints as 'herself'. She lives in Oxford, loves to visit Scargill, and is thrilled today by a reader who said 'I stayed up until 3.00am because I couldn't put your book down. I had to finish the story!'
That novel is
The Labyrinth Year ... find her website here
The Labyrinth Year ... find her website here