Something Is Wrong

A lot of bloggers I like and respect have been playing the Ten Books game lately, wherein they try to lay out ten books that have deeply influenced the way they view the world.  For a quick example, see these lists by Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Rod Dreher of the Templeton Foundation.

I’ve been working on a list, and I hope to share it in the coming days.  For now, let me talk about two books that made the list and how they connect with two of my favorite rock bands and, timely enough, Easter.  For the book lists, I’m still thinking things through, but I know that I will have to include at least two novels:  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.  Both novels are set in roughly the same time period – post-World War II America – and they both do a fine job of capturing something of the existential angst that comes with living in a time of great change.  Of course they are quite different, as well.  Salinger sets his teenage protaganist loose in New York City for a weekend of cheerfully foul-mouthed hedonism.  Percy’s Binx Bolling is a grown man in New Orleans.  Each character carries great weight upon their shoulders.  Holden Caufield carries the weight – how we forget this! – of being simply a teenage boy.  Bolling, like all self-aware Southerners, carries the heavy weight of the past upon him; his family, his region and his religion.  The novels, though, are also united in their pervasive theme that something is deeply, terribly wrong with the world.

That is what keeps me coming back to both books.  They grasp – for different reasons, mind you – that we live in a world where things are not right.  Something is tragically amiss.  Percy hits this theme over and over again, and The Moviegoer may not even be his best job (see Love in the Ruins).  I can’t fully explain why this makes sense to me in art, but in poetry, novels, movies and rock music I find myself continually drawn to expressions that bludgeon us with the fact that our world is deeply troubled.  Of course we all know things aren’t right – there is sadness and sickness and sorrow.  But it seems more pervasive at times to note that we are caught in the middle of something.  Please understand that I am not making cause with Hegel and Marx and Nietzsche, those philosophers of death and mayhem.  But I note that it is merely human to grasp that the world has gone off its rails.  And we know this took place many years ago – but sometimes it seems so fresh.

Exhibit A:  The Arcade Fire, a marvelous Canadian band, and their marvelous song Intervention.  This bombastic, anthemic music that exults in the mass confusion of our present age.  It is almost Nietzschean in its triumph over the tumult.

Who hasn’t related to the creepy (yet beautiful) refrain:

I can taste your fear

Pick me up and take me out of here…


Here is another of my latest obesssions.  The band is called The National, from Brooklyn.  The song, one of their best and only a few years old, is entitled Fake Empire.

The video is unofficial, by the way, but works well with the song.  There are, of course, some leftwing political overtones, but even a staunch conservative such as myself can appreciate the sentiment – we are sleepwalking through life.  We’re half awake, and this – this empire, this life, this world we have constructed – isn’t real.  And how appropriate that on Holy Week we should look at ourselves and see that we are indeed half awake.  That we are like Walker Percy’s moviegoer, wasting away in a lonely theatre.  There is no hope.

But there is hope – there is hope on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter morning.  Let us find comfort in the words Christ on the Cross.  It is finished.  Our wondering.  Our wandering.  Our search.  It is all over.  It is all consumated in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.   Thinking back to the novels, Salinger may – it is debatable – have missed the point.  Percy, the Catholic, understood the confusion is only solved in Christ.  Our lives are indeed puzzle pieces, but on from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, like the final frantic moments of a great mystery, the pieces are put together.

Thanks be to God.


2 Responses

  1. Matthew, I just read your comments you left on FT blog “First Thoughts” in regards to Young Conservatives. I agree with you. There needs to be a level of intelligence and dialogue from the conservatives (the left rarely is interested in it so I am not going to even include it): pointing out the faults of the left and not presenting solutions is quite frankly pointless to me. This is what was so great about Buckley: he had humility and he met people where they were at, whether they came from the left or right. Conservative movement needs to be redefined.

  2. Just to clarify…

    Even though Arcade Fire “are” Canadian, their songs are still sung by a Texan.

    Even though The National are “from” Brooklyn, they formed in Cincinnati.

    Sometimes the truth doesn’t play well with perception. Bands seem to be the worst at this.

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