Saturday, December 03, 2011


The Dark Side of Enlightenment:

Joyce says that the initial audience reactions were enthusiastic but befuddled—people didn't know what it was, but they knew that they liked it. That makes sense—A Pale and Lovely Place can be simultaneously, confoundingly savage and charming. Sometimes the text is menacing and the delivery is light, as in the story of the huckster chasing a lost little boy down an alleyway. Sometimes the text is light but the delivery is menacing: "So just remember, boys and girls, you're important—and everybody wants to be your special, special friend!"

It's not all about Christianity, Faust, and the Devil. Sometimes, Joyce's description of the Covenant sounds like a promise of enlightenment in the language of yoga, Buddhism, and the other bits of Asian theology that have floated across the Pacific and into America's culture of self-improvement. In one passage, Joyce tells us that we "often confuse desire with reality" and cheerfully suggests an exercise to release us from the chains of "desire's bondage":

For the children in tonight's audience, I encourage you to try this at home. Find a friend or nearby family member, and ask them to lie prostrate on a bed of nails or sharp glass shards. Then begin to lightly pound on their back with a hammer or some similarly heavy, blunt object. As they scream or cry, imagine some thing or person you truly desire, especially a desire that may be difficult or impossible to attain—true happiness, for example, or a full head of real hair—and hold that vision in your mind, mingling it and mixing it with the screams of your beloved friend or family member. This type of activity is guaranteed by the Covenant to rid you of the desire forever.

A Pale and Lovely Place is something to be befuddled by and enthusiastic about, a short but intense trip through the moral looking-glass, where it's hard to tell the good from the evil.