Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LOST: Jacob isn't Esau: the MIB is

"There are only two kinds of people, in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'thy will be done.' -- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

I didn't hate "Across the Sea" the way that so many on Doc Jensen's column did, though I agree with them about the kid actors, particularly the one portraying Jacob.

My lenses are always sensitive to premodern and postmodern themes, and last night we got to see how MIB represents modernism, what with his championing of autonomy, technology, and disregard for tradition. OTOH the writers seems to want us to take Jacob as representing premodernism: he doesn't challenge authority; he weaves by hand, he is content to remain "on the island."

There is a famous essay by Kant that is taken as the declaration of Modernism, called "What is Enlightenment?" The Wikipedia summary isn't too bad:

Kant answers the question quite succinctly in the first sentence of the essay: "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity." He argues that the immaturity is self-inflicted not from a lack of understanding, but from the lack of courage to use one's reason, intellect, and wisdom without the guidance of another. Our fear of thinking for ourselves. He exclaims that the motto of enlightenment is "Sapere aude"! --Dare to know!

The German word Unmündigkeit means not having attained age of majority or legal adulthood. It is sometimes also translated as "tutelage" or "nonage" (the condition of "not [being] of age"). Kant, whose moral philosophy is centred around the concept of autonomy, is distinguishing here between a person who is intellectually autonomous and one who keeps him/herself in an intellectually heteronymous, i.e. dependent and immature status. Kant understands the majority of people to be imprisoned by the guiding forces of society, such as the Church and the Monarchy, and therefore unable to throw off the yoke of their immaturity due to a lack of courage and resolution to be autonomous. It is difficult for individuals to work their way out of this immature, cowardly life because we are so uncomfortable with the idea of thinking for ourselves. Kant says that even if we did throw off the spoon-fed dogma and formulas that we have been given all our lives, we would still be stuck, because we have never "cultivated our minds."The key to throwing off these chains of mental immaturity is reason. There is hope that the entire public could become a force of free thinking individuals if they are free to do so. Why? There will always be a few people, even among guardians, who think only for themselves. They will help the rest of us to "cultivate our minds." Then Kant shows he is a man of his times when he says: "a revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism . . . or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking." Kant seems to be criticising the recently completed American Revolution, but he points out that new prejudice will replace the old and will become a new leash to control the "great unthinking masses...."

"...Religious immaturity is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all."If Enlightenment is man's emergence from his "self incurred immaturity" and the guiding forces of society, then simply put: the church is a political force which constrains public behaviour through the use of doctrine. By defining doctrines and making them politically binding, the Church can control the growth of reason, therefore, publicly it is in your own self interest to assent a set of beliefs which hinder the development of your reason. It is in man's interest to surpass those that prevent him from using his own reason.

THis describes MIB, doesn't it? Somewhere someone refers to MIB's adolescent questioning and Ma's introduction of the boys to the Light as a "bar mitzvah." Well, MIB doesn't buy it. He is going to overthrow superstition and even the rules: "someday you can make up your own rules." He snashes the decanters of Tradition. This is the spirit of the Enlightenment, the soul of Modernism.

Jacob, however, imbibes premodernism: he takes the cup. It is no accident that this scene has eucharistic overtones. Think of how Jesus prayed to "have this cup taken" from him, "but not my will, but Thy will be done." That is the essence of Christian faith: to resist the pull of autonomy--"self-law" and have the law of Christ written upon one's heart.

So, "Across the Sea" is a twist on the Biblical Jacob and Esau story. Doc Jensen is correct insofar as the Lost characters are not identical with the Biblical characters; however, they are types of them. So I revise my previous assessement: Jacob is not the archangel Michael; he is the biblical Jacob; and MIB is not the archangel Sameal; he is the biblical Esau. Esau puts himself-- his own will/stomach before anything else and so loses his inheritance. What is rightfully his is not what he desires. Jacob is the one who values what the island represents, and so inherits it, and is responsible for preserving it and passing it on. Not for nothing is this episode entitled "Across the Sea!"

Of course, by now you know where my sympathies lie.

No comments: