Northrop Frye and Michael Dolzani
Copyright © 1982, 2013 Victoria University
TEACHER'S GUIDE PROGRAM 25
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JOB AND RESTORIED HUMANITY
It would be fairly easy to think of Job as a defiant hero and God as a bullying tyrant. But a continuously-defying Job would actually keep the Satanic part of creation in existence: it is Job's ego that perpetuates his trial and sufferings by its very nature, by its existence as an inherently-alienated consciousness, a subject split off from an objective world. Therefore, when Job says, 'I abhor myself', he may really be saying that he has now stopped thinking of himself as a separate ego. This in turn resolves the problem of a malignant deity: no such being needs to be evoked to account for the evil and suffering that is simply built into the nature of the situation. Job transcends his limited consciousness partly because he doubts: doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its dialectical opposite, as despair is really the dialectical opposite of hope. Doubt and despair tell us that everything we believe in and hope for are fictions. Faith and hope, by persisting in the attempt to make those fictions real, reveal the element of illusion that is present in reality and the element of reality that is present in our wishes and fantasies.
Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts
1. Job may easily be considered a defiant victim and God an evil tyrant. But not only does this identify God with Satan where the text clearly makes a distinction between them, but it leaves the situation in a hopeless deadlock. Still, we have seen that, in any legalistic or moral sense, Job is actually innocent.
2. Therefore, Job's suffering must be a result of the very nature of his consciousness, of his existence as an isolated ego. The ego is a subject split off from a world of objects, so that a lurking sense of alienation is inevitable to it. Suffering can cause the ego instinctively to withdraw still more completely; but by doing so, it perpetuates and intensifies the original alienation, and so keeps the Satanic part of creation in business by projecting it.
3. Thus, when Job says that he 'abhors himself' and 'repents', he may really mean that he no longer identifies himself as an ego.
4. When the false subject, or ego, disappears, so does the false object, the tormenting Satan, or malicious God. No such postulate as the latter is in fact necessary, because the evil and suffering are now seen as the product of the lower level of reality or perception in which Job had been stuck.
5. Clearly, Job transcended that fallen level of perception in part because he complained and doubted: by doing so, he provided faith with the dialectical opposite of doubt against which it operates. Similarly, despair is not the enemy of hope, but its dialectical complement.
6. Doubt and despair are expression of the sense of irony, necessity and limitation that we normally call reality, in the face of which our dreams and desires are merely illusions or fictions. Faith and hope have no virtue if they try to banish doubt, however, and found themselves on certainty: they are really a will to affirm the impossible, and therefore they must always have a fictional basis.
7. By persisting, though, they begin to reveal an element of illusion in reality and necessity, and at the same time something real in our wishes and fantasies. This reversal is related to what happens when we watch a play, where what is objective is in fact an illusion, the reality of which is created inside the audience's minds. Thus, the world restored to Job is largely a world that he has caused to become real through his own endurance.
Biblical Passages Cited
Job 42:6. 'Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes'.
The Teacher's Perspective
What kind of meaning a reader gets out of the Book of Job is likely to depend on how he interprets its initial scene. For the commonsense reading of what happens in the court of heaven cannot possibly be the correct one, even though the author of Job, by leaving the old folktale opening intact, does not bother spelling this out for his less reflective readers, and would not have been so great a poet if he had. The only clue he gives that he is transforming the sense of what had apparently come down to him from an older time-Job is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 as a proverbial figure of uprightness, along with Noah and Daniel--in the form of a fairly simple didactic tale, is the tremendous dramatic structure to which he attaches it. Students may compare what Shakespeare does to the old legend of King Lear as recounted in Geoffrey of Monmouth and Milton's History of England.
As readers, in other words, we can believe one of two things. Either the author of Job was incapable of seeing that the dark and penetrating dialogue of his poetry is irreconcilable with the simplistic ideas of a bet with Satan and a naive restoration of dead daughters; or else he is recreating the folktale motifs that he inherited, expanding them into symbols for something far wider than any moral or explanation could ever touch; expanding them so far that their interpretation is still beyond the energies of many of his readers. The chances that the latter is closer to the truth are overwhelming: it is not reasonable to assume that the imagination of an author capable of such terrific poetry has not really produced a coherent poem. And to assume that the God of the opening scene is doing what it looks as though he were doing; or that in his later speech to Job he is saying what it sounds like he is saying, is to assume that the poem is either ignoble or incoherent. Therefore, we have to 'deconstruct' these appearances, as Jacques Derrida would say, to arrive at something that makes less 'literal' and more imaginative and symbolic sense.
As there is no possible justification for a God who is the First Cause of the kind of hideous suffering that exists in the world, we are driven to realize that the puppet deity who resigns power to his sadistic general in the first scene cannot really be God at all: such a notion must be a projection of somebody's mind, either Job's or the reader's. If Job's-and this is the way Blake interpreted it in his late illustrations to the Book of Job then it is apparently an unconscious projection on his part, since we are given no indication that he knows consciously about the bet in heaven. It must be an explanation his unconscious has imagined, and as such would be a kind of Freudian Primal Scene, a dramatizing of the repressed traumatic wish to eliminate the father that produces the Oedipal neurosis: Freud himself applies such a theory to Israelite history in Moses and Monotheism. This is not as farfetched as it may sound: there is a definite element of it in Blake's illustrations, where the sickly old God of plates 2 and 5 is pushed out of the way by a vigorous young Satan. In the lower world, the advocates of that sickly God, Job's three friends, also old duffers, are pushed out of the way by the accusing young Elihu, in the parallel action of plate 12: the dead or sleeping old man at the bottom of the plate indicates the significance of what has happened. The family relationship between God and Job, so to speak, is further hinted at in Blake by their similarity of appearance. The Oedipus story is a Classical analogue to the fall of Adam, which also includes a sexual element and a rebellion against the Father. The sexual element does not really get into the Job story as such, though students may compare some of Blake's earlier illustrations to Job in which Job's wife is more traditionally rendered as a kind of temptress or Dalila figure. However, they may notice that the fall of the universal man Albion in plate 43 (or 29, depending upon the ordering) of Blake's Jerusalem is recounted in imagery that evokes Genesis less than the Book of Job, particularly the smiting with boils; and a harlot temptress figure named Vala figures heavily in this account. All of this is explained in more detail in Prof. Frye's essay 'Blake's Reading of the Book of Job' in his book Spiritus Mundi.
Another appearance of a female figure involved in the Job story is in Carl Jung's strange and brilliant Answer to Job (available in The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell, and in Jung's Collected Works, volume 11). Jung portrays Yahweh as divided between a false obsession with his symbolic bride Israel and faithfulness to his real consort Sophia, the female Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs and the Apocrypha (see program 21). This corresponds roughly in Blake to Albion's division between his desire for Vala, the delusive goddess of external nature, and his love for his 'emanation' Jerusalem.
Jung was influenced by Gnosticism, and does come much closer to portraying Yahweh as an evil being (see the transcripts for the relation of the Gnostic argument to Job): and yet Jung's Yahweh is not really an evil God, only a blind and unconscious one; and as such, Jung says, he is capable of growing and developing. Jung's Yahweh is in fact not only unconscious: he more or less is the human unconsciousness objectively projected, which means that although Jung portrays the widening of consciousness involved as happening to Yahweh rather than to Job, his final meaning is not all that dissimilar. He even quotes in passing Jesus' statement 'I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven', which Blake illustrates in plate 16, though it is not of course 'literally' in the text of Job at all.
When Blake reads the Book of Job in the light of the gospel like this, he is simply extending the insight that the legal framework as a definitive structure for Job has to be transcended. A bet is a kind of contractual agreement, and the God who is envisioned as making a bet with Satan can only be part of a legalistic perspective. Blake replaces the callously-betting God of the initial scene with a truer God who was actually doing something quite different. As Prof. Frye remarks, not only does God after all seem to be distinguished from Satan, but he seems to be confessing to an intimate concern of his own in the matter of Job's fate. What he is really doing may somehow really be closer to a self-sacrifice.
If the preceding interpenetration of the dramatis personae seems to the class more like something out of Finnegans Wake than out of the Bible, they may compare how C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity describes the drama of redemption as a play in which the only real actors are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Lewis is the last person one would think to accuse of nee-Gnosticism or private interpretation: he is simply making a legitimate and indeed quite traditional deduction from the principle of metaphor, where A = B without ceasing to be also itself.
One final point about all this: if the idea of God as a kind of Watergate character whose subordinate, with or without his tacit approval, has been guilty of some pretty questionable meddling, is pretty definitely a misinterpretation, there might still be something true in the image of Satan as a tolerated figure in the court of God. When Blake writes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Satan is such a titanic figure in the beginning of Paradise Lost because Milton was of the Devil's party without knowing it, the implication is that just as moral virtue is always making a God out of a diabolic principle, it also commonly rejects many aspects of God himself, especially his power and energy, as belonging to the Devil.
Prof. Frye makes the point that God in his speech to Job seems to be rather proud of Leviathan; and from the description of him, it does seem hard to believe that such a wonderful creature can be completely demonic: 'By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out . . . In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him . . . He maketh the deep to boil like a pot . . . He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary' (41:18, 19, 22, 31, 32). In the same way, perhaps in God's timeless and perfect sight there remains something about Satan of the original Lucifer, son of the morning, after the truly demonic element has been cast out. Second Isaiah has God say, 'I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things' (45:7). The God of Second Isaiah is pre-eminently a Creator; and yet perhaps we have to dissociate the idea of a Creator from the dreary idea of a First Cause, since God must be by his nature above the chain of causality as he is above time and space, all three of these being merely aspects of the fallen world. What we see as a terrible conflict of opposites, the God of Second Isaiah seems to perceive as what Blake called 'contraries' when he said, 'Without contraries is no progression'. An unfallen Satan might be a contrary in this manner. The great nineteenth-century fantasist George MacDonald expressed in his Lilith the belief that Satan, the 'Great Shadow', would be the last thing to be redeemed by such a God. Such a God was to Blake identical with Jesus, as he was also to the King James translators who rendered go'el as Redeemer. But for Blake, he is also identical with the human imagination, so that faith in him has to be, or at least to begin with, faith in a fiction, as in the Emily Dickinson poem quoted by Prof. Frye (#1283 in the Collected Poems).
Wallace Stevens says in 'Asides on the Oboe': 'The prologues are over. It is a question, now, Of final belief. So, say that final belief Must be in a fiction. It is time to choose'. This choice is not an easy way out, as it may at first sound: it does not mean convincing oneself that the fiction is 'real'; it means believing it at the same time that we know it is by all normal standards of reality an illusion. Reason cannot do this; it cannot really even conceive of it, since its only available categories are the real-and-true and the unreal-and-false. Only the imagination, with its nonlogical vocabulary of metaphor, has any chance of articulating such a faith. The imagination does not even seem to be bound by the final logical distinction between creator and creature; and when Stevens goes on in his poem to speak of the 'impossible possible philosophers' man', he means something other than an ordinary man, something not fundamentally different from Blake's Divine Humanity. In 'Poem on His Birthday', Dylan Thomas speaks of 'fabulous, dear God', and says that 'Heaven that never was Nor will be ever is always true'. And Ernest Becker speaks eloquently of 'life-enhancing illusions' in his The Denial of Death, a book which argues that such illusions, however weak and inadequate they may seem, are the only thing we have to defend ourselves with against the absolute certainty of death.
1. Biblical Passages
Ezekiel 14:14. Noah, Daniel and Job as proverbial figures.
Isaiah 45:7. 'I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things'.
Job 41. The poem on Leviathan.
2. Corresponding Passages in The Great Code
Chapter Seven. Myth II.
pp. 193-98. The Book of Job.
'Blake's Reading of the Book of Job', Northrop Frye, in Spiritus Mundi, Indiana University Press, 1976.
Answer to Job, Carl Jung, in The Portable Jung, Joseph Campbell, editor Viking Press, 1971. Also in Jung, Collected Works, volume 11.
Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the questions asked in Blake's poem 'The Tyger' in light of Prof. Frye's lectures on the Book of Job.
2. Compare the tormenting of Prometheus by Jupiter in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound to the tormenting of Job by Satan, especially in light of Shelley's remarks about Milton's Satan in the Preface. What does Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, mean when he says, 'In the Book of Job, Milton's Messiah is call'd Satan'?
3. An interesting thing to do with any book of the King James Bible is to compare its headnotes with the text itself. Examine some of the headnotes to the Book of Job. For example: 'The happy end of God's correction'; 'He acknowledgeth God's justice'; 'He acknowledgeth God's omnipotency'; 'The disquietude of wicked men'; 'A secret judgment for the wicked'; 'God omnipotent cannot be unjust'; 'Comparison is not to be made with God, because our good or evil cannot extend unto him'; 'God convinceth Job of ignorance'. What kind of reading of the poem do they suggest?