Monday, March 14, 2011
Luminous Beings and Crude Matter
"Luminous Beings are we...not this crude matter." Yoda to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back
"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'" Jesus to the devil in Matthew 4:4
It is perhaps not mere coincidence that these two lines resonate for me. Presuming that the Hero's life follows a common pattern, note that Yoda speaks on the wild planet of Dagoba, where Luke has gone to train under the great Jedi master. It is here that he is tempted: he fails. He fails to recognize Yoda; he fails to lift his ship; he fails the trial at the cave; he fails to live with the tempting vision of his friends and leaves with his training incomplete. In the gospels, Jesus speaks in the wilderness of Judea, where he is fasting and being tempted by the devil. There is a certain parallel between the journeys of the two heroes. It's been widely discussed that Lucas was, at some point, strongly influenced by Joseph Campbell. Taking theories like Campbell's, or the earlier attempt by Lord Raglan, one must proceed with caution. The specific details of a hero's journey are at least as significant as the broad pattern in which any Hero's journey falls. In the crafting of a heroic journey, one must ask not only about the path, but the destination, whether in the telling of a story or in the living of a life.
More important than Campbell's influence, Campbell was influenced by Jung. Yoda's retort to Luke when he doubts his ability to use the Force to pull his ship out of the bog is, perhaps, Lucas' objection to a strict materialism that is tempting to many in our time. This calls to mind the attraction of Jung to gnosticism. Though always objecting that he was forming his psychology on an empirical basis, Jung clearly valued something metaphysical beyond its physical ties and manifestations: the Self. Is the Self beyond bodies? Expressed in bodies? Or is it hidden and trapped in bodies?
The assertion as it stands gives us a classic case of the false dichotomy: either we are matter or we are not-matter (candidates here are such as spirit, soul, or mind). If our essence is matter, then we turn to the lower tiers of Maslow's hierarchy: matter calleth unto matter. If our essence is not-matter, then we must look beyond the material realm for a meta-motivation to satisfy the human heart, as for example Augustine of Hippo does in his Confessions. But gnosticism tended and tends to make an absolute dichotomy between crude matter and the true essence of humanity, unlike classical forms of Christianity which posit a union between matter and spirit. So the one that Christians take for the divine Logos incarnate does not say that human beings do not live by bread, but that they do not live by bread alone. There's a struggle between the two to be sure, but it is not a struggle that is to result in the elimination of matter. There must be cooperation and even a transformative union between the two for traditional Christian systems to work. Maybe Lucas moves closer to this position in the later prequel trilogy, where he creates a physical correlate for the Force: the midichlorians. Maybe he was already struggling in that direction with all his talk of the immanent Force: "Here, between you...me...the tree...the rock...everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship!" And yet, are we betrayed back to body-denying gnosticism by the ghostly specters of the dead Jedi at the end of Return of the Jedi? It is hard to be sure.
The key issue is this: Does the agon of the hero overcome crude matter in favor of the divine spark trapped within it? Does the hero strive against the illusion of something other than matter? Or does the hero strive for some kind of synthesis between the divine and the mundane?