David Elliott

Reviews and Articles

 

Thoughts on New Wavelengths
A Review-Essay by David Elliott, Author, M.Div.
The Charge in the Global Membrane
by B.W. Powe
Street Art by Marshall Soules
(NeoPoiesis Press, 2020)

B.W. Powe and I were once young literary lions at York University's Bethune College in the 1970s. Happily scoring points off each other over bagged lunches brought from home. I was and am one of the few people to call him Bruce, not BW, which everyone else did then; I forget the reason why.

At the College, we argued the finer points of language and perception, poetry, fiction, with intensity and conviction. We talked about Eliot's Four Quartets into the evenings. Fancying ourselves Eliot's air raid wardens purifying the dialectic of our tribe while our elders rained down death and damnation from above—did we try desperately to change a world that didn't work into something much worse?

Now years later we're writing books; still corresponding and delving. Is our world better, the same, wild and raw, untranslatable, at a beginning (and an end?) we can't truly name?

There is a circuitous path to wisdom available to those who for whatever reason detest the express train. The taking of time, examining dreams, reading demanding books, watching sunsets turn into healing night. These practices over a life time make a writer.

Several texts come to mind as worthy antecedents to Powe's recent book, The Charge in the Global Membrane. There is a wonderful passage in St. Augustine's Confessions about St. Ambrose reading quietly to himself. A common place for us but an alarming occurrence in his day. The other monks observing this phenomenon for the first-time suspected bewitchment—the true issue being the move from scrolls that were difficult to interpret and had to be read aloud because there were no spaces between the letters to folio's that allowed a book and a mind to become one. It was a change of perception, a change of habits.

It puts me in mind of the young woman I saw crossing against a red light on a busy street far more interested in what was on her screen than her peril. I tooted to alert her. She gave me the finger without looking up. Bewitchment indeed.

Fraser's The Golden Bough, much praised but seldom read these days, offered offence to Christendom by daring to examine their sacred stories under the same microscope used to make sense of pagan belief. Outraged Christians thought this treatment diminished their sacred texts. The real issue was Latin and Greek being replaced by the vernacular in Universities. The classic world with its magnificent stories and associations of place and spirit was giving way to different disciplines.

Then as now, an entirely new way of thinking about the world and the human creature was on offer.

Powe has an eye and an ear finely tuned to this wavelength.

Sea changes in perception take time to rise to the level of consciousness, eroding beach architecture the way that tides sculpt sand. In my own work on addiction, I am fascinated by the way that substances and activities change personality and behavior oftentimes without awareness on the part of the individual. Bruce's insights into the interface of technology and consciousness are well worth the read and the subsequent loss of a night's sleep. Addiction to media is real. Its head down round shouldered short armed silhouette a commonplace. Soft addiction is one of the fascinating undercurrents of The Charge.

Stealing a metaphor from the global warming playbook, I see a metaphysical connection between rising carbon levels and unanticipated weather events that neatly mirrors Powe's insights into technology and the response of the human creature. The unanticipated consequences of our new consciousness might well produce a silent spring.

This book is a provocative delight. Marshall Soules illustrations when paired with Powe's insights are irresistible. The intent was I think was to create the impression of reading a screen on the printed page, or possibly a tell on the part of our author who I recall loved Blake's illustrations, especially for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This book drills down to the hard shale daring to ask - is some new dystopia at hand? what is hope here, now? Bruce asks these questions.

In theological schools, students are introduced to the idea that as they read the Bible, they are themselves being read. More metaphysics to unpack. John's prologue—The Word was with God and the Word was God. The dumbed down explanation—God's creative Word which is the Word that calls everything into being is transformative and can occasionally be found in human speech. Preachers are cautioned to be mindful of this and never finish a sermon. Rather they are taught to wait and trust that the spirit will quicken their understanding as they stand in the pulpit. There is something unfinished in the enigmatic spaces Bruce has left in his book. What is coming, emerging? what is in the spaces between the words, beyond words?

Now algorithms have set that timeless melody to new lyrics. The object in our hand knows us and guides us; and if the Economist is right, it will one day wake us with a cup of tea and put us to bed at night. But are we being flattered with trifles only to be betrayed in deepest consequence?

My favorite part of The Charge is the message to the Net-Gens. A message of warning and encouragement, depending on how the irony in the letter speaks to you. (There are many paradoxical, ambiguous undertones in this book. It begs to be read out loud.) The Net-Gens are the new literary lions; they've overtaken Coupland's GenXers. Hauling the victims of Russian artillery out of the rubble. Sick to the teeth of carefully nuanced speech. Net-Gens look at people my age and rightly ask what were you thinking? How I remember and envy them this opportunity to see things raw.

I recommend that the Net-gens get a hold of this book and read it. Carry it around with you; it will help you to perceive the new milieu.

David Elliott, September 2022