Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It's a Leap of Faith, Jack


When last we left our Lost friends, Jack and Locke, they had been presented to us as a twinned pair, warring allegorical avatars of Western Philosophy, between Jack Shephard (another suggestive name, the unconventional spelling suggesting both "shepherd" and "Sephardic") on the side of the Enlightenment, and Locke (I swear he's simply misnamed) representing Medievalism.

The writers of Lost continue to mine the West. Phil. 101 lode, and I am hugely entertained. I'm certain that they're pulling this stuff right out of their fundamental apertures by way of a long-ago undergrad philosophy class, and are only two or three steps ahead of their audience. But it sure beats the hell out of Two and a Half Men.

The climax of tonight's episode comes with Locke laying down a challenge to Jack: "It's a leap of faith," he intones gnomically as Jack fights within himself not to push the button on the computer keyboard that will, every ounce of his doctor's empirical scientific training tells him, do nothing at all. His materialistic education in evidence and rationality and the Scientific Method all tell him that pushing that "Execute" button will negate his wavering disbelief in the supernatural.

But he pushes it anyway.

It's a Leap of Faith. Søren Kierkegaard's Christian Existentialism offered as a solution to the accusation of nihilism that is so frequently leveled at materialism.

And once again, the Man of Science takes it in the neck from goddamned TV-Land scenarists who just can't possibly let the Skeptical Guy, the Materialist, win.

This drives me just a little bit batty. Is it sentimentality? Is it the demands of drama? A sop to an audience dominated by folks who don't want their cherished Sunday-School assumptions challenged? Or is it (as I suspect to be truly the case) simply the easy way out?

From the Wikipedia article on Søren Kierkegaard (interestingly -- if irrelevantly -- the name means "churchyard" in Danish):
For Kierkegaard, the present age [that is, the post-Enlightenment age] is a reflective age—one that values objectivity and thought over action; lip-service to ideals rather than action; discussion over action; publicity and advertising to reality; fantasy to reality. For Kierkegaard, the meaning of values has been sucked out of them by a lack of authority. Instead of the authority of the past or the Bible or any other great and lasting voice, we have emptiness and uncertainty.
[Ick. Phooey. Feh.]

This is not a blind leap as is often thought. Kierkegaard's concern was that faith is never easy or probable. Faith in God is an agonistic and often fearful struggle to cast one's entire person into relation to God.
Do you see what's being fought over by Jack and Locke in this episode? We're being offered an argument-sequence: Medievalism leads to Enlightenment Materialism, which yields to Christian Existentialism. Locke challenges Jack, "Why is it so difficult for you to believe?" and Jack retorts, "Why is it so difficult for you not to?"In pushing the "Execute" button on that keyboard, Jack has conceded to Locke the imperative to believe in the existence of God, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I hope fervently (and expect fully to have my hopes dashed) that the argument will continue on to its next step (it doesn't end with Kierkegaard, of course). If we don't start to see references to Nietzsche, and to (dare we hope?) Oscar Wilde, I'll volunteer to write sacks of angry letters to the management of ABC.

In other Lost News, Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman was supposed to be featured prominently in tonight's episode as some sort of roadmap to the argument. But I think that viewers preparing to send away for the Cliffs Notes to O'Brien's brilliant absurdist novel were taken aback by the much more prominent presence of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Its inclusion is highly suggestive:
The story [of the Turn of the Screw] starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.
I think the writers of Lost are simply capital bullshit artists, but I just love to watch a really good bullshit artist at work. (That should be pretty self-evident, don't you think?) More power to 'em. I'm hooked.


Anonymous said...

Of course, we're not seeing Lost over here in Yurp yet, at least not my part of it, but I guess it'll come. (Me, I'm still pondering series one of 24, but that's another story). anyway, you meake it seem compelling. and don't I remember hearing someplace that Sprint Beastwood is a big fan of Kierkegaard?

Uncle Rameau said...

Desmond's predecessor was named Kevin or Calvin? makes a bit of diff in this context...

Printer's Devil said...

it SOUNDED as if the name was, in fact, "Kelvin." Could have been the accent. or another reference to science?
Calvin would say it doesn't matter whether you push the button. God has already decided whether you're saved or doomed.
In other words, that Jack was right, but for the wrong reason.
Am I the only person who keep looking at Demond and thinking his last name must be Idle? He's Eric's cousin or something? I keep waiting for him to burst into "Try To Look On The Bright Side of Life.""

Uncle Rameau said...

gotta be Calvin, it fits too perfectly, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

The materialists win every time "Lost" goes to commercial -- roughly once every 108 seconds.

Neddie said...

It seems we're not the only ones puzzling over the Calvin/Kelvin Question.

I like 'em both. Calvin for obvious reasons, but Lord Kelvin was present at the creation of the science of thermodynamics, (Wikipedia) "his theological beliefs led to speculation about the heat death of the universe."

Which is nicely Pynchonian, if nothing else.

Wooooooo....: Wikipedia:

In Carnot's theory, lost heat was absolutely lost but Thomson [Lord Kelvin] contended that it was "lost to man irrecoverably; but not lost in the material world".

As I say: What great bullshit artists!

Derryl Murphy said...

Me, I'm wondering if Desmond got himself wrapped up in a project similar to the Standford Prison Experiment, only where the folks back home forgot they had these folks sitting on this one island.


Vache Folle said...

My theory- the bunker is part of an experiment with a probabilty wave generator. Young Walt has an uncanny ability, albeit unconscious, to manipulate the wave and alter reality.

Anonymous said...

I think, based on the film, that the whole thing is a Skinner box -- an experiment in behaviorist psychology. Calvin (Kelvin?) told Desmond that he had to press the button to save the world, that it's all in the film. Desmond watched and became a believer -- even though the film says no such thing. It just tells you to press the button, not why you need to press it. It's all about monkeys doing what they're told to do. Or conditioned to do, even in the absence of any evidence for the stated reason. Jack's just another monkey.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm hooked as well, but I thought the latest 'Lost' was a bit anemic. My question: Who's number one?

Anonymous said...

You are number two

Anonymous said...

As Neddie said in Sept: "I'm not a fan of science fiction at all -- it's the sort of thing you outgrow in your teens, like Prog Rock or Ayn Rand. Adults who are still impressed with the sort of gee-whiz, what-if thinking that produces a science-fiction plot like Donnie Darko's... Well. We're not going to grow old together. Tangent Universes... Manipulated Dead... Ah, to be sixteen and enjoying my first bong-hit again."

Pass the bong Neddie! But stop watching TV...

Neddie said...

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

--Eb Crandall, of the Red Clay Stumblers, "Song Of That Other Guy"