This post is a little glimpse into the way my mind works. Not intentionally so, but more as a natural side-effect of me sitting down with a pen and paper to record my thoughts in the moment.
So, I’m reading a few books right now, and one thing I love about doing that is seeing connections between them in ways that feel immediate and fresh, unforced and natural in ways that prolonged, intentional reflection can’t achieve. Don’t get me wrong. I love prolonged and intentional reflection. It’s where some of my best and most transformative thoughts have come from. But there’s something powerful about immediacy and spontaneity.
So, I want to pay attention right now to how captivated I am by the books I’m reading (particularly Nona the Ninth and The Citadel of the Autarch) and see where that leads me.
The first thing I see is the use across both stories (and their predecessors) is the term, lictor, which makes me pause to look up the word. What does it mean? Essentially, a lictor was a Roman bodyguard, a specially-selected civil servant with the right to carry out capital punishment. This makes sense for Severian. That’s his job. But what about the lictors in Nona’s (and Gideon’s and Harrow’s) world? Since I’m not done with Nona and so much of the book is told in flashbacks to John’s early days (or at least dreams in which he tells the story of those early days to Harrowhark), I think I’ll get there.
But the prevalence and importance of death to the stories is the next thing that stands out to me. In neither story is death a thing to be avoided at all costs like it is for most of us in 21st century America. It reminds me of my PhD research and the beautiful train of thought that sees death as a mercy, rather than a punishment, as a good part of a good universe. As hard and painful as it is for those left behind, it is a profoundly natural and necessary part of the world we live in.
After all, life comes from death. New growth from destruction. And this connects to a third thing I’ve been reading: Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. I have in mind the prodigal, Destruction, also known as Olethros, which has the connotation of destruction that leads to regrowth or rebirth. Not wanton, but targeted with future flourishing in mind. It’s the same idea as that of pruning the vine so the remaining branches will bear more fruit. Destruction with a positive connotation. Destruction which precedes renewal.
What a thought.
And it’s a thought that feels especially appropriate given the state of the world today. How much in our world needs to be destroyed so renewal can occur? How much must crumble, be torn down and destroyed, so that what is good and true and beautiful can emerge? So much. So much.
Olethros is hard, but it is needed. It will hurt, but sometimes pain is required for healing to take place. And that is what the world needs today: healing. But the boils must be lanced so the infection can be cleansed. The festering rot of racism and systemic injustice must be healed. The strip-mining of creation must be stopped and salved. The inequities of capitalism run amok must cease so that a new and better world can emerge.
We need to dream better dreams. Dreams of a world made whole, where everybody belongs and peace (which is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice) prevails. We need to imagine the world as it could be. One that allows everyone to flourish and thrive, bearing good fruit that feeds us all.