Friday, February 8, 2008

BILL FAY - Til The Christ Comes Back

or, God Isn't Dead, But He's Not Feeling That Great



"when soldiers spoil your sleep..." photo by William R.



Bill Fay - Till The Christ Comes Back

"when soldiers spoil your sleep / and writers haunt your dreams / don't strain to hear the screams / when the lights go out.....pain was all you knew / but I think you're coming through /like applause inside a zoo / when a lion gets out...when shadows take your hand / and mist is on the land / hold on to your mind / til the Christ comes back.."



From Bill Fay's concept album about the end times, his second LP from 1971

It's worth noting the opposing theological dimensions of Bill Fay and Nick Cave. Fay's song is eschatological, that is, it waits for the end of the world, the return of the Christ. The shape of Western Christian understanding of history is that life on earth happens in an interlude time, between the birth of Christ and his return. It's bracketed, bookended. Additionally, when Fay talks about 'holding on to your mind' until the return of the Christ, he's interpolating a key theological theme with regards to Christian eschatology, namely the role of what in Greek is called the kat-echon, the Restrainer, a figure who makes a brief but enigmatic appearance in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians.
Here, the apostle Paul says:

"Let no one deceive you in any way; for [the day of the Lord] will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that wehn I was still wtih you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming." (2:3-8)

What's remarkable about Paul's formulation of the Restrainer is that while he's a figure of protection and defense, his power is finite, he's only supposed to keep the 'lawless one' at bay until the right time, until the time of the Christ coming back. Jacob Taubes makes an important observation about the kat-echon, namely that it's the only force that can provide room for both eschatology and human freedom. If there isn't a terrestrial force keeping the end of the world from happening until the 'right time', if there's just an apocalypse that's going to just suddenly take place at any moment, it's hard to get up in the morning.

In other words, the kat-echon is an important mediator between the terrestrial and heavenly realms, because it addresses the question of, why is there a terrestrial realm at all? if the divine sphere is perfect, omniscient, etc., why is there a finite, fucked up world below? The only properly philosophical answer, which German Idealism with Hoelderlin, Hegel, Schelling begins to formulate as a modern parallel to Kabbalah's image of God as a broken vessel, is that God is ailing, weak, in trouble, and needs us to keep him alive, just as he needs the help of the Restrainer from keeping the apocalypse from happening until the right time.

Most of the time in political theory, from Thomas Hobbes to Carl Schmitt, the Restrainer is understood to be the Leviathan, or the sovereign, some unifying and grand political force. What we want to add here is that from a critical point of view, the Restrainer is Bill Fay. Keeping the lawless one at bay is the artist's job, because the work of art is a instance of self-legislation, of auto-nomy/nomos. The madness described in "Til the Christ Comes Back" is kept at bay by the work of art, which doesn't overcome or destroy this lawlessness but grants it a law, a nomos, by aesthetically figuring it.

Cave's story, centered around the pronouncement that Jesus will not return, is about an absence of eschatology. The two modern lovers move to a cozy house and forget the demonic annunciation. The scope of their lives begins to occlude or obscure the knowledge that if Jesus isn't coming back, the world can no longer be understood in terms of an expected final judgment.
Cave's story figures an important problem of secular life: with the loss of transcendent ritual, there is no force to keep in place the knowledge of this loss. The circular time of ritual keeps the conduit between earth and heaven open. Without this circular time, there is nothing to mark the dreadful loss of this conduit, so this loss itself is lost, and the misty greyness of earthly life continues to perpetuate itself without salvation.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

this is really interesting - I appreciate this one
L

brendan said...

i love this song's power. your essay is similar to it.