Guest Blog Post, Eric Maroney: Writing Under the Burden of Unity
I write with my fingers crossed. Because every time I write, I counter a cardinal point of the Judaism I practice and believe: that everything is one. That the reality we all experience — the very texture of this life we live, with its distinctions and sub-divisions, its segregations and partitions — is wrong.
I am a non-dual Jew: I do not conceive of God as a separable entity or force, somehow detached from the world and its multitudinous forms. Instead, God is the World, and the World is God and God is One. In Judaism’s most treasured statement of faith, which goes Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, we find the very script of this vision. God is One. Everything is One. Everything is God. This is a supremely mystical take on Judaism; it represents a minority voice in a religion that stresses the polarity between the sacred and the profane. When everything is one nothing is evil. When everything is one nothing is separate. When everything is one, the things we see in the world, and their manifest separate existence, is not true.
And here is the problem: this vision of uncompromising unity is the very antithesis of writing fiction. Writers broker in division and distinction. Writers take the elements of language and expression and reduce them to the most basic level. We must write one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one book at a time. This is a discreet enterprise, and it is based on the view of the wholly separable nature of reality. By contrast, the mystical view happens in a moment; it is the illuminating notion that everything can be absorbed in one overwhelming instant. Writing, instead, comes in drips. And one must digest it drop by drop. It is a discreet enterprise.
For the writer, to say that everything is one is to say not much at all. The statement reduces the very act of writing fiction to absurdity: words, sentences, paragraphs, characters, plots, and conflict become pantomime — mere reflections of a reflection. Writing becomes an illusion patterned after an illusion, which can be seen as basally unimportant. And here lies a problem that is worthy of great struggle.
To write fiction and be a non-dualist is to play two games that risk canceling each other out. So my aim is to play with great subtlety. In every story I write, I proceed as if the world is composed of wholly separable objects, often in conflict with each other, almost always nearly in direct contradiction to each other — while at the same time maintaining that this is a kind of illusion. The trick of upholding the illusion, no matter how dangerous or misleading, is critically important. The point is to suggest not just that this illusion plays a vital role in creating a compassionate Jew and a good human being, but to acknowledge that because the illusion is itself a part of the oneness of the world, even it has deep value.
Always, I hint in my writing that there is more to our life than the unsettled sense of a reality in conflict. Often on the level of language, in the composition of characters, and the sense of the plot, I allude that this is not all there is; that beyond what is being read, and far beyond what the characters strive for and seek, is a greater vision of unity that can be had only with great effort and dedication. Fiction itself may be capable of only inadequately displaying that unity, but it can get close enough to offer hints and suggestions. Inviting a reader to ponder the infinite edge of any story is the goal of my writing. I believe I have created a successful story when I am able to leave the reader silent at its end—momentarily aware of a vastness and connection and unity that can only exist when the words stop.
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