Brief Biographical Sketch
Erik Davis's Review of Biography
Lee Irwin's review of Biography
Recently I was reading the Internet newsgroup rec-arts-sf-tv-babylon5 dealing with the TV series Babylon5. There was one message in which the writer spoke of the "hooks" Babylon 5's creator and main writer, J. Michael Straczynski, had inserted in the early segments of Babylon5, and how he had managed to develop most of them despite changes required by cast replacements. What this writer spoke of as "hooks" I think of as "resonance". There's probably a better term, but this is how I have thought of it ever since I noticed years ago how much it moves me wherever I encounter it.
Babylon5 was the first (and only) TV show whose episodes I've watched and re-watched many times and enjoyed on each viewing. But whenever I see or read anything - a TV segment, a movie, a novel, a poem - that reveals more the second time through, there's something in that experience that I enjoy. For example, a recent episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit involved a man who was arrested for killing his girlfriend. Fairly early on, he seemed to be confessing to the crime. But actually he was referring to the fact that he had driven his girlfriend to confront her family with their relationship. As a result of this confrontation, her brother killed her (for the family's honor.) This man, however, felt terribly responsible, and the police and DA took his expression of responsibility as a statement of guilt. On second viewing, I was struck by the writer's skill at making this double meaning work through a series of scenes. That was a very small instance of resonance.
Charles Williams', books are a much greater example - all of them are filled with this resonance and draw much of their significance and appeal from it - at least for me.
How would I define resonance? Two of the meanings given in the American Heritage Dictionary fit what I'm trying to describe: " 2. Richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or strong emotion: ‘It is home and family that give resonance . . . to life' (George Gilder) 5. In acoustics: Intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration." Both these meanings involve a connection between one thing and another which enhances one of them, or perhaps both. This second definition is probably the closest to what the word means to me.
My strongest image is that of a tuning fork vibrating when another one near it of the same pitch is struck. Another image, one that is very different, is the sense I have when looking into deep, clear water where the bottom is too distant to be seen, and yet nothing impedes my view. In my Christian days, I used this water image to show the difference between a problem, in which the water is murky and opaque, and a mystery (in the religious sense) in which the water is clear but deeper than the eye can see. Resonance has this quality of seeing through, seeing clearly, and yet not seeing to the end. To use yet another image, there is also a quality of treasure hunt about it: what I experience directly contains clues to some far richer prize. In all of these, there is the common thread of one thing giving hints of something greater that remains unseen.
In Babylon5, there were many ongoing themes, and one of the major ones was the character of Valen. The Minbari (one of the many species that populated the world of Babylon5) referred frequently to Valen as though he were a deity. And we viewers became accustomed to understanding him as such. Then in year four of the series, I think, we learned that the first captain of Babylon5, Sinclair, had traveled in time back to the Minbar of a thousand years earlier to become Valen. Sinclair was an important contemporary character for the first year of the series, and this disclosure forced a sort of instant re-evaluation of all the previous episodes. The meaning of some episodes shifted subtly, and they were so well constructed that reviewing them with this new information in mind was a revelation. What had originally appeared to have one meaning was now transformed to carry both the initial meaning and something even more. For me, and for many fans of Babylon5, such shifts became treasure hunts indeed - a hunt to find the new meaning, to see how it had been prefigured in the original scene, and to enjoy the reverberations set up between the two.
In Williams' Descent into Hell especially there is this wheels within wheels effect. The story centers on a small town in southern England, an ancient town that has grown considerably in the most recent generation. The town is built on a hill which has been the center of much of the town's history: battles raged over it a thousand years ago, and in more recent years the smaller battles of economic necessity produced their own victims. All the action takes place about this hill as though the different times periods overlapped, or coincided. The main character, Pauline, lives with her Aunt, Margaret Anstruther, who is the window connecting these different times: she sees them all due to her deep spirituality and her approaching death, which grant to her a certain transparency.
This sense of different times coinciding made me wonder if that which appeared (to me) in the universe of fiction as resonance appeared in day-to-day life as coincidence. The mechanism of resonance does depend on a connection and relation between two objects or events, but most authors in creating these links, shape them as something other than coincidences. (The use of coincidence as a plot device is considered rather worn, I believe.) So things are hinted, prefigured, foreshadowed, there are omens, and later, revelations - often the whole meaning of a work depends on these links. So, although writers do not call them such, these fictional echos are the true equivalents of real-life coincidences. And I'm beginning to think that coincidences are often moments when the two realms to which we belong, the human and the divine, coincide - moments when we become aware of our being in both realms simultaneously. Some people - perhaps all, I don't know - seem to grasp intuitively that these are times of great importance; times when some opportunity opens itself; moments when a door to some treasure is opened.
This perhaps is the process summarized by Rene Daumal in a fragment at the end of his unfinished book, Mount Analogue:
"By our calculations, ...our desires, we gained entry to this new world. So it seemed to us. But we learned later that if we were able to reach the foot of Mount Analogue, it was because the invisible doors of that invisible country had been opened for us by those who guard them. The cock crowing in the milky dawn thinks its call raises the sun; the child howling in a closed room thinks its cries open the door. But the sun and the mother go their way, following the laws of their beings. Those who see us even though we cannot see ourselves, opened the door for us, answering our puerile calculations, our unsteady desires and our awkward efforts with a generous welcome." [p189 Shambala edition]
In fact, Daumal's entire book is about this same phenomenon, which he explores through the symbol of the mountain, at the peak of which is the point of coincidence, as it were, of the human and the divine.
And this I think, answers my original question concerning the nature of what I called resonance, and its powerful effect. Resonance marks the fictional manifestation of coincidences. Because coincidences in the real world can manifest the overlapping of the divine and human realms (the times when the two realms coincide), they are profoundly meaningful - they are moments when meaning enters our more mundane consciousness. So when we encounter the fictional counterpart of this rich experience, we respond to it very strongly. The real nature of this response is made difficult to understand because the fictional event does not have the same label as the real event. However I think that is the root of its power.
The final point then is to see how some of these fictional representations are really shams. Bablyon5 is a good example of this (though, let me be clear, I still love the show.) There is really nothing divine in the Babylon5 universe - that's how the author set it up. So all the resonance that he creates is misleading and disappointing; it points, with a feeling of profundity, to nothing whatever. It helps draw in the audience, and then fades away, leaves them empty-handed. This resolution is all decked out as mature vision, in opposition to childish superstition - as though this nothing were the final truth. In contrast, Williams' books do the opposite - they draw the reader to a fuller understanding (intuitive though it may be) of the realm beyond this one, and hint at a way to live more and more at the point of coincidence.
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