By Larry Fyffe
Because Heaven is defined in relation to Hell, and Hell in terms of Heaven, to the linguists who live down on Deconstruction Row, the two imaginary visions be an equally valid way for any artist to examine the human condition. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels may claim their version has a material base, and that the biblical version has a spiritual one, but the language used by one and all contains within it a ‘kerygmatic” mythology, a resolution of the struggle for the ‘god’ of gold when everybody eventually lives in peace and harmony with one another.
Northrop Frye, being a human creation of his position and time, dismisses Marxism out of hand because the linguist claims it has the characteristics of an ‘ideology’ as though Judeo-Christianity were not ‘dogmatic’.
Notwithstanding that Structuralist linguists contend that the spoken and written language of human beings has no relation to the the natural world around them, who among us can deny that there are both Marxist as well as biblical ‘demonic’ elements in the poem quoted below – still lingering there, however, is an imagined harmonious ‘mimetic’ existence even if it’s after physical death:
A wind blew out of a cloud by night Chilling my Annabel Lee So that her highborn kinsmen came And bore her away from me To shut her up in a sepulchre In this kingdom by the sea (Edgar Allan Poe: Annabel Lee)
In the (anti)Romantic ‘Gothic’ poem above, the author metaphorically compares a storm-cloud to the ‘devil’, a representative of supernatural evil in biblical mythology. But note that in the poem, the demon is not depicted as though from a transcendental world.
In the song lyrics below, the author metonymically substitutes a hat to represent the materialistic inclinations of most people in modern western society: a hat that’s made to look like animal skin – it’s not a halo. As well, the physical head represents the whole person; no spiritual aspect has she.
It’s a Realist song, a portrayal of mundane modern existence down here on earth:
Yes, I see you got your Brand new leopard-skin pillbox hat Well, you must tell me baby, how your Head feels under something like that (Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat)
The following song goes even further down the irony road of Realism, a particular situation on earth is black-humoredly presented as sordid and ugly rather than idealistically harmonious and beautiful as it’s said to be in heaven for those considered worthy enough to be there:
Well, I took me a woman late last night I's three-fourth drunk, she looked all right 'Till she started peeling off her onion gook Took off her wig, said, "How do I look?" I's high flying, bare naked, out the window (Bob Dylan: I Shall Be Free)
In the following song, a pair of boots represents a complete person – the abandoned guy in the story is made to feel unworthy, but he’ll settle for something material that reminds him of the imagined paradise, angel included, that might have been (could it be that he wants her to send him a pair of her sexy-looking boots?):
So take heed, take heed of the western wind Take head of the stormy weather And, yes, there is something you can send back to me Spanish boots of Spanish leather (Bob Dylan: Spanish Boots Of Spanish Leather)
There are ‘Dylanologists’ who are critical of any singer/songwriter/musician who creates a song or a record album that does not have a united theme whether it be of a blissful Heaven or of a
Kafka-like Hell. But to have a theme that hangs suspended between these two concepts is not to be tolerated. No, the two are not allowed to exist side by side; either there’s order or there’s chaos –
the sun or moon shining all the time, or else dark clouds forever raining.
12 years of Untold Dylan
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