Life on earth has increasingly become so complex and undependable that we humans can’t help being sucked into the vortex of this complexity and quizzicality. We assert that we are the only animals that have the power of reason to guide us through our lives. However, the same reasoning often dis-ables us not to look at life as it really is and cocoons us by many social, cultural and religious protective layers. Many individuals are in quest of a life of bliss free from human afflictions, and they long to achieve it, but most fail to rise to the occasion. The goal is iridescent like a rainbow, but how to reach it in one’s worldly existence is the uphill task that every aspirant faces. Is it a spiritual journey, a negation of the ephemeral? Or is it a coordination of the physical and the spiritual that helps one rise above the mundane aspirations? We may find an answer to this in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. Life is to be lived mean-ingfully, and its purpose is to make the divine come down to earth.
Many events in our lives go by contraries. One has to experience the para-doxes of human existence, and joy and misery are bound to alternate in this process. Despite the odds, there is the quest in many individuals for something that is expected to give them lasting peace of mind and soul-stirring illumin-ation. Madison Morrison is one such individual who lives as a down-to-earth human being and at the same time continues the search as the Arnoldian Scholar Gypsy along with similarly motivated individuals across the world, waiting for the divine spark. His experiences present a matrix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and they reflect his state of mind caught in the mire of the usual human bindings and invited/uninvited encumbrances. A reader like me can see a spiritual quest in his writings. Fun, forthrightness, humor and irony lard the quest, and his writings are characterized by a kind of interior mono-logue, the manifestation of a debate on the essential difference between what is physically experienceable and what is spiritually experienceable.
Whether it is a poem or a travelogue or a record of his inner struggle, his writings often veer round to the question of discovering the ultimate Truth and meaning of human existence. Meetings and partings mark our life; impressions and thoughts crisscross the mind; and as a result conflicts and compulsions make ripples in the body as well as the soul. Rarely do these two, the body and the soul, agree, and when they agree, life is pleasant, smooth and purposeful. Morrison has undergone the tension between the two and made himself a medium of this tension. Consequently, his work is born out of the depths of his anguished heart. Things in day-to-day life make him go berserk initially, but all this momentary confusion ultimately boils down to composure and consum-mates in a work of art. His writing represents a sort of interactive approach between the things that are haywire for the uninitiated, eluding cohesion. It is a difficult task indeed. Morrison’s erudition and perspicacity, however, brush aside the hurdles with a masterly stroke, and there lies the fruit of his constant struggle to solve the internal conflict with a view to bringing the intangible close to the tangible.
One can see through the seeming absurdities in his work his implicit resol-ution to show life in its true colors. Beneath these superficial aberrations lies an affirmation to break open the perennial spring of godhead and divine bliss. As James Merrill has nicely put it, “Madison Morrison . . . must persist until as many of the world’s ‘appearances’ as humanly possible, along with its multiple faiths and literary modes, have been called into play.” SOLUNA, the collection of six books of poems that stand at the beginning of his sequence, says Merrill, constitutes “a binocular museum wherein “what we know is distanced, what we do not know is brought near, always with skill, erudition, and great good humor.” These poetic works are not circumscribed by the bounds of time and space nor by the merits of apparent order. Instead they embody the numerous machinations of temporal and spatial vagaries that form the essence of normal life on earth. It is futile to look for perfect order or immaculate discipline, either physical or psychic, as we move up and down along the ever-rotating wheel of existence. This sense Morrison has precisely represented in his insightful work, accommodating all human contradictions and persevering in his efforts to locate amidst them the spot that is neither evanescent nor morbid.
Absolute Truth occupies the spot distanced far beyond ordinary human comprehension but appears as distinctly as possible before the willing soul in pursuit of it. That is the eye of all external storm, but ironically the eye is elo-quent of inexhaustible quiet and divine effervescence. Here also is the seat of self-realization, and Morrison is unwittingly and effortlessly drawn toward the seat of divinity. A mellifluous humorous vein continuously runs through this excruciating exercise to make the arduous task enjoyable and exciting. The seed of his determination to undertake the quest seems to have been sown even in his early works, such as the poems of Sleep, the first volume in SOLUNA. It may be inferred from the conversation between Lisa Maryevna and her daughter Dunya in a prose poem that imitates the Russian novel:
“Mother, how is it we travel thus, always coming, always going, never getting anywhere? We have now been on the road two days and every stop has been the same. I am tired of this life, tired of my life at least, and yet there seems to be no end of it. What is one to do?”
What is one to do?—that is the question. In other words, Morrison has offered us another version of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be.” Ordinary mortals land in such a desperate imbroglio and feel befuddled. The way is directionless, purposeless and meaningless. How to make our life journey purposeful and meaningful? Start with introspection. Morrison initiates the process of intro-spection in his early writings, and this process is carried on in a more mature and innovative manner through his later works, which are often marked by an intertextual method according to which he interweaves traditional wisdom. The more one tries to tear open the curtain of maya that is characteristic of poor visibility and haziness, the more one gets perplexed and awestricken. Morrison feels the pinch of this enormous exercise; the intertextual mode is a true reflec-tion of his sincere attempt to unite his self with the Great Self. Realization of what constitutes the usual life is the first step and for him a springboard from which to plunge into an ambience of clarity and achieve a demystification that can wipe off the maya mist and afford a peep into serenity and spirituality. Morrison’s attempts at first glance appear a lark on the surface, and one would be merely beguiled, were he to stop there and leave it at that without pene-trating the surface discerningly.
We, the people of the 21st century world, don’t have even the low-level tolerance and minimum patience to ponder the questions adroitly raised by Morrison. We get a holistic view of life, and our analysis of human existence is enriched by his demonstrative inquiry. It is true that we don’t have time to sit and stare in this fast-food world. Morrison too experiences such a predicament, and consequent on his inability to find instantaneous answers to the age-old doubts raised from time to time by great thinkers, saints, seers and sages he makes his own attempt, in his own fashion, at least to meditate on those issues as honestly as possible:
Life is a banquet aboard a creamy boat,
Whose rooms are too big to be convincing.
His writings provide a forum wherein such queries are taken up for close scrutiny under the microscope of postmodernism and through the eyes of humor and irony. Maybe his first hand experience with both the Occidental and the Oriental has sharpened his technical skills. For the bi-dimensional philo-sophical outlook that he has gained over the years helps him to take a compar-ative view of life and arrive at the best of all the philosophies that he has felt and heard en route his academic global trotting. He looks at things with a clinical detachment. He operates on the body of life for its cancerous self-centeredness and cankerous religious bigotry. In Sleep, for example, he views the Madison Baptist Church as a place “where crime starts” (“Wearin’ Purple Overalls,” SOLUNA, 30). Elsewhere, he proposes a solution:
the body disappears
Morrison confesses his failure to unravel the hitherto hidden mysteries of human existence. As perhaps the doctor himself, he presides over this opera-tion with a disarming smile, not forgetting to continue his diagnosis in the next work that he proposes to embark upon. He is not deterred by successive mis-adventures in this direction but is persistently enamored by the mysterious aura surrounding earthly life. Among his later works, Realization and Happening are testimonials to vouch for his abiding faith in himself to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One can trace the roots of this perception in the following lines:
“So this is life in the clouds,” I said to myself. But a Voice murmured,
“Life on earth is a temporary disaster.
“He alone is the Truth, He alone is the Way.”
In another context, he suggests a remedy for the “temporary disaster”: “Listen to the words and listen to yourself. Don’t worry about identities.” (A Triptych of Anapochrypha, “The Apocatastasis,” SOLUNA, 28)
Morrison’s works mark stages in the evolution of his divine-consciousness and form a continuity of theme envisaging a cosmological epic dimension. The idea of intertextuality, it occurs to me, was conceived way back in 1989 even in the very title of his collection of poems, SOLUNA, a union of the opposites, the solar and the lunar, the sun and the moon, day and night, the masculine and the feminine, the body and the soul, of which one is the complement to the other. This idea grew into a unique mode in his later works—a fresh trail- blazing, provokingly innovative.
The publication of Realization proclaims the onset of this new mode. As Morrison says, the book “incorporates as intertexts, Upanishad, Dhammapada and Bhagavad Gita.” Realization is a meeting plane on which the words of wis-dom in the annals of ancient Indian philosophical systems and the faithful document of what Morrison saw, felt and thought in varied geographical loca-tions intertwine and collaboratively project the realization of the immanent through the immediate. The world without and the world within cohere and produce a cumulative effect on the reader. The opening paragraph of the book is a succinct illustrative example:
The Lone Star. All this. Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston. Whatsoever moves on earth. Twenty-two degrees, 9:10 am. Is to be hidden. Sky bright, vacuous. In the Lord. Norman, OK. The Self. The 908 arriving from Moore, signal bells ding-ding-ding. When thou hast surrendered all this. Two pick-up trucks. Then thou mayest enjoy. Pale brown, pale blue. Do not covet the wealth of any man ! K-thump k-thump, k-thump k-thump.
The picture that emerges from these lines is one of an individual, conscious of the past, the present and the future. The two streams, the ephemeral and the eternal run parallel to each other as evident from the technique employed by the writer of foregrounding the latter by the use of italics. Even when he is dis-charging his day-to-day obligations through the multifarious socio-cultural variables across the world of mores and ethos, Morrison inescapably feels the pressure from the undercurrent of his soul-stirrings to achieve the goal of self-realization. When he explicitly says in the opening paragraph of Realization that one has to surrender all that one has had as material possessions, fame or title so as to realize the god-head within, that is, self-realization on earth, Morrison is stating an important principle and egging himself on to brush past the four stages of human life as based on an oriental philosophy: the Brahmacharya (learning), the Gruhasthya (family), the Vanaprastha (detachment) and the Mukthi (self-surrender). It cannot be over-emphasized that Morrison is happily and magnificently obsessed with the ideal of seeking the Truth. As a long-time student of India, he moves from the known to the unknown through their correlative divinities. His works outline the pathway of his self-chosen mission and signal the progressive enlightenment that dispels the gloom of ignorance from the dark recesses of his consciousness. Every individual should strive for it on his/her own. No one else can take a bath for you as Nietzsche says. This existential truth Morrison has understood:
Canopic Gods & Anubis. By one’s self is the evil done. Osiris (painted wood). By one’s self one suffers. A scarab rolling the sun before him. Four-foot Hispanic guard; purple-suited blonde making demonstrative inquiry. Horus protecting a king. By one’s self evil is left undone. Color photos of the Temple of Dendur (in situ). By one’s self is one purified. A single white-capped figure strolling the banks of the Nile. “These views, taken in 1851 and 1885, show the conversion of the temple into a Christian church.” By themselves the pure and the impure stand and fall. Black and white photos. No one can purify another. An Ankh.
The message rings clear and stands out as white from black. However, in Morrison’s work black and white are inevitably integrated so as to bring the contrast into focus. His intertextual mode does this precisely, and he is success-ful in driving the message home straight to the reader. By the way, the reader’s presence is encouraged, and his interactive participation in the text with his own insightful and ebullient response is highly expected. Only with the reader does the text becomes alive (as Roland Barthes says in conjunction with Stanley Fish), and this principle shines through every page of Realization. At the end of the book, we see dark clouds thinly masking the horizon. But a strong wind appears, ready to lift the clouds and lead one to the point of certainty. There lives a Master in the hearts of men, and so we have to trust Him. The conclud-ing lines of Realization symbolically suggest Morrison’s preparedness for attain-ing the much-sought-after self-realization:
“What thou dost shun.” Mountains. “Misled by fair illusions.” Low clouds/haze. “Thou would’st see against thy will.” Horizon line holding cloudy/clear uncertainty in focus. “There lives a Master.” Wind gust to eastward. “In the hearts of men.” Answered by western wind reprise. “Maketh his deeds by subtle pulling strings.” Whistling through lines. “And they then dance.” Car in view. “To the tune he wills.” Driver’s seat vacant. “So trust Him! ” Hand on car roof. “And, by grace of him, attain.” Car on road. “So, but meditate! ” Road on clay. “Then act.” Clay on red rock.
The eastern wind is answered by the western wind. The twine binds the East and the West as against the insipid, negative proclamation of Rudyard Kipling. In Morrison’s allegory the car is the body; the driver is the soul; and the des-tination is clear. What one requires is the grace of God and our trust in Him through action and meditation. Morrison’s mission is accomplished, and it is remarkably portrayed through apt and beautiful symbols.
Happening, the author’s monumental study of India, combines “cinematic registration, personal reminiscence, the interweaving of text with intertext, all to evoke ancient, medieval, colonial and present day India” (“About the book,” Happening). The author’s personal experience at Jodhpur is encompassed by his response to the Bhagavad Gita:
An “auto” stops briefly, filled with five women on their way to work [Karma]. “Arjuna continues by declaring that Krishna is God of Gods (deva deva).” Three seated in the 2-person seat, 2 crouched at their feet on floor of passenger compartment. “But his manifestation is not known by gods or by demons.” All happily engaged in straightforward conversation. “For he alone knows his self by his own self.”
Thus Morrison’s realization of the time-bound happenings mingles with his realization of the timeless Truth and projects a unity of his multi-layered con-sciousness. The text within the text reminds one of the complex web of human consciousness, where myriad explorations take place. Surprisingly, however, all these inherent contradictions constitute a single personality, a unified whole, for Morrison achieves a unity or universality amidst plurality or particularity.
The author’s method of incorporating intertexts/hypertexts has recently brought into its fold his latest work, Every Second. In this, he uses a three dimen-sional vision—the past and the present converging at the author’s conscious-ness. The remote, the current and the personal are also distinctly foregrounded graphologically. Morrison’s conception of cosmopolitanism is carried on into Every Second to further the synthesis of the particular and the universal. The difference between them pales into insignificance when “we transcend national-ity, race, gender and class” (Preface, Every Second). Samsara embodies Nirvana and vice versa. One is not extant without the other; the one is the foundation and the other the superstructure. They seem separate entities, but in essence they depend on each other. Morrison desires to move from “I” to “we” and traces this instinctive but rarely expressed feeling of universality in Vergil, “our first self-conscious universalist.” Our modern author proves to be worthy of calling himself an ardent follower of Vergil and moves ahead towards the fulfillment of his goal—self-realization or Nirvana. History repeats itself. So do the Bible and those ancient epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey,as Morrison, inEvery Second, brings them into tune with modern times. Age and stage change, but human roles remain unchanged, as do their concomitant conflicts. So the quest for inner harmony and the ultimate Truth is perennially enacted beneath the fleeting facade of an individual’s life. As one of the most formidable in-tellects of our time, Morrison has intensely felt the impact of the great invisible undercurrent and faithfully recorded his impressions in his works.