I’m a loud clapper.
It doesn’t matter what kind of event I’m attending. Whenever the punchline hits, the curtain falls, the last note fades away, there I am, smacking my lanky mitts together like a loon, usually unsettling the nice old lady on my left.
One can ponder who in humanity came up with this somewhat odd way of expressing collective approval, but I prefer to dwell more on the mechanics of the thing. Two hands rush toward each other through empty space, one right, one left, both silent except for the nigh-imperceptible rush of air. Then, finally, they crash into one another, and their energy is transferred to the infinitesimal, vibrating network of atoms surrounding them. Hands are big and atoms are small, so the energy rushes outward fast and far in a tidal wave of compressed atoms.
I find this somewhat fascinating. Just from the action of two silent hands, empty space is lit up with the roar of human approval. One hand rushing right. One hand rushing left. A thunderous meeting. And it is from just this union that we unravel the beauty of paradox. When two seemingly opposite things find their home together, things go boom. And there’s beauty in boom.
I hold resolutely to the principle that Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is some of the finest children’s television ever produced. A stunningly animated world, a healthy serving of fantastical fight-scenes, and relatable, virtuous characters all make it a highly enjoyable watch. At the center of the story is Aang, a caring, fun-loving boy vested with nearly limitless power. As we well know, virtue and power do not tend to survive in close proximity. And yet, as Aang strikes out on his epic journey, neither of these two extremes yield. Instead, Aang is able to hold them together within himself, and through this ability, saves a world.
Then, (to make a pirouetting leap across the cultural landscape) there’s the character of Sebastian Flyte in Evenlyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Sebastian is a luminous, bubbling young man who seems to carry the whole world at a fingertip. And yet, beneath the surface, shadows are lurking. As time goes on, alcoholism and depression begin to eat away at him and he winds up in a life of dissolution, isolation, and poverty. And yet, Sebastian’s luminosity and suffering remain within him, driving against one another, pushing him far from his family but closer to peace. Commenting on Sebastian’s condition, his sister Cordelia says: “I’ve seen others like him, and I believe they are very near and dear to God.”
And how right I think Cordelia is. The Christian understanding of the world is a collection of bizarre and yet achingly beautiful dichotomies. Faith and reason. Heaven and earth. Sinner and saint. And all of these have their root in one central paradox: the union of God and man in the person of Christ. This is the truest paradox of all, and the one to which all others bow. Good fiction doesn’t avoid these seemingly confusing collisions of the opposite. It charges for them, listening for the boom.
- The Beauty in the Boom: Fiction and the Art of Paradox - September 26, 2016