The Discovery of Heaven

The 2001 Jeroen Krabbé film of the 1992 Harry Mulisch (Dutch) novel.

I just watched it at the suggestion of Eddo that it had some value to our recent Pirsig / McGilchrist dialogues – the  divine or sacred right-brain view of reality obscured by the dominance of the received-wisdom “science-led” left-brain model of reality:

(Freedom runs on rails. Rules are for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools, so rules cast in stone are bad news. There is no absolute freedom in life and reality is more complicated than any rule-based model. The natural world is more than science’s model of it.)

Anyway the film: 20th C Humans have messed-up.
Heaven would like its tablets of stone back. (Why, no idea.)

The symbology is so transparent and unsubtle, the outline of the plot above is stated explicitly in the opening lines, and the layers of religious-symbology and supernatural-cliché are piled-on thicker and thicker thereafter. (But why, still no idea.)

As well as the film and book being 20 and 30 years old, the plot starts in and is inspired by the 60’s (60 years ago). So, after a bit of student anti-war & anti-military-industrial-complex protest, and some revolutionary-socialism, it’s blasphemous theology all the way. Possibly less clichéd if seen 20 or 30 years ago, but from a 2022 perspective:

We have Name of the Rose, American Gods, Satanic Verses, Da Vinci Code and La Comedia thrown in the blender. Oh, and a raven called Edgar (!) leading our blue-eyed angelic child – with supernatural powers of premonition – on his quest for “Daddy” even though he’s only “a shadow”.

Education, books, libraries, historical art, music and architecture are clearly the good guys. But finally, Heaven and Hell seem to be locked in a mutual conspiracy to keep humanity in the dark about the value of that divine or sacred something we can only glimpse obscurely.

[Also: Cosmic brotherhood. Sexual nudity (?) – we already knew where babies come from.  Symbols of all three monotheistic faiths on the lovers’ necklace gift. The puzzle of finding words to describe or define “the divine”. Auschwitz as our ubiquitous symbol of hell on earth. Coincidence of place. The centre of the centre / the holy of holies / the sanctum sanctorum. The arc of the covenant / the keys to the locks / the tablets of stone. Moses’ staff parting the red-sea. Three faiths meeting each other and the underworld in the Jerusalem of Mohammed, Jesus and the Jews. The freeing of the text from the tablets’ destruction. The ascension to the light, and yet ending in continued endarkenment of humanity. Why? Confusingly overdone with no “redeeming” message that I could see. Maybe the book fares better?]

9 thoughts on “The Discovery of Heaven”

  1. The Idea of sharing the Title of this Movie was my way of comparing madness with a disturbance in our experience of having collective faith in the stars on the firmament. These stars on the firmament can represent institutionalised authority, people with celebrity status or leaders we follow. The common people seems to share these stars as social values that help with their orientation in society. A metafor for using the start to navigate at sea.
    New science in psychology showed the last 15 years that people can become victim of what is called ” institutional betrayal” . This kind of betrayal seems to cause the development of serious mental illness. I myself was in 1993 victim of institutionalised betrayal due to unsolved conflicting bureaucratic demands of me having to finish my university degree and being present for temporary military exercise at the same time. This resulted in my mental breakdown. I later recognised that RMP had his struggles with education institutions in ZMM. He recognised that there was something wrong with our institutionalised values regarding the concept quality. In ZMM RMP started to deviated from the socially accepted interpretation of the concept quality by doing his own research while teaching English. His unorthodox ways of doing research made him deviate from the institutionalised stars on the firmament and become a star himself.

  2. Hi Eddo, I think I knew all this. People suffering from institutional betrayal are suffering from an illness I call “conspiracy theory” seeing everything institutional as evil – and that’s why I have been so concerned for you. The metaphors are as old as Icarus trying to outdo the gods, too close to the sun, and suffering as a result.

    (And yes in RMP the institutions are “the church of reason” – Pirsig-101)

    I guess with this film (and book?) there were just too many other metaphors and symbols piled-up, but not really any new message (given the above).

    The point is not to “beat” the divine and sacred but to understand it – based on seeing it obscurely, never pinning it down – and to understand the balance needed.

    As a film the problem for me with this drama was he didn’t come back alive – he didn’t learn the lesson?
    (And therefore I have no idea whether the author understood.)

    Sadly, I think it may have had the wrong message – that our angel somehow did understand the tablets of stone, saw the light and ascended to heavenly glory. But the real lesson is that institutional rules should NEVER be carved in stone – they’re for guidance … etc.

  3. Quote: People suffering from institutional betrayal are suffering from an illness I call “conspiracy theory” seeing everything institutional as evil – and that’s why I have been so concerned for you. The metaphors are as old as Icarus trying to outdo the gods, too close to the sun, and suffering as a result.
    I advice you to use another word because you use the wrong concept. Conspiracy is a well defined word in our dictionary and I am in no need to use your explanation which I am experiencing as a ad hominem attack. Three strikes your out remember? Confusion is a better word because this will happen to every healthy human being if institutions contradict each other. Conspiracy theorist is stigmatising, degrading and dehumanising a victim of institutional betrayal, It’s a brainwash method introduced by the Cia to force independent Journalists in following the prescribed narrative after the public assasination on J.F. Kennedy. This is a proven fact.

  4. Hi Eddo, certainly “ad hominem” in the sense of being aimed at the person – specifically an expression of concern for the person – but it was you who made yourself and your illness the subject here – “I myself was a victim”.

    However, no problem changing the word to your preferred “”institutional betrayal” perspective, since we seem to understand each other. We’re well beyond “dictionaries” here anyway.

    And yet how am I meant to interpret the para from “brainwash method … to … proven fact”?

  5. Interesting title – I think the overall idea of “discovery of Heaven” could potentially be very pertinent as one of the ways to re-balance the two brains again. Even if just in a moderate secular form of openness to the mystery, or appreciating the ineffable Sacred beyond science. It makes me wonder if Pirsig ever read Dante or any of the more rational mystics of the late Medieval times. Which could be read as meditations over the sacred, in a more confined manner.

    There is also understandably a certain ancient “poetry” in that a RH belief in the Heavens have the potential to pull us out of the deep problems the LH can create.

  6. Quote, And yet how am I meant to interpret the para from “brainwash method … to … proven fact”?
    It is public knowledge from cia archives made public.

  7. @Richard Emerson Another famous story which can be devided in two brain halves is Homers Ilias and Odyssey. Achilles is the one that has to remain the faith in his name that resembling his invisibility. RH and cunning Ulyssus hides behind the name nobody to be able to survive the cyclops.

  8. @dutch4tune (Or Eddo, if I may..) – that’s a great point. I wonder if not the Greek tradition in general is more RH overall, compared to f.ex. the Latin and Italian tradition. It would make sense to the degree that Orthodox theology is more RH than Catholic theology (and arguably a major element of their gradual drifting apart.)

    How much LH warnings are there in the Odyssey.. a great idea to look at more closely.

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