Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Still "From the Narrow Desert"

A few weeks ago I discovered and started listening to a second Vampire Weekend song, "Step":

This is the chorus:

The gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out
What you on about?
I feel it in my bones, I feel it in my bones
I'm stronger now, I'm ready for the house
Such a modest mouse
I can't do it alone, I can't do it alone

Given the immediate context, I don't think "the wisdom teeth are out" refers to routine dental surgery. It means "the snake has bared its fangs," snakes being a metonym for wisdom ("wise as serpents"). The third line reinforces this reading with its (probably unintentional) nod to Emily Dickinson's "A narrow Fellow in the Grass":

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.

Listening to "Step" now, I naturally think of Narrow Brain, "the snake-pale, narrow-faced one," the malevolent spirit in Time and Mr. Bass. In the post I've just linked, I noted with concern the link between Narrow Brain and my blog title From the Narrow Desert. It's a line from a poem by George MacDonald in Phantastes. The complete couplet is:

From the narrow desert, O man of pride,
Come into the house, so high and wide.

I've been thinking of the implications of that last line because of the recent syncs relating to the Wise Men: "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him" (Matt. 2:11).

And what does the chorus of "Step" say? "I'm stronger now, I'm ready for the house."

I started to think that maybe it was time to retire the name From the Narrow Desert. I started the blog in 2018, when I was circling around Christianity like a moth but had not yet made the plunge. It expressed my aspiration to find my way out of the narrow desert of know-nothing materialism and into the "house" of a coherent Christian worldview. And, I thought, haven't I done that? I made it -- right, guys? Whatever else you might say about me, I'm not a narrow materialist anymore. I've made it into the house. Maybe I should change the blog name to High and Wide.

When I played "Step" just now, YouTube queued up after it an unfamiliar song by an unfamiliar band: "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco:

The video shows Brendon Urie walking up the side of a skyscraper in Los Angeles until he reaches the roof, where he performs with his band. At first I took this as confirmation -- it's a house that's very high -- but almost immediately I realized that this interpretation didn't sit well with me. Urie (a lapsed Mormon, incidentally, and not in a good way) never actually goes into the building. He stays on the outside, never entering its heart, and uses it to realize his "high hopes" -- which turn out to be no higher than some vapid dream of being a famous pop star. This isn't the imagery of the Wise Men bowing down to the infant Christ, but of the people who wanted "a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven," an idea planted in their hearts by the same being who plotted with Gadianton (Hel. 6:28).

Returning to "Step," "Such a modest mouse!" now seems like a sarcastic response to "I'm stronger now, I'm ready for the house."

In 2002, They Might Be Giants released their first children's album, No!, and these lines from "The House at the Top of the Tree" startled me:

There's a plan to eat the house
In the mind of a mouse in the woods.

Back when I lived in Maryland, more than a decade before this song was released, we had a big tree house which was the site of some strange goings-on. We had a big antique radio in there, with which we picked up transmissions we imagined were from outer space, dealing with a sort of bomb called "the Big Herbie," which they regularly threatened to drop on us. The tree was down in a ravine, so the tree house could be entered by a ramp connecting it to higher ground, without the need for a ladder. One time my sister and I went into the tree house only to find two large snakes coiled around the radio. They looked like colubrids of some kind, and therefore non-venomous, but they still scared us enough that we turned tail and ran back down the ramp.

A persistent mental image or fantasy I used to have while in that tree house was that somewhere deep in the woods but not far away was a "mouse" that wanted to eat the tree house. I could feel its presence and its thoughts, like those of the nightmare toad. Although I thought of it as a "mouse," my mental image was of a very large animal almost like a rodent grizzly bear. When I saw the illustration associated with the TMBG song, it startled me even more:

Where do mental images come from? Why would we get the same one like that?

I've been reading the Psalms, a few a day, and today these two passages jumped out at me:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me (Ps. 131:1).

Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions: How he sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob; Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house . . . until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob (Ps. 132:1-5).

So no, I'm not going to rename the blog. High hopes to one side, these posts remain dispatches from the narrow desert.


Bruce Charlton said...

Even after five years, I'm afraid I still find this blog's title difficult to remember.

As you could probably guess, I think a miscellaneous blog (like this one) probably should be named after the blogger; and a title should only be important when the blog sticks to a particular theme (encapsulated by the name).

But blogs change with time. e.g. I'd guess William Wildblood would prefer not to have his current miscellaneous blog tethered to the title of his first book.

On the other hand; once some degree of "name recognition" has built-up, it is usually a sign of bad management to change that name.

Wade McKenzie said...

In the illustration of the mouse, treehouse, etc. there's a car with the license plate UF 8417. Strong's concordance #8417 correlates with a Hebrew term transliterated toholah, "meaning bluster, braggadocio, i.e. (by implication) fatuity -- folly". Apparently, its sole occurrence is Job 4:18.


Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?
They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.
Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom.
~Job 4:17-21

Wade McKenzie said...

I was curious about the image depicted in the Vampire Weekend YouTube link:


At the upper right of the picture, you can see MATIS.


In the post "The Nightmare Toad" which you reference here, the term buried occurs twice. E.g. "...I myself have had the experience of a buried toad haunting my dreams."

Matis is also the name of an Amazonian Indian tribe.


"Traditionally the Matis have interpreted the world through taste, which they divided between two forms: bata xo (sweet) and chimu (sour). Bitter or sour things have great power, but it’s the balance between the two that produces xo, an excess of which can lead to disaster."

William Wright (WW) said...

I had the same response as you to the Step song with the "modest mouse" line as a sarcastic response to the mouse who is saying it is ready for the House.

Your Gadianton reference was on my mind as I listened to the High Hopes song. In that frame of mind, I was struck by the lyrics:

Mama said
Burn your biographies
Rewrite your history

Has a much darker spin when thinking of Beings operating in the dark and covering up their tracks.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

In the context of secret combinations, MaMa could be an abbreviation for something else.

William Wright (WW) said...

It could be. Your statement actually had me thinking of a female who could be said to be the mama/ mother of evil and secret combinations: Ungoliant. Urie might be singing about her. I just included some thoughts on her at the end of my most recent post.

She was a being who truly wanted "everything" as Urie sings about in his song. She had an insatiable appetite for eating Light, at least.

Above Majestic (with an excursus on turban jokes)

Last Halloween, I posted " Francis Bacon, papal keys, triple tiara, Denver Airport ," which included a meme referencing that airpo...