Welcome to Eunoia Solstice

Posted on April 1, 2013 by


Eunoia Solstice (you –noy-a), for me anyway, is the evolution of an idea that I partially developed over seven years ago. It originally took the form of The Project for a New Mythology, a handmade journal that sprang from the simple, defiant assertion that if no one was going to publish my friend’s writing, I would. During its eight issue run the goal morphed into creating a kind of community centered around the magazine and that it should take on whatever aura of Wallace Berman’s “Semina” I could scrape together. Unfortunately, I don’t have the artistic skills of Berman, nor the wide ranging collection of friends. Also, being burdened with a forty-hour-a-week day job (like nearly everyone I know), and a swath of other obligations often kept me from devoting serious time to anything but writing the next novel (still revising).
The basic philosophical underpinnings, however, have continued to collect over time. Born from knotting a number of different strings together, it has come to blend the desire for community, for inspiration and cross-pollination, as well as a desire for more honest and direct moral expression that might influence a better outcome in the world. I think the ideas of community, inspiration and cross-pollination are fairly straightforward. It’s that idea of moral expression that often gets thorny and long-winded. It comes, in almost equal parts, from John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, the work of Joseph Campbell that I’ve read (still reading more), Dzevad Karahasan’s book Sarajevo: Exodus of a City (specifically the section “Literature and War”), John Berger’s essays on art (particularly from About Looking), and Edward O. Wilson’s book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.
It begins, essentially, with the assertion that we are the only animal on this planet that looks up at the night sky and wonders where we came from and where we might be going. And, once we took control of fire and began to establish semi-permanent camps centered around a campfire, it’s safe for even a layman like me to assume that’s when we became, as a species, the only animal on the planet to tell each other stories, to orchestrate songs of expression, to paint the walls of our dwellings with pictures, and to carve non-utilitarian and symbolic figures out of wood and stone. Because we made that leap while still at the mercy of our environment, while still preyed upon by stronger, faster animals there must have been some evolutionary benefit derived not only from storytelling but from extracting meaning from the stories we were told.
Now, here we are, for better and for worse, altering the environment of our planet and approaching the ability to manipulate our own evolution at a fine, granular level, and the stories we’re telling ourselves most frequently seem to be either empty and shallow or stridently didactic. Our news media in America pursues a pale form of objectivity tainted by sensationalism that, at times sacrifices truth. Our most watched TV programs are essentially gladiatorial in nature. Our religions are known more for pitching hissy fits about what adults we don’t know do with their bodies, and for demonizing other religious views, rather than exhibiting any compassion or empathy for the suffering of others.
Part of the problem there is that our religions have not kept pace with our empirical understanding of the universe. Our first art was religious in nature, and remained so for a millennia. Religion explained to our ancestors what the science of the day was incapable of explaining. When the mystery appeared to be enormous and it existed right outside the entrance to our dwellings, the stories of gods and demons gave the world an order. Since the Age of Enlightenment, however, religion has been on the retreat, first giving ground when art and literature began to separate itself from overt and solely religious and mystical themes, and then when science was able to openly defy church doctrine on something as simple as the position of the earth in the universe. Or, to put it another way, before the Age of Enlightenment, religion could adequately explain the great mysteries of where we came from and how the world came to exist just so. After the Enlightenment, all scientific advances have both compressed the mystery of our existence on this planet, but also exponentially enlarged the mystery of our existence in the universe at large.
If there is a deity, how much greater and mysterious must that deity be when compared to the various quaint, jealous, petty, and selfish gods we’ve used to bless and condemn each other with? How arrogant is it to convince ourselves that such a deity is only interested in the happenings here on earth? What now do we place against the mystery of this larger universe to make it manageable in our minds and to guide us through the cycle of living and dying?
John Keats described negative capability as the ability to be “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without irritable reaching after fact or reason” and it was something I encountered through the poet Anne Waldman who tied negative capability to Buddhism’s efforts to let go of yearning and desire as a way to end suffering. I think it is this quality, our negative capability, that will become more and more important as we head into this new mystery, but only as long as we avoid its cousin, apathy.
That’s where art, and especially literature, comes to bear.
Literature that has embraced a moral apathy becomes entertainment for its own sake, and spreads apathy to its audience. If our entertainment is meaningless while at the same time reflecting back to us a faulty simulacrum of our world as meaningless, then it stands to reason that a species evolved to seek and draw meaning out of the stories it tells itself will draw from apathetic, meaningless stories both a pervasive apathy and a sense of nihilism.
Into that vacuum of apathy and nihilism will flow literatures that grasp at meaning by creating strict, exclusive ideologies. Those people, rightly appalled by the nihilism but unable to exist in uncertainty, will write stories that promise to make sense of the world, to clear away apathy and provide meaning and purpose. And with them will come hatred, aggression, and fear of anyone who threatens the foundational assumptions of their adopted ideology that has, seemingly, rescued the newly indoctrinated true believer.
The true antidote to apathy and dogmatism is a literature that perfects the balancing act between apathy and strict didactism. A truly moral literature can center us within the mystery and teach us to be comfortable in uncertainty. But that quality of good literature, the balance between apathy and didactism, can be hard to define. Perhaps the best version of it comes from a combination of Dzevad Karahasan and John Gardner: Good literature is a literature that first entertains then, secondly, opens and encourages our capacity for empathetic imagination, and lastly, in literature’s mimetic fashion, causes us to ask questions and test our reactions to discover new boundaries to our own ability to exist in this new world.
Our mission statement hints at these ideas and, I hope, leaves them open to multiple interpretations. I hope that as we move forward, build our community, and, ultimately, produce our journal we can begin a conversation with our readers and contributors about our shared future and how we might use art and literature to affect change in our world – while having some fun along the way.

– Jason Quinn Malott

Posted in: Notes