Monday, November 09, 2009

Inclusio and Holy Helix on the Horizon

To illustrate "inclusio," a literary framing device where an item or phrase is mentioned (or alluded to)
at the beginning and end of a literary unit....actually to establish the literary unit....I love the "with you" inclusio of Matthew, and the "kingdom" inclusio of Acts.

Matthew begins and ends with the "with us" God, suggesting that all the material in between is commentary in that one sweeping theme.

It is fruitful to follow the narrative of Matthew, asking how plot, character, and theme development dovetail with the overarching arc of the "withness" of Jesus.

There are not only book-wide inclusios, but as Len Sweet suggests, a provocative Genesis-Revelation inclusio, Of course, within any given book, there are much shorter ones (note the first and last beatitudes (only) of chapter 5 end
with a promise of the kingdom of heaven, implying that the other promises in between "being filled," "inherit the earth," "be comforted" all have to do with Kingdomness.

A reminder that sometimes even the lines of an inclusio, like time itself (according to one gal) are not literally linear. The line can even be hellishly helical.

Some of you got that reference, and will get where we're headed next.

I have previously written on the inclusios of Scripture in general, but as often in this hood, it's time to apply the study to another form of literature:

U2 albums/setlists.

I have caught one in "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" album, contrasting U2's "holy helix" and "Full circle" with the vicious circle of Pink Floyd's "The Wall."
Beth has caught elements of inclusio effectively woven even into the book accompanying the deluxe version of "How to Dismantle":

Overall, the trajectory of the artwork is exactly the same as the description Bono recently gave on the BBC of the trajectory of the album itself: an arc from fear, in "Vertigo," to the "joyful noise" of trust in "Yahweh"....Overall, we're bookended by two versions of reality, one about death and one about hope, and with these images U2 dismantle the first and get us to the second.
-U2 Sermons

Often there is a trajectory, narrative, a holy helix, a liturgical plot and leitourgia-sensitive flow. Some albums are almost concept albums. Sometimes there is a telltale inclusio to frame the movement, and mark the theme.

But how did I miss this one? I was of course aware that the "How long" refrain appeared in "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and "40," but it didn't fully hit me until reading Steve Harmon that these are (on purpose) the opening and closing songs of the album:
This already/not yet tension echoes in the psalms of lament scattered
throughout U2’s music. The cry “How long?” rises from the first and final
tracks of War (1983), an album filled with prophetic awareness of the notyet-
transformed nature of the world on the one hand and hope for its
transformation on the other.

The now and not yetness of the Kingdom is all over U2, and U2 have been all over eschatological theme from day one (or at least album three). "No Line" might be seen as a sequel/fulfillment of sorts to album three: "War " focusing the "not yet" tension, and "No Line" framing the "now" aspects of Kingdom presence.

What that might mean for an inclusio in "No Line"? The opening/title track is overtly (maybe even overly) optimistic/opti-mystic, and the closing track (out of character on the album) is a largely downer ("Where are You in the Cedars of Lebanon"). Of course both are embedded in each other,

Bono has been clear that the "no line" image is to evoke optimism's
“cogency of all possibilities, potential and actual ” But when the title was announced, I at first assumed it was a negative, disorienting image (the pilot whose plane had flipped down, frantically trying to find and focus the line of the horizon... a tract for our times).

Even though optimism wins by a landslide on the disc, both spins on the "No line" theme are valid and versions of the same. Maybe the last two albums (at least the deluxe version of "HTDAATB" which closed with "Fast Cars." ) the boys have felt the need to intentionally subvert..every so slightly, and thus significantly, the almost CCM upbeatness of the "Kingdom now" end of things.

Beth has offered (listen to last few minutes of the podcast here) that U2's message might be summarized as "hope with realism."
Maybe some of their volumes underline the hope, and some the realism.

Lest we assume the boys have finally and fully found what they're looking for.

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!