Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

David Jones's Blessed Rage for Order: The "Will toward Shape"

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

David Jones's Blessed Rage for Order: The "Will toward Shape"

Article excerpt


  And when they were filled, He said to His disciples: Gather up the
  fragments that remain, lest they be lost.
  JOHN 6:12

  Man is unavoidably a sacramentalist and his works are sacramental
  in character. ... The notion of sign implies the sacred.
  DAVID JOHNS, "Art and Sacrament"

  All must be "integrated," all are "necessary to the completion of
  the whole" as the dictionary defines it, but what is that whole?
  DAVID JOHNS, "Art in Relation to War"

THIS ARTICLE CONSIDERS THE RELATIONSHIP between unity and diversity in the sacramental aesthetic of David Jones. In exploring the difference between artistic and technocratic and ideological forms of "order," as Jones represents them, it sets Jones's artistic quest for sacramental presence and analogical unity-in-diversity in conversation with William F. Lynch's theory of the analogical imagination, Catherine Pickstock's exploration of the "open mystery" of the Eucharist, and David Tracy's theology of analogy and the "fragment." The fruits of this conversation are then brought to a consideration of Jones's "The Wall," "The Tribune's Visitation," and "The Tutelar of the Place," to suggest that Jones's "will toward shape"--consciously fragmented--struggles to participate analogically in what Pickstock calls "the aporetic impossibility of liturgy," the "order" of signs that offers a perennial challenge to "the will toward power" and the univocal orders (the "totalisms") of empire and modernity.

In the second section of In Parenthesis, his "shape in words" set during the First World War, David Jones brings us into an enclosed barn where, on "very wet days," the soldiers "were given lectures." (1) The barn "with its great roof, sprung, upreaching, humane, and redolent of a vanished order" is suggestive--through a range of signification typical of Jones--of a church (upreaching in its architectural sweep) and of the barn of Bethlehem; but this homely, intimate space is thrown into ironic relief by the Bombing Officer "who told them lightly of the efficacy of his trade" and who predicts "an important future for the new Mills Mk. IV grenade, just on the market." The efficaciousness and "important future" of the "supremely satisfactory invention of this Mr. Mills" are implicitly contrasted with (and ironically evocative of) the efficaciousness of the absent Christ child and his "supremely satisfactory" and "important future" work of redemption (as well as, not insignificantly, his work as a carpenter). The soldiers, meanwhile, are the unwilling shepherds (or animals) come to worship at the crib of modernity. The internal rhyme of "trade" with "grenade" amplifies the irony of the scene, and sharpens the distinction, as Jones understood it, between works that marry the utile and gratuitous (like the barn itself, "redolent of " and sacramentally pointing to something other) and those dead works that are merely "utile" and whose utility, in this case, destroys the "humane." (2)

We are reminded in these lines that what Jones regarded as the older sacramental reality belongs to a "vanished order," dispersed by the new "unlovely order" (3) of modernity--"the new leviathan" (4)--that reaches its apotheosis (or nadir) in what Conor Cunningham has called "the abstract indiscriminate logic of bombs." (5) Toward the end of the same section of the poem, the older order (represented by the small, intimate details) is held in tension with the new (represented by a bomb), at the very moment of the symbolic transition from the old to the new dispensation, as the imminent descending bomb evacuates the contents of the "mess-tin" (called "the bloody thing" in which the soldiers carry "this day's bread") (6) onto the (altar) stones, where the soldier stands "alone" as sacrificial offering:

  The exact disposition of small things--the precise shapes of trees,
  the tilt of a bucket, the movement of a straw, the disappearing
  right boot of Sergeant Snell--all minute noises, separate and
  distinct, in a stillness charged through with some approaching
  violence--registered not by the ear nor any single faculty--an
  on-rushing pervasion, saturating all existence; with exactitude,
  logarithmic, dial-timed, millesimal--of calculated velocity, some
  mean chemist's contrivance, a stinking physicist's destroying toy. … 
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