The Passion of Joan of Arc. Strange, the effect of all those soundless images, more like a hallucination or a nightmare than a film. More effective than dialogue or scoring to convey a pure mental state.
We grasp at language but it is a pale road to meaning — scientists wonder if we are capable of thinking things for which we don’t have the words. But we seek out an image that conjures what we can’t articulate. Maybe this is why I return to poetry after all these years; sometimes the literal is not the most direct route to truth, as truth is what happens within us before we think to explain, to externalize. Before we turn to words to tidy ourselves us up.
Last night I watched Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves; tonight, if all goes well, I intend to watch Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I am not writing this in order to tell you what I think of the film I just watched, or what I anticipate thinking about the one I intend to watch later on. Rather, once again I need to start collecting my thoughts about a long-standing fascination of mine, which is women who talk to god.
This was the subject of the best and most personally meaningful portion of my senior thesis, for which I received a lot of praise, and which I intend to start rewriting and expanding upon in the coming months. It was a series of long-form dramatic monologues in the voices of female saints. Particularly from the early Christian and Medieval period, both of which were rather sticky times to be a female anything.
I think people were rather taken aback that a hyper-rational Jewish atheist such as myself would decide to devote a massive amount of time, thought, and emotional energy into imagining the inner lives of women who thought they were married to Jesus. Though I think what I was trying to imagine is what extreme confinement (social, intellectual, emotional, sexual) does to the psyche of someone who might not really fit, or might not be totally thrilled with the lot to which their society has consigned them.
I think on some level I was trying to figure out what might have happened to someone like me if I had been born at a very different time. It seems very likely I would have been either chronically depressed, or burned at the stake. That may seem like a joke, but for much of history, and in some places still, silent, chronic boredom and public denunciation are the only two options for a woman with a powerful imagination and/or personal ambition.
Or maybe, instead of or on top of one of those things, my loneliness would have grown so extreme that I would have created someone to live in my head with me, or have been open to the idea that in death I would be united with someone who would hold me as an equal, and fuck me like one, and thus have wanted to hasten it. Or maybe I would have just wanted to tell people that such things were happening to me, so that I wouldn’t be the only one who thought I was special.
God has long been our primary way of explaining the unexplainable, what if the unexplainable is the experience of your own mind — an experience for which culture has often lacked a language, especially if your mind is female. The greater and more wild your mind, the greater and more desperate your need for a god who will understand you.