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21 May 2007 @ 10:00 pm
Nick and Sacramentality  
[Crossposted from forkni-l. Backdated. In response to a post about Nick and religion.]

... The post brushes up against sacramentality and analogical imagination, a reference poised for analyzing Nick!  However, can we go there without further stirring the religion pot, which is always awkward and sometimes painful in public forums?  I'd love to, but it's a challenge.  I'm going to try...

It's long been a custom that showing respect to a symbol also shows respect to that which is symbolized.  In Nick's mortal life, that was so ordinary, deep and wide that it never needed to be explained (was it even possible to explain it, before a certain point in the cumulative progress of human thought?).  Anyway, I believe that is Nick's style of knowing. Before religion is doctrine, it is experience, symbol and story -- not holy writings alone, but holidays, games, food, art, community: an experiential bundle -- and that's how mortal Nick grew up, boy and man, in a mostly illiterate world, to absorb knowledge and reproduce it in his actions.  I think this is the way his imagination works; that is, I think that Nick's pre-conscious mind still uses the templates of popular (not necessarily scholarly) medieval Christianity, which, like modern Catholicism and some other denominations and religions, was above all sacramental -- by which I mean, it found the divine self-disclosed in the creation.

Nick has had hundreds of years to learn alternative styles of knowing, but from the episodes, I personally think he has not adopted many on that deep level, not even when he arguably should have. 

For me, the most potent example is Nick's determination to see humanity as a state of grace (cf. "Near Death").  Muster the metaphor either way, it still comes back that Nick seems to see his God in humankind.  Humanity is not lost, not doomed, not dispensable, but the beloved image of God!  That's so magnificently sacramental, it delights me no end (even when I'm rabidly critiquing how Nick completely misunderstood the Guide's point in ND, that he should have tried to accept grace unearned, the brick, but that's another post ~g~).

I think community (not just the vampire one in the story, but all healthy relationship networks) is another example of how Nick's imagination analogizes the divine.  This is distinct from humanity in being not just a state but an interaction.  Not only does Nick defend the community as a law enforcement officer, he sustains its balance with actions like bringing food to the homeless trio in "Dark Knight," and his rampant denial (I don't think it was hunch alone, only him in all the world; I think it was refusal to surrender the community for the individual) in "A More Permanent Hell" -- those two seemingly disparate choices by Nick come together in both exemplifying him standing with society, not against it, because community as an interaction between beings also seems to reflect God to him.  He repeatedly longs for acceptance not only by individuals, but into communities (perhaps the "Dying to Know You" flashbacks, surely all his professions doctor and lawman and teacher and artist) which brings us back gloriously to "False Witness," where he acts one way and is accepted, and acts another way and is outcast, but in both consecutive choices he is trying to uphold the rules that sustain the community.  Nick is not often a destructive rebel -- am I forgetting any flashbacks?  I interpret that he stands with the oppressed (cf. Ilsa in "Dead Issue," the LR character in second season, etc.) in constructive solidarity instead, making changes for the better inside the lines.  Nick goes out of his way to elaborately correct Schanke's "Eskimo" to "Inuit Aborigine" in "Partners of the Month," surely mostly just to annoy Schanke and fight back against the annoyance Schanke is being, but I like to think that line also supports a Nick who passionately interprets the whole human community as one out of its many parts.

And then there are those to whom he repeatedly turns for help: doctors (Natalie, LNMTA past, "The Fix" past), lovers (Erica, Alyssa, Janette), friends (Marise in CO past, Helen and Thomas-the-villain in FaFo past, Catherine in FitP, Schanke, Feliks).  That he feels intervention and assistance are appropriate and possible, that no number of betrayals or set-backs has made this impossible for him, suggests that his imagination still assumes common cause is the normal order of things, which would suggest he believes the universe has been ordered for common good even if he thinks he has slipped outside that order (cf. OtLo past).

I could go on and on suggesting that Nick's good qualities support this hypothesis.  But if it's to have any chance at credit, I'd better dust off his bad qualities, too.  He has no lack in that area, poor flawed hero. ~g~  Nick is almost absurdly slow to change.  Three hundred years between his first epiphany and his second (cf. "Love You to Death") is my favorite example.  Committed to sustaining the existing order because he sees the beauty and good and possibility in it (cf. community, above), he frequently moves much more slowly than he should.  And then there is his loyalty to Lacroix.  It's not just ("just") filial affection or duty or even love; it fits the paradigm in which obedience and loyalty are prime virtues, and where the ordering of the creation is seen to reflect the divine, then that loyalty is owed to the designated representative in creation (as through the symbol to the signified, cf. the ring in DK2&IWR past).  And then there are the times Nick expects that of others in turn, toward himself.  If Nick's pre-conscious worked differently, perhaps he could have staked Lacroix centuries before DK.  Would not many another character have hit the Enlightenment and pushed Lacroix into the noonday sun?  Funny how little we know of Nick during the revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; third season brought us him at the eve of the Russian Revolution ("Strings") of course, but...

Well, that's surely enough for now.  Thank you for your patience.  I hope I have not offended anyone, or bored too many!  This is the first time in many years that I've gotten home from work, opened the forkni-l digest, and compulsively typed and typed instead of eating dinner or... good thing I set my VCR for the Heroes finale, or I'd have missed that, too!  Goodness, how did we manage a decade ago, when we all did this all the time?

(By the way, influence all over this post, yep, I'm a fan of sociologist/novelist/journalist/priest Andrew Greeley, and yep, he got the term "analogical imagination" from theologian David Tracy, of whom he's a fan.  All credit to them, any blame to me.)