Collaboration, Interpretation, and the Celestial Rose in Paradise/Paradiso and during COVID-19

While I do not fully understand the eagle of divine Justice within Dante’s paradiso fully, I do understand bits and pieces of it in fractals. I think the eagle has multiple layers, and I am just brushing one of them–Paradiso is structured like the Celestial Rose and branching out from a divine center, and I feel as though I am the furthest branch out from reaching the deeper meaning of the eagle, but that is okay. My working understanding of the eagle stems from the brow, which I also tend to think about in terms of the Celestial Rose or fractals in that each part is working to create a greater whole. In Dante’s Paradiso, the eagle of divine Justice has a brow that is formed by five flames. These flames represent different souls who complicate ideas of justice. These flames within the eagle’s brow ultimately reveal that God wills his judgements to be overturned by human hope and love. The brow serves to represent the judgement placed on humans by God and humans’ ability to change it, which toy with a major theme within Morrison’s work: divine Justice. 

Throughlines throughout this course have started to reveal themselves as Paradise and Paradiso come to a close–directionality and mapping were key to understanding Beloved and Jazz, and are now key to understanding Paradise, as wellThe connections between Paradise and Paradiso for me were first facilitated by the image of the Celestial Rose. I found this image to illuminate how the structure of Paradiso is mirrored in Paradise: Paradiso is composed of multiple spheres that expand outward from a divine center point while Paradise is structured around the towns of Haven and Ruby that are centered around the Oven. The parallels between the structures in each work are further revealed by the phrase written on the lip of the Oven: “Be/Beware the furrow of his brow.” In Dante’s Paradiso, the eagle of divine Justice has a brow that is formed by 5 flames. These flames represent different souls who complicate ideas of justice. The eagle reveals that God wills his judgement to be overturned by human hope and love, which further reveals complications of divine Justice. The phrase on the lip of the Oven is tied to the Eagle’s brow and the complication of divine Justice, and the argument over whether the lip says “Be” or “Beware” strengthens this connection: If the people of the town were to “Be” the furrow of the eagle’s brow, they would be the souls who took actions that were granted repentance and and complicate divine Justice. If the people are to “Beware” the Eagle’s brow, they are to identify these souls and fear God’s imposition of Justice. The contrast between the two words demonstrates how Morrision toys with and identifies the idea of divine Justice throughout Paradise. 

Divine Justice, yet another through-line throughout the course texts, is why Morrison chose to present two interpretations of the text on the Oven’s lip. “Be the furrow of his brow,” which is the interpretation preferred by many of the younger men in Ruby, believe that this phrasing allows for the people to “[be] his instrument, his justice” (87). If the men are to be Gods brow and his instrument, they will follow in the paths of the five souls in the eagle’s brow–they may take actions that are unjust, but have a deeper meaning and gain repentance from God. Their actions may be wrong, but will ultimately be supported by human love and hope, which will overturn God’s initial judgement. To be the furrow of his brow complicates the sense of divine Justice because it implies that humans possess the power to overturn judgement cast by the divine.  The older generation in Ruby prefers the interpretation of “beware the furrow of his brow.” This interpretation instills fear in the followers of God: “It says ‘Beware.’ Not ‘Be.’ Beware means ‘Look out, The power is mine. Get used to it.’ ” (97) . This interpretation implies that God is the one divine power, and that human implications have no way of deterring His judgement.

While it is seemingly nice and easy to have two starkly different interpretations and to draw borders around each one, this is not really realistic. In reality, both interpretations have truths, and they each circle back to one another–there is not one that is more right than the other, and they are actually closer to defining divine Justice together. Additionally, to look at the eagle’s brow as a whole is important here. The brow is presented as one cohesive unit, but is really a unit composed of five parts. Although the two interpretations do not agree on whether to “be” or to “beware,” they do agree that the brow is one cohesive unit, and this demonstrates the belief of each group that parts function together to form a whole. Each interpretation is expanding outward from a divine center and does not function on its own, which is once again reminiscent of the Celestial Rose. 

In reflection, I feel that our current pandemic experiences are so similar to this. We are all experiencing the same thing in infinitely different ways, yet our experiences are all connected to both a divine center and to each other. It is important to remember that our experiences do function individually, but are much stronger when communicating and collaborating with the experiences of those around us. I think this is reflective of the text on the lip of the Oven–Each country right now is handling COVID-19 response differently, and many disagree with the way other countries are handing it. However, each one believes they are doing the best thing for the people within it. If each country could identify that it is connected to others at the center and is not functioning as an individual sphere, it would be easier for the world to collaborate and formulate the best response to this disease. This is also relevant on the smaller scale. I know I have started to lose the aspect of collaboration and forget that my experiences are tied to others at the center and are functioning as a petal within a greater flower, and to recognize this is to bring myself one step closer to functioning at a higher level of awareness. If I circle back to those around me, I will strengthen myself and my experiences. 

When looking at the Gibb’s reflective cycle, it is very much spherical and cyclical. I think this in itself is significant to reflecting upon the collaboration between Paradise and Paradiso because its structural similarities to the two make me feel like I am almost a part of their collaboration, which I essentially am–without a reader, Morrison would not be able to converse about and convey the discussion she is having with Dante’s work. However, I am not really collaborating with Dante or Morrison, but I am collaborating with my peers, which uncovers a both/and. When I discuss connections and the novels read in class with my peers, we often are able to uncover so much more than I would uncover on my own during a first read-through. Because of the collaboration between me and my peers, I am able to further partake in and understand the collaboration between Morrison and Dante. 

When collaborating with my classmates, we often run into the both/and of collaboration. Usually, it looks something like the interpretation of the text on the lip of the Oven in Paradise, and it always functions the same: by listening and valuing the interpretations that differ from mine, I am actually propelling myself closer to understanding the novel. This is reminiscent of the eagle’s brow in Dante’s Paradiso,  where five parts make up a whole. Without each part, the whole would be lost. 

Moving forward, there will be a multitude of both/and’s that are so relevant. There will be the both/and of who we were before the pandemic and who we are after. There will be the both/and of being carefree before the pandemic and being carefree after. The both/and of collaboration and interpretation are so important as we move towards defeating COVID-19 for so many reasons: we are on our own, but we must collaborate with officials and follow guidelines. Our interpretation of the guidelines put in place all vary to some degree, but almost everyone has the same end-goal. I lean heavily on collaboration when I am at school, and moving into distance learning shocked my system. I have found myself seriously struggling with online classes, and I am more stressed than I thought possible since forfeiting clubs and other extracurricular obligations, and that in itself is another both/and: we have more time, and we are more stressed. I think that identifying both/and’s such as these will be key to processing the trauma we are all enduring. It may never make complete sense, but to try to differentiate between either/or will make processing that much more difficult.

I will be student teaching in the fall, if everything is better by then, and I know I will need to take the both/and of collaboration and interpretation with me into that and into my teaching career. I will always need to be able to see multiple sides to problems, and I think that is why the skills we develop as English majors are so coveted in today’s professions. Using these both/and’s will help us to stay centered in a world that keeps adding new layers, not unlike the Celestial Rose.

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