People of the Twilight: The Masked World Between Being and Non-Being

They fear life.  In many ways, they hate it.  It hasn’t been kind to them.  Mother Nature may have burdened them with unattractive faces, or the luck of the draw may have given them a single parent who bothered about their childhood needs a quarter of the time—and never on weekends.  Perhaps their temperament (who knows if such things are bestowed more by nature or nurture?) has prevented a comfortable degree of socialization.  They are oddball, alone, and without a cast of supporting characters or even a stock of pleasant memories to offer them refuge.

They’re likely to thrust a tremendous investment of affection upon a dog or a cat—the childhood- or bosom-friend they never had whose big eyes can always be interpreted as limitlessly loving and whose muteness as perfect agreement.  They tend to eat too much.  Whatever care they give to personal appearance often borders on self-mutilation, either to channel the loathing they feel for an unprepossessing body or, perhaps, to ground the argument that they could make a swan of the ugly duckling if they gave a damn.

Males, more often than females, seek escape in the virtual reality of video games.  The feminine taste leans more toward romantic fantasies available ad infinitum in ebook form.  Both sexes exploit social media in search of escape or relief—the male more likely to slash and burn with a lexicon learned from public toilets, pretending to be the buccaneer iconoclast he hasn’t the intellectual depth or moral courage to play in real life; the female more often curling up warmly behind an avatar and a trove of cliches that render her easily “friendable”.

The female is much more likely to have an above-average exposure to formal education.  One may even say that she is magnetically drawn to certain of the “social studies” in college because of the patented rationalizations they offer for her misery—the absolution of any personal guilt and the accusations lavished upon others.  Graduate-degree mills in several fields are indeed nothing short of a “crutch industry”, thanks to an abundance of her kind in the post-grad population.

The male of this species that dwells in twilight, while not so successful academically (and, for that matter, distinguished by his unsuccess in all endeavors), isn’t stupid.  He has a measure of intellect that might have been tapped for more-ambitious-than-average projects if only a means of motivating him existed.  He has dedicated whatever talent he possesses, sadly, to sneering and snarling at the system that walls him in with evidence of his failure and inadequacy.  He might possibly construct a bomb some day, and it might possibly be of the small nuclear variety: he has the acumen necessary for something of the sort.  The question is… does he have the courage, the hellish courage (think of Milton’s Satan), needed actually to make other humans who’ve never done him wrong suffer far more than he ever has?  Probably not.  Mercifully, in most cases, no.

As a footnote, I should add that another kind of male exists: more sociable, much more “female”.  Oddball yet eloquent, alienated yet readily found in company, he plays at the edge of twilight and represents an unstable ally.  His companionable qualities make him risky: he may withdraw in a given crisis from endorsing outright anarchy.  While he may follow whatever crowd forms to overthrow everything, he’s also apt to follow that hard day’s work with an evening at the theater or the cabaret.  He’s not a bomb-thrower; and if you yourself are one, you shouldn’t assume that he has your back.

Whether courtesy of the Ivory Tower or simply through natural attraction, both “pure” sexes of Twilight People are idolaters of the future.  The future is not now.  In Baudelaire’s grand phrase, it’s anywhere out of this world.  The details of that better—that oh-so-very-best—future are yet to be hatched out.  Why bother?  At the moment, the present needs annihilating, for Future Perfection cannot come to dwell among us until a place for it to dwell is swept clean.  A mind even of average intelligence, to be sure, would grasp early in “the struggle” that the Golden Age isn’t going to show up during the lifetime of its footsoldiers.  The Twilight People “get” this.  They embrace it, indeed.  The indefinite delay—the perpetual postponement—is more attraction than obstacle to the true believer.  After all, the future’s real gift is its looming, its approach.  One may devote one’s life to preparing the glorious way with far more zeal than one might bring to actual day-to-day life in any well-defined utopia.

The zeal’s the thing.  Life is hateful, miserable, loathsome… but zeal for tomorrow makes today tolerable—and may tomorrow, always almost here, never complete its disillusioning arrival!

Two further characteristics will likely have struck you about the People of Twilight as I wrote the previous couple of paragraphs: 1) they have no faith in any metaphysical reality, and 2) their zeal for “unreal reality” has been nudged into the gap of that missing faith.  It couldn’t be otherwise; for, as much as they shun daylight, they also fear the night.  They hate life, but they hate death, too.  They flee life, but can’t flee it too far—not beyond its edge; for in that chasm lurks the unthinkable, infinite and permanent oblivion.  Precisely because they’ve made nothing of life, they must cling to it.  It’s all they’ve got.  Maybe it will yet yield something pleasant, something worthwhile.  Probably not.  But at least there’s that chance in a million.  Beyond the pale, in the outer darkness… no chance of anything.  Ever.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of faith is its taking the terror out of death… and perhaps an advantage very nearly as great is its bestowing purpose on life.  Imagine the misery of having neither purpose nor a means of escape from purposelessness.  A difficult spot to find oneself in.  Twilight is the only alternative: a world that isn’t here-and-now but also isn’t the hereafter: a kind of ongoing suspension, a transport in cryogenic immobility from the hated world to the same world no longer hateful.  And you get there by dreaming of a world no longer hateful… on whose behalf you ignore, or actively incinerate, all in the world around you.

I’ve come now to masks.  I might have come to firebombing and Antifa, or to broadcasting made-up dramas in full awareness of their fantasy, or to translating every single human event into the plots and assaults of racists as ingeniously as John Donne transformed a flea into sexual intercourse.  But masks will do.  In fact, they are surely the supreme trope, the most expressive creation, of the People of Twilight.  The masked face breathes, but does not partake of your filthy public air.  That face may speak to you, but “socially distanced” and muffled by a sheet.  Its features are not those of a “death mask”, for the eyes remain open; but without contributing gestures from mouth or nostrils, the intent behind the eyes remains always equivocal.  Are they warm and simpatico… or are they hot and fuming?

The new face is half in the dying daylight and half in the clammy fingers of night.  It’s neither fish nor fowl.  Hands off!  You don’t know it—you have no hermeneutic key to its thoughts.  Wherever you may suppose it to be… it’s elsewhere.  Welcome to the brotherhood of the stay-away-from-me’s.

The rationale undergirding (or hiding behind) the mask is similarly evasive.  We are told that the mask keeps deadly microbes from exiting the wearer, and also that it protects the wearer from deadly microbes.  (Yet mask-cultists never appear to register anxiety about infecting others: their concern is always for their own vulnerability.)  The mask’s weave blocks minute viral particles… but it does not compromise the wearer’s lungs by trapping larger contaminants and bacteria before the mouth for hundreds of inhalation cycles.  The mask is security against a virus traveling everywhere—everywhere—in aerosol form… yet it’s unnecessary outdoors, and its challenge is largely met by social distancing.  Your mask will protect you from me… yet I must wear one, too, because yours may not protect you.  COVID virons are so tiny that two mask-walls scarcely suffice to impede their attack… yet the visible gaps around the chin and the nose bridge are too small to open a passage.  Bare hands are constantly in contact with noxious “naked air”… yet those same hands are forever readjusting the mask, with a thumb or fingertip slipping past the gate every time.  Or if the wearer always “purels” and/or removes gloves before every adjustment… well, didn’t a bare hand grasp the second glove to come off, or didn’t a bare hand hit the pump of the Purel bottle?  And there’s always that potentially lethal three or four feet between the bottle and the face, filled by ever-untrustworthy free air.

Neither dead nor alive.  The People of Twilight are among us, and they are legion: just how many, we’ll soon find out.  But a house divided against itself cannot stand, and a people half of whom flee the daylight cannot grow and prosper.  What the deranged cultists of the fleeing half refuse to understand is that twilight, by definition, is unstable, ephemeral: a flight into night.  To reject life is to run into death’s arms.  To deny God is to affirm fearful oblivion.  There’s no third option.

FREE EBOOK: From Sunday (October 11) to Thursday (October 15), this text that I created for a college class is will be available as a Kindle download at no cost whatever. Mainstream academic publishers, of course, didn’t want to take a chance on my thesis: that medieval scribes had faintly Christianized the ancient Irish legend of Cu Chulainn’s journey to the Other World and the Welsh Owein’s transits through the same interface. They bristled even more when I added Marie de France’s Eliduc to the list, these days treated only as an indictment of toxic masculinity. Yet the redemptive allegory, at least in the last two, is unmistakable… except to the unredeemed.

Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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