About a month ago, I wrote a too long post about how Cuse's and Lindelof's Lost was an creative exercise in postmodern religious syncretism and mythopoesis, but leaning perhaps a little more heavily on retrieval themes from Dante and by extension Catholic iconography. I think after watching the finale last night, that assessment holds up pretty well. I'm off on some things, but I think I caught the spirit of what they were trying to do. You can read the whole post if you want, but I think the most relevant grafs are here:
For Dante, Purgatory was an island in the southern hemisphere, unreachable by ordinary means. It was the antipode to Jerusalem, which was the the center of the northern hemisphere, the top half of the earth, which in Dante's imagination of it stretched east to west, from the Ganges to Gibraltar. Purgatory is a mountain on this island at the center of the bottom half of the earth. So the central axis of the earth is defined by the North Pole at Mt. Calvary, and by Mt. Purgatorio and the South Pole, and the summit of Mt. Purgatorio is Eden, from which Adam and Eve were banned. And between the two lies hell.
It's interesting to think about the meaning of the crucifixion on Calvary in Jerusalem and of Christ's harrowing of hell after it as a kind of blasting a hole in hell, which allowed the people from the North to pass to the south. That passage, impossible before the crucifixion, is the path of salvation, the path back home. The Greeks imagined Hades as a grim dead end and the Jews imagined Sheol similarly. For them there was no way back to the Island. So after the crucifixion humans from the post-Adamic fallen world in the Northern hemisphere could find passage back to the South, through Hell, and then beyond to climb the Purgatorial mountain, to its summit, Eden, which is the staging area for salvific release into the heavens. This is a journey Dante takes with Beatrice in the Paradiso cantos.
Dante passes through hell and then comes out in the south on the Island at the South Pole, and then he climbs the purgatorial mountain there to reach the original Garden of Eden. And from Eden he departs into the several levels of heaven defined by the planetary spheres, the fixed stars, and the realm that lies beyond the fixed stars where one encounters the Godhead in the Beatific Vision. This was Dante's journey in the flesh, and perhaps it's analogous, in its Purgatorial phase, to the journey the Lost survivors have made that have brought them to the Island.
In Dante's imagination of the earth, the southern hemisphere, the world down under, is the underworld, in the sense that it is under the top part of the world, but the top half is the realm of fallen consciousness, of Maya, illusion. In Christian mythopoetic terms, the northern hemisphere is a place of fallen exile, the place in which we're all metaphysically "lost." The underworld is for fallen consciousness a dream world, but from the perspective of those down under, the northern hemisphere is the hallucination. The underworld is non-hallucinatory because there lies the path home. A journey into the underworld must be undertaken if one is to find his way home. He must pass through it to get back where he is to end his exile, to be no longer lost, to return to where it all began, where lies the real home and the ultimate destination for all those who by grace and choice undertake to become un-lost.
Clearly Cuse and Lindelof are playing with this traditional cosmology, as they are, of course, using ideas from several other sources. This is for them a wildly syncretistic exercise, but all the more interesting for that. The Postmodern era is the Age of Syncretism--of all manner of creative fusions. [I'm not saying that this is a Christian allegory, but clearly Christian ideas are among those that significantly influence the story they want to tell.]
So the Island in the Lost narrative, in addition to being a cork, is a threshold, a place between here and there, and the writers do a very interesting job of creating a sense of displacement or dislocation that relates to the situation of these exiles: Is being on the Island really to be Lost, or is it to be found? Hasn't Jacob found them and brought them there? And it's clear that their longing for home in the Northern hemisphere is nostalgia for the hallucination, like the Israelites in the wilderness longing to return to Egypt. They are exiles, yes, but right where they need to be.
And since the detonation of the Jughead and the creation of the sideways reality, a new kind of alienation into a hallucinatory exile has been created. It is the obverse of the more conventional idea of exile, which is to be "neither/nor"; in its being "both/and". The more typical form of exile in at Ptolemaic or Newtonian universe is to be neither here nor there, to be between home and some future destination, either a future return to the original home or to find a new one. No two things can occupy the same space at the same time, but can one thing occupy two spaces at the same time, to be both here and there? The Lost writers seem are telling us that it is possible, but if so, what are the implications? And it's not a good thing to be so split.
A traditional pre-Einsteinian archetype for exile, for being "lost" is the biblical neither here nor there, to be neither in Egypt nor yet in Jerusalem, to be wandering futilely in a wilderness. But post-Jughead the survivors in the Lost story are now both here and there in two parallel realities at the same time--on the Island in the Southern hemisphere and in the sideways reality in the Northern hemisphere in which Oceanic 815 never crashes.
And while those on the Island (except Desmond apparently) have no awareness of their other lives in the Northern hemisphere, those in the northern world are all gradually awakening to their parallel existence on the Island. So this is the big question to be resolved in the next six hours: What is the relationship between the two parallel realities? How is it possible to live in two worlds with two separate narratives at the same time? Are they both equally real, or is one a kind of hallucination, and if so, which one is the hallucination? For me the answer is clear, but we'll see if that's where the writers go with it.
Because if the Dante paradigm gives us a clue, the northern hemisphere is the fallen world of illusion (and we're specifically talking about Los Angeles here to boot) and the southern hemisphere, or the underworld, the world down under, is the staging area for salvation. And if the writers are working with a Dante-esque logic, the people in the sideways timeline in the northern hemisphere are living in a hallucination from which they must wake up. They must return to the Island, and it appears they are in the process of figuring that out as the men, anyway, are having experiences that awaken them to the memory of their Beatrices, Claire for Charlie, Penny for Desmond, Libby for Hurley, and Helen for Locke. The memory of something emotionally real awakens them to their hallucinatory status in the sidways timeline. Very Dante-esque.
This logic would explain why it was wrong for the survivors to leave the Island in 2004, and why Farraday was wrong to set off the bomb that created the timeline in which Oceanic 815 never crashes. The sideways reality represents a regression, the comforting fleshpots of Egypt; the true path lies ahead on the Island. The Island is a wilderness staging area in which the survivors are learning that their old ways of thinking are obsolete; it's where, like the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness, they are being prepared to move forward on to the next stage.
The writers have put the North Pole in the Tunisian wilderness rather than in Jerusalem or the Sinai, perhaps to avoid being too Judaeo-Christian in their references. It's probably a nod to Mithraism and the Hermetic tradition, but I'm not sure about that. And they clearly meant the sideways reality to be more positive than I depict it here, but I think it's clear that what happened or happens on the Island gives shape to what happens in the sideways reality because they are all dead in in the sideways northern world--it's real, but not their "real" lives, and it is a kind of hallucination from which they need to awaken as they remember their real lives in the crash timeline.
The sideways reality is a post-death dream from which they all must be awakened. It's what the Tibetans call a bardo state, which is very much like what Dante is describing as Purgatory, a transition state between our incarnate life and whatever comes next. And that awakening is an anamnesis or remembering of their real life, which was their Island life and the choices and deeds done there that earned for them the redemption that allows them to wake up in the sideways reality and "move on". Moving on could mean almost anything from reincarnation to an encounter with the Godhead.
The Island timeline is the "real" timeline, that's the point of Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Richard, and Frank successfully flying off to resume their lives off Island. That time line is the one that matters in the drama of human freedom, and it's the only one that matters. That's the time line in which Jack dies among the bamboo trees and Hurley and Ben live out their lives as number one and two protecting the Island, and in which Desmond probably sails home to Penny and his son.
The writers resolved the problem of the two parallel realities by affirming the existential substance of the crash reality and the dreamlike bardo-like quality of the sideways reality, a reality from which they needed to awake. The sideways timeline is a kind of collective fabrication, a collective fantasy constructed from their positive karma, so to speak, but which is a temporary holding pattern until they all remember who they are and in that remembrance experience a kind of resurrection--they remember who they are for one another as one mini community within the larger communion of saints. But I have to think about that some more.
The series as a whole has not come completely into focus for me--there are still lots of loose ends, but I have to say that I think they pulled it off. It's not perfect, but it's a brave attempt that has succeeded beyond what we should ordinarily expect from prime-time TV. I'll have more to say as the dust settles.
UPDATE: Unanswered questions:
What would MiB/Flocke have done had he escaped the Island? What was at stake in preventing his successful escape? Would he still have been the smoke monster off Island?
What was at stake in saving the Island? What would have happened if Jack hadn't put the plug back in?
What really happened after the bomb went off and what is the sideways reality, really? Is it just in the dream consciousness of the key survivors? Or is there a whole universe full of people living an alternative history with the Island at the bottom of the sea?
Who is Mrs. Hawking? I mean really.
Remembering/anamnesis as resurrection? New twist to an old idea?