whiteapples2 glasssoup

Jonathan Carroll’s White Apples and its follow up, Glass Soup, narrates a love affair between Vincent Ettrich and Isabelle Neukor. White Apples begins with Vincent Ettrich still moving through the routines of his daily life with the growing awareness that he’s recently died. Isabelle, his soul mate and lover, brought him back to life, hence his somewhat disoriented wandering of the streets of Vienna. White Apples narrates their reunion and the significance of their unborn child, Anjo, not only to their personal lives, but to the very fabric of existence. In these novels Carroll presents a universe continually expanding in big bangs then contracting back into singularities in repeated cycles, a differently configured universe brought into being with each big bang. Everything that exists has its place in the universe, which for these novels Carroll has conceived of as a grand mosaic; once everything has taken its place in the Mosaic, the universe begins its contraction again.

In the current configuration of the universe the principle of Chaos has taken on a conscious mind and personality and likes it that way, so is attempting to stop the completion of the Mosaic in order to freeze the expansion of the universe in its current configuration. Vincent and Isabelle’s child will be the one who finally defeats Chaos, so Chaos is seeking to destroy both parents and the child. In White Apples, Vincent and Isabelle are reunited and thwart Chaos’s attempt to destroy or damage their unborn son, while Glass Soup continues the story with Chaos’s attempt to permanently separate Vincent and Isabel, ending with Anjo’s birth.

Carroll’s bizarre plot places the White Apples trilogy (Carroll plans a sequence of three books to develop this story) well outside any established genre, but his writing is perhaps best understood as a type of magical, or even supernatural, realism. However, in consideration of western mythology and the gnostic/hermetic tradition that developed from it, this story isn’t so bizarre after all. Athena sprang from Zeus’ head, emanating from Zeus, much like Chaos has sprung from the universe fully conscious. In many gnostic religions the universe has actually been created by divine emanations rather than God, these emanations being embodiments of divine moods or personality traits. In the hermetic tradition the universe is something like God’s body and also follows vast cycles of expansion and contraction. This universal/divine cycle of expansion and contraction finds its highest philosophical expression in Hegel’s philosophy of history, and its best known materialist/scientific expression in the Big Bang theory.

Carroll, deliberately or not, appropriates these ancient traditions to reveal the contours of the human heart — not unlike English Romantics such as William Blake and Percy Shelley. These novels tell, first and foremost, a love story between Vincent and Isabelle. The tensions between chaos and control, the willingness to love the current form of the universe while maintaining openness toward its eventual demise, are all analogs of romantic love: what preserves it, what kills it, what makes it grow. Carroll maps our real lives, our emotional lives, onto a fantastic landscape. His books are our hearts writ large. Only the imaginative can comprehend the insights provided by such imaginative work. If you’re not used to this type of writing, try it…but with an open mind.

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