“Then I Saw Her Face”: Premature Enlightenment in Art and Life

Andy Nowicki

In the movie Fight Club, charismatic terrorist Tyler Durden chastises the more timid, never-named narrator for advocating what Durden disdainfully calls “premature enlightenment.”

Durden uses this colorful, vaguely obscene-sounding expression to refer to the tendency of an individual, following a protracted period of mental anguish and spiritual suffering, suddenly to succumb to “wishful thinking”: that is, all at once to see only what he wants to see, pushed into this state of willed myopia by a desperate desire to manufacture inner peace for himself.

Such willed deceit, however, cannot stand. In fact, a person cannot emerge from darkness until he genuinely discerns that light does indeed exist. No one can artificially construct this light he seeks, nor can anyone attempt to impersonate a state of illumination, absent personal knowledge of said light. As long as this light eludes the seeker, the seeker—whether he likes it not, and whether or not it wounds his ego to admit it—is still in the dark. His wish to find relief is understandable, but his concomitant inclination to force “enlightenment” amounts not only to a self-betrayal, but to a betrayal of the very cause of truth-seeking.  If one values truth for truth’s sake, then one will always be honest in one’s reportage, even if the result is a dark portraiture indeed.

False hope is worse than no hope, since it compounds despair with deception and deceit. The artist who opts to create “hope” out of whole cloth (including but not limited to those who elevate feculent politicians to savior-status), may think he is doing the world a favor by manufacturing a phantom species of “joy” with no actual basis in reality, or by providing a tacked-on happy ending when such a contrived finale has no organic relationship to what precedes it, but he is in fact contributing to a loathsome pretense, which heightens the crisis to an immeasurably greater extent than its previous state, when the bleak truth had at least remained untainted by willful pretense and ignoble chicanery.

One thinks, for example, of past stagings of King Lear which amended Shakespeare’s crushing denouement—in which the steadfast, loyal, and virtuous Cordelia is senselessly slaughtered, breaking the poor king’s heart and effectively erasing his will to live—for favor of a more palatable conclusion, in which the beloved maiden gets rescued at the last minute, and is joyously reunited with her father before the curtain falls. While audiences no doubt left this Lear in a more cheerful mood, it still amounted to clear and present literary sacrilege; Shakey-baby himself knew that such “feelgood” tripe just wouldn’t cut it in the case of Lear, which must be horrifically grim or (pace Hamlet) not be at all. (Thankfully, the depressing version of Lear is the one which still stands to this day, and the brief, misbegotten reign of those revisionist productions has long come to an end.)

Unfortunately, most writers lack the Bard’s singularly sound instincts, artistic integrity, and brazen testicular fortitude. Neil Diamond, for example, is certainly not to songwriting what Shakespeare was to playwriting. Still, this pompadoured, sleaze-voiced crooner was surely onto something when he began composing “I’m a Believer,” first recorded by the Monkees in 1965. But what he had, he fumbled, desirous as he clearly was to manufacture a bogus pzzz op anthem gaudily celebrating the crowd-pleasing pap known as “premature enlightenment.”


Consider the first verse of the song, in which an embittered loner strives pitifully towards a stoical perspective on matters of the heart:

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else, but not for me
Love was out to get me; that’s the way it seemed
Disappointment haunted all my dreams.

The final line of this delivers packs an especially devastating gut punch—this is pretty dark stuff indeed for radio-friendly pop music. The second verse ofBeliever isn’t nearly so poetically resonant, but it still has the virtue of containing the line, “What’s the point of trying? All you get is pain.” Clearly, an uncompromisingly pessimistic perspective is being unleashed upon the listener here… Perhaps we are being taught the need for self-sufficiency in a world that can be cold and unsympathetic? Maybe through the speaker’s travails, we are meant to learn that we won’t all find love; that, just as Tyler Durden lectured his followers that they resolutely wouldn’t become “millionaires and movie gods and rock stars,” regardless of what their television told them, so would we likely not meet and marry our perfect soulmate, that instead we would very likely wind up alone, however much the endlessly sunny strains of radio-friendly pop music promised us otherwise.

Ouch! In fact, to up the ante, I’ll  (ironically, given the context) quote the groovy love guru Austin Powers, Very ouch, baby.”

It’s all just a bit too “ouchy,” in fact, which must be the reason why our intrepid songster Mister Diamond finally got cold feet, and felt the need to create an “out” from the distressing web of truth he’d spun in the verses of his little ditty. Thus, we are subjected to the depressingly trite and groan-inducingly shallow words of the (admittedly catchy) chorus:

Then I saw her face!
Now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind!
I’m in love; I’m a believer; I couldn’t leave her if I tried,

Seeing her face was all it took to make our feckless speaker a “believer” in the possibility—nay, the surety—of love for himself? Admittedly, there are some lovely faces out there, but he must have known that before. How did another pretty face convince him that his entire perspective was off kilter, to the point of eliminating every last vestige of doubt from his consciousness? How did it erase the disappointment which had heretofore thoroughly “haunted” his slumbering hours?

The listener will be forgiven for feeling a bit of doubt himself concerning the veracity of the speaker’s sudden claim to harboring a full, abundant, and abiding happiness, all from seeing a beautiful girl’s face. Such a scenario is just idiotic, intelligence-insulting, and uninteresting…. In short, premature. In fine, untrue.

Originally published at Alternative Right, January 2015

Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. His author page is www.altrightnovelist.com . Visit his Soundcloud page and his YouTube channel.

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