“INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.”
– Ulysses, by James Joyce
In the quote above that we’ve recently gone over in class, the opening phrase “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more…” is an eye-catching one, as are many other phrases that Joyce sprinkles through his behemoth of a book, Ulysses. To break it down simply, “ineluctable” = inescapable; “modality” = state of being, existence; the phrase is essentially the inescapable existence of what can be seen. The core idea of the phrase, however, is to just use what we see to feel. While this seems self-evident, the fact of the matter is that we use all of the experiences, messages, advertisements, stereotypes, and everything else that we have absorbed into our collective consciousness to judge something or someone we have never seen. Ratty coat, unshaved, hole in the pants – he must be going through rough times financially, we think. Blonde hair, sunglasses, short shorts, and sandals – she must be the kind of girl waiting for the weekend. But often times, so much of what we categorize people as is wrong. James Joyce, in his entire book, is, in a way, emphasizing this point of ineluctable modality of the visible. He puts his main character, Leopold Bloom, in various circumstances that, when seen through the proper lens, would prove to bear immediate pre-existing judgments. However, Joyce does not go into whether something is good or bad; he merely gives Bloom’s feelings on that particular circumstance as they come – flushed cheeks, stickiness of sugar, snotgreen.
And this is a way that our faith can be lived out. Except instead of the visible, we should believe, by faith, in the ineluctable modality of the invisible. As it says in Hebrews 11:3: “3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” If we are firm in our faith to truly know and understand that everything we see and encounter comes from God, is not the invisible ineluctably modal? I am of the opinion that we should constantly be challenged in our faith, and a simple way to do this is to view what God gives you as it is; forget all of the previous stereotypes of the church that you have accrued during your years of faith, and focus purely on what is at hand. Homosexuality, to elder saints, is a problem that needs to be eradicated…somehow. And yet, is this not a blatant hatred of those who are sinning, just as the rest of us are? And this is only one such example out of the many examples that can be made over the course of our Christian walk. Sin is sin is sin is sin; we should never allow ourselves to be harder or easier on some sins over others because none of it is of God or gives Him glory. And so, we realize that in all things present and seen, God is also inescapably existing there as well. So for all things spiritual that we encounter, we should not fall back on our previous solutions in order to get us through, but realize that God is in it, and perhaps this time, a new purpose is behind the equally new circumstance.
Living out the ineluctable modality of the invisible means that our faith is constantly fresh. If we stop approaching trials that we encounter with the attitude of “Oh, I must have done something wrong again and God is punishing me now,” and instead view each travail as an opportunity to see something new of God, it is unlikely that those who believe in Him would ever grow tired of their faith. We will constantly be humbled by each new opportunity that He gives us in life, and we will also grow in the wisdom of Himself. I don’t know about anyone else, but that sounds like a pretty good way to live my spiritual life.
The last line of Joyce’s passage that I quoted says, “Shut your eyes and see.” This can also be applied to Christianity, as many always spit out the words “blind faith,” which, in some ways may be a good thing. But having that ineluctable modality of the invisible, that constant sense that God is constantly at work in all situations, makes our faith one that opens our eyes to the will that is manifesting itself before us, so that we may not proceed blindly, but truly see.