The most worldly man I know, brilliant, effervescent, wildly gay (in both senses of the word), generous to a fault, impishly funny, cynical and compassionate, utterly depraved, abandoned in and relishing his slavery to sins – sins that soon killed him – was chatting with me once long ago about a mutual acquaintance, who had surprised all of us who knew him by moving on the spur of the moment to New Orleans. “Seems like something out of the blue,” said I. “He’s pulling a location,” said he. I looked at him quizzically. “It’s an AA term,“ he explained, “for a standard move addicts make shortly before they hit bottom. They try to solve their problems by changing their location – moving to a new town, far away. They figure a fresh start is all they need to get off on the right foot, and stay on the right track. It never works. Their problems have nothing to do with where they are living, or the other people who happen to live there, or who don’t live there. It never, ever works. Sometimes you have to pull two or three locations before you figure out that nothing’s better in one place than it is in any other, and the problem is located in you. He’ll be back.”
So he was, indeed – stone cold sober, thanks be to God, at least for a while – right about the time my interlocutor began to succumb to AIDS.
A few days ago on the train I was reading, appalled and disgusted, about Bruce Jenner’s decision to cut off his penis and testicles so that he could be happy, and the thought arose, unbidden: “He’s pulling a location.” I became conscious of having had that thought, and was startled. Then, the analogues to moving to New Orleans to get away from your problems made themselves all at once apparent to me, like the stars in the climactic explosion of a prodigious pyrotechnic display: transsexuality; tattoos; piercings; plastic surgery; transgressive fashion (but I repeat myself); transgression in general; sexual deviancy; subcultures such as those of the Goths or bikers or gangs; any lifestyle or avocation involving costumes or self-conscious play acting; frivolous divorce; and so forth. The list could be multiplied endlessly. All are types of pulling a location.
Changing your mode of dress, or your circle of friends, or your hair, or the décor of your dwelling, or the like, are all ways of changing the outward aspects of life without changing the inward. They wash the outside of the bowl, without touching the inside (Matthew 23:26). And modifying your body by somehow cutting into it is the apotheosis of this fatal and silly misprision. It is the worst sort of vain attempt to evade your problems, which lie nowhere else but at the very root and source of your life qua yours: in your will and intellect, and in your heart. You can’t heal your sickness at heart by losing weight or running a triathlon, or, a fortiori, by cutting at your body.
Then, naturally enough, I turned my gimlet eye upon myself and my ilk. Had I been pulling a location in moving from Canterbury to Rome? Were my traditionalism, my cultural orthogony, my reaction, or my writing here as an orthospherean just a convenient costume that I assume in order to give myself a way of being that, while objectively good, and so both important and alluring – which indeed I verily think it truly is, without the slightest scruple or itch of doubt – enables me to distract my attention from my real problems, and from the shortcomings that lie in me, and me alone? In short, is it possible that things that are really good to do can also be evasions of my absolute duty ever to do the right thing?
Of course it is. CS Lewis somewhere explains – I think in Mere Christianity – that even praying earnestly in the solitude of one’s room can be vicious when it is undertaken in part so as to evade the tiresome duteous helping with the washing up of the dishes, in which one’s weary wife is engaged downstairs. Praying is always good, but may not always be right. Better to try to pray with divided attention *while helping the wife with the dishes;* better yet to make the doing of the dishes itself a prayer. Such is samadhi, and the enchantment of life.
I do not, as it happens, think in the end that my move to Rome was tendentious, nor do I think that my orthosphericity is but a convenient dodge – even though I am for its sake at this moment neglecting my plain duty to get to bed timely. For, both these things are for me expressions of my deep being – of the man I am meant to be, in Providence. They feel as though they add to my holiness, or subtract from my profanity, or improve my integrity, or at any rate as though they make me healthier, both spiritually and, ergo, morally, indeed physiologically. They feel like *unalloyed* goods. In pursuing them, I cleave ever closer to the main matter of my life. They are not, then, distractions from what I ought to do. Indeed, they are *part* of what I ought to do.
Furthermore, they are – and this is the main thing – not depravations of the Order of Being, like transsexuality, but agreements thereto. And that is the test. Does your “thing” force you into an argument with the Order of Being, with the Natural Law? If so, you are pulling a location. You are, in the end, participating in the Gnostic effort to dispense altogether with the body, and with its environing world, in and by which it is expressed.
If you feel you must cut your body in order to be faithful to your self, then your self is at war with the Order of Being – and in that war, it shall soon lose. Pulling a location cannot work. It’s metanoia or nothing.
Better to lose yourself, and gain the whole world (and with it your self, in the bargain), than vice versa.