“To explicate is to interpret, to explain, or to clarify.”New Oxford American Dictionary
I first learned how to explicate literature in high school. At the time, I was aloof to the reality that this thoughtful close textual reading and analysis brought more meaning to my life–to my world–than any other activity I performed. At the time, I performed quite a lot. I trained hours a day in the ballet studio and prepped for hours at a time for literal performances. Dance served a real purpose in my life at that time. Starved for attention and validation, I received heaps of praise for the art I created with my body. It took decades for me to realize that dance, for me, was temporary sublimation. The true pulse of my spirit came from something generated in the vast depths of my internal being. The true pulse of my spirit excited most during contemplation, absorbing literature, analyzing it, and writing about it.
I possess absolutely no musical talent, whatsoever. I know nothing about how to create music or how to make it sound beautiful. As an aesthete, however, I require music for personal sanity. I am drawn to musical artists who have exceptional voices and instrumental finesse, but above all, I am drawn to musical artists who write poetry and accompany their poems with instruments and vocals. I drift into the ether when absorbed in the music of my favorite artists, and I wonder–with unfathomable curiosity–over what inspires those creators and I yearn to weave myself into my most beloved songs. For those songs are already a reflection of myself; thus, for ages, I have desired to explicate some of the work created by my absolute favorite musicians. With that said, I have prepared for you lucky readers my first musical explication.
Hozier’s “Foreigner’s God“
“Foreigner’s God,” by Andrew Hozier-Byrne invokes pre-religious liberty, highlighting the adverse effects of Christian purity culture on emotional intimacy. This poetic melody illustrates an ill-fated love triangle. The poet loves one who is unfortunately impeded by her faith in an imposed Big Other from freely abandoning herself to this love.
For starters, let me explain my understanding of the Big Other. I first encountered this term when I read God is Unconscious, by Tad Delay. In this work, Delay puts forth a Lacanian (psychoanalytic) perspective of religious ideology. In so doing, he defines the Big Other as the generally held social beliefs of a culture. These are implicit and assumed by subjective individuals, but they are regulated and enforced by others (who are, in themselves, subjective individuals). As a result of this dynamic, often manipulative authorities negate the validity of an individual’s inner voice, and it often follows that the individual adopts the code of the authoritative other as his/her moral compass.
Such is the case in the poet’s tale in Hozier’s “Foreigner’s God.” The presence of the recognized officiating other interjects itself into the poet’s romance. This officiant is a “well dressed fraud / Who wouldn’t spare the rod,” (Lines 9-10) a representative of the cultural morals, appearing pristine, but masking his own inner filth. He is the “liar” who “brought the thunder / When the land was godless and free” (Lines 3-4). The poet asserts that his lover enjoyed purity through her liberty before this god came with thunder (the authoritative message) which upended the woman’s self-assurance and confidence. The surrogate for the Big Other robs the woman of bliss by imposing his ideology onto her.
As it turns out, however, she only rarely actualizes her spirit’s call, as “she moves with shameless wonder / Perfect creature rarely seen” (1-2) ever since the “liar brought the thunder,” the Big Other. Prior to this event, “When the land was godless and free,” she would move in wonder with regularity. Later, the poet explains, “She feels no control of her body / She feels no safety in my arms” (21-2). This insecurity–this self-consciousness–arises from the religious message that preaches intolerance towards sexual liberation. The “well dressed fraud…wouldn’t spare the rod,” and because of this fear of condemnation, the woman cannot freely give herself. She cannot feel safe in her lover’s embrace.
With righteous indignation, the poet admits, “still my heart is heavy / With the hate of some other man’s beliefs,” (7-8). A bi-product of his lover’s subjugation to the religious other is the poet’s alienation from her. He despises those beliefs that drive a wedge in the relationship. He perceives the illusion. This is evident when he applies the signifier “liar” to the one who brought the thunder. Nevertheless, the poet resolves to love the woman in spite of the “broken love” they make. Left speechless, the poet cannot possibly deconstruct the morality of the Big Other for his lover, but he can “quake to her.”
According to BBC Religions, people of the Quaker faith, “seek religious truth in inner experience, and place great reliance on conscience as the basis of morality.” The poet quakes to his lover, finding God in the midst of their brokenness–as individual subjects, as well as a couple.
Through detailed imagery, this poignant song details the tragic repercussions of the Christian purity message. By applying specific cultural moral guidelines to universal human experience, the weight of subjective consciousness loses its impact. I consider this song to be a dirge for the innocence of life and love that preexisted universalized, empiricist religious culture.