The Far Away Land of the Prodigal Son
The Chrysalis gets quite a few Google referrals for the phrase “what far away country did the Prodigal Son visit?”.
Well, the answer is rather simple. If you must have a name, the far away land is “this world”, and is called The Land of Forgetfulness.
The Land of Forgetfulness goes by other names, too, just like countries go by different names depending on the language. “Germany” is not called “Germany” in Germany. It is called “Deutschland”. In French, Deutschland is called “Allemagne”. In Arabic, Allemagne is “Almanya”. In Nordic languages, Almanya is “Tyksland”.
And so it goes. Recall the true spirit of the parable, please.
The Land of Forgetfulness into which the Prodigal Son journeyed is also called The Land of Dismemberment. You might even call it “Mordor.” That is an equally legitimate name for it; for when the Prodigal Son arose from his debased condition to begin his journey to his own homeland, it was a result (or so the parable goes) of his coming to re-membrance of himself, or, as the parable puts it, “he came to himself”.
Well… where (or more importantly, what and who) was he before he thus “came to himself”? It is totally irrelevant to the meaning of the parable, actually, what far country, geographically, speaking, the Prodigal Son might have found himself in, for we are all this Prodigal Son in whatever country we find ourselves. He is neither here nor there and yet is everywhere. The “far away land” is his remoteness from the source of his existence and the vital core of his or her being. This condition is called, also, “alienation” (in Marxian terms) or “estrangement” or “anomie”. Jean Gebser, in his great book The Ever-Present Origin, called it the process of “distantiation”. The “far away land” is a psychic “state”, not a physical space and place.
The Land of Forgetfulness is also the Land of Time. This movement of “distantiation” of the Prodigal Son from the ever-present origin, the eternal source, the fountainhead, or the vital core is entrance into the land of temporicity, not spatiality or geography. Since the parable of the Prodigal Son is a parable about the fall of man from eternity into temporicity, and this fall is a forgetting of who and what one truly is and from whence one arises, it is dis-memberment, for it is the failure of memory. Remembrance is re-membering, which is true memory, and not mere reflection. True memory is re-membrance from a dismembered condition, and this is truly “coming to oneself again”. It is recovery and convalescence from a long illness.
For “man is the sick animal”, as Nietzsche put it. But this echoes the parable of the Prodigal Son.
It is totally crazy and even insane to fret about what actual geographical country in which the Prodigal Son might have come to remembrance of himself, for we are all the “Prodigal Son” of the parable. The far away land is where you find yourself, for it is also “Land of the Ego”. It is what Blake called “the Selfhood”. It is ego-nature. Any country we wake up in and, in the act of awakening, come to remembrance of ourselves — whether we call it United States, Russia, Germany, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Cameroon or even “Mordor”, this is “the far away land”.
And, perhaps, Tolkein’s Mordor is the most cogent symbol of this “far away land” and its meaning in terms of the parable, for it was the land in which the orcs forgot they were originally elves who had been seduced away from their authentic nature by the Ring of Power.
The parable is about the journey into narcissism and back again. This journey is described equally in the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo.
The key difference, however between the pagan myth and the parable of Jesus is this: Narcissus never comes to remembrance of himself. He perishes because he cannot come to remembrance of himself. He can’t escape the trance of his own self-image. Nor do the Orcs of Mordor ever come to remembrance of themselves. The Prodigal Son, however, does come to remembrance of himself.
Homelessness is fallenness, and is the feeling of alienation and estrangement from the vital core of our being and existence. Nietzsche equated this sense of alienation and homelessness with nihilism. Morris Berman once wrote a book called Coming to Our Senses about this, our current demented and deranged condition at our “end of history”, and this “coming to our senses” is the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, too, who “came to himself” and to remembrance of himself in the same sense. Thus, the Prodigal Son, unlike Narcissus, transcended the narcissistic condition.
The entire meaning and mystery of what is called “religion” is contained in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son is Everyman and Everywoman who has not come to remembrance of themselves and of who and what they truly are. This is Nietzsche’s formula, also, for self-realisation. “Become what you are!” And until we become what we are, we will remain “strangers in a strange land”, exiles and outcasts in the Land of Ego, occupied territory in terms of “the foreign installation”.
And that means, come to remembrance of who and what you truly are — come to your senses; come to yourself. Then you will know what “the far away land” was and is. It is yourself. And yourself is Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country”.
The Zen Buddhists have a koan, “Show me your face before you were born!” This is, equally, a call to the Prodigal Son to come to remembrance of himself, or the Prodigal Daughter too. And for this reason, too, true Muslims wage the true jihad against the self-nature, which is the forgetfulness and the dismemberment of Man’s condition in order to come to re-membrance.
Re-membrance is the integral consciousness. It is the overcoming of the fallen segregate natures of William Blake’s warring Zoas, too. And in that sense, William Blake’s poetry is only an articulation of the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, who is the fallen Albion dismembered into the four Zoas, and who are equally the four nafs of Islam or the four Guardians of the Four Directions in Buddhism, or the four Beasts around the throne of God in the Book of Revelation.