A Journey Through Dante-esque Darkness to Easter Light
(NewsUSA) - Presence, the Play by William Jefferson is an allegorical tale woven across multiple levels: Christian theology, media critique, the hero’s journey, and poetic reimagining of classic works, including Dante’s Inferno and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The storyline leads readers to the depths of hell, where they encounter the Reservoirs of Bewilderment, which all inductees to hell must enter.
The reservoirs number five: Fragmentation, Static, Confusion, Chatter, and Delusion. They function as a horrifyingly surreal training camp for Satan’s kingdom. Jefferson deploys the reservoirs as an allegorical device for addressing the discarnate, fragmenting nature of modern media, underpinned algorithms, and AI. Yet beyond the twists, turns, and bewilderment, Presence, the Play offers a hope-filled message of perseverance that leads from hellish darkness to a celebration of Easter light.
The story opens at the majestic Theatre Portesque on the fictional Isle of Estillyen. There, a monk named Script eagerly is attending the premier performance of his long-awaited play. Portesque is abuzz with excitement—patrons rushing, bells ringing, stalls and balconies filling—when suddenly tragedy strikes.
The beloved playwright Script suffers a wicked fall, cracking his skull on the brass guard rail. Unconscious, Script is rushed to the Estillyen infirmary, where a team of doctors monitor his minute-by-minute condition. Nonresponsive, Script drifts into a deep, prolonged coma, in which his harrowing hell experience commences.
Lucifer himself has taken notice of Script’s play and rejects its premise of presence. The evil one schemes to undo humanity with his message of presence passé—propelled by AI, algorithms, social media, and all manner of “mediated matter.” His goal is to lead humankind down the path of discarnate life and away from incarnate presence.
A brief excerpt from Lucifer’s speech to captives in the netherworld:
“The Race reels in confusion and delusion. They know not what to believe. They are like vipers. And we will it so. We’ve woven a narrative most propitious. It brims with efficacy. It’s called Bewilderment.
Soon, high above a tiny isle, our tower will reach to the heavens and carry our message to an ever-increasing discarnate world. And I promise you this: The isle will have hordes of whitewashed tombs with Estillyen bones.”
To uncover Satan’s plan, Script must venture to hell and back many times over. It’s an insane mission, one Script is most reluctant to undertake. Although, not unlike Dante guided by the poet Virgil, Script, too, has a trio of wise encouragers who join the mission and nurture him along.
Two of the three possess rather historic resumes: Melchizedek, the mysterious King of Salem, who blessed Abraham, and Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Christ. The third is known only as Sage, who introduces himself to Script early on: “I’m a crier of olden days, of papyrus, print, and page; just call me Sage.”
The Lenten season can be described as a period of grief that ends with the celebration of Easter. In Easter Orthodox tradition, the season is known as “Bright Sadness.”
It’s safe to say that the tale of Presence, the Play is one of brightness, and sadness not at all. Particularly when the Estillyen Ferry, packed with Easter lilies, docks in Port Estillyen one early Easter morn.
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(Revised April 6, 2023)