Incurvatus In Se

IPad, iPod, iPhone, I gaze,

Netted in an endless downhill maze,

Captive to the entertaining tool,

Under a heavy yoke, with feeds for fuel.

Riveted by the endless scroll of news,

Victims of the same old stale peruse.

A hundred checks and glances every day;

Time slips and slides and vanishes away.

Unwittingly we stare down at our screens,

Sedentary, proud slaves to our machines.

In Internet there’s hope for immortality:

No need to search in meaningless reality.

Save us from the god to which we bow:

End the endless curve we inward plow.

Incurvatus in se is a Latin phrase meaning “turned/curved in on oneself.” It’s a theological term originating with Augustine, famously picked up by Martin Luther in the 16th century, and then notably by Karl Barth in the 20th. The idea of a person curving in on themselves is a depiction of human nature in its sinful state — rather than naturally living in love and outward service towards others, we tend to self love and looking inward. And while we’re navel gazing, of course, we cannot pay much attention to neighbour or God.

I’ve always liked this image as a thought-provoking way of pondering humanity. In the context of the doctrine of original sin (the belief that humans are innately sinful from conception), it’s a surprisingly comprehensive image — after all, a fetus in the womb is quite literally incurvatus in se, as is the body as it ages and bows over again. But recently, it occurred to me that the posture of curving in on oneself is a common one in reference to how the general population has become tied to phones and devices. It’s no secret that social media is wondrously effective at making us obsess over ourselves, whether that’s in the form of desperately trying to measure up to an unrealistic societal standard or positive affirmations encouraging excessive self-love. (Incidentally, I’ve been re-reading The Secret Garden and it struck me this time round how opinions about oneself are largely foreign or relatively unimportant to most of the characters. But perhaps comparing that to our own self-absorbed culture is a blog post for another day…)

In any case, looking downward and inward for fulfillment, meaning, purpose, or simply because we’re too lazy to look anywhere else holds almost startling parallels to the incurvatus in se doctrine. Social media, news, games, email, apps… They can suck a person in and hold them captive. In many ways, our posture towards our devices is one of homage: we bow before our masters. I am reminded of a poem called “Avarice” by George Herbert, in which he reflects on physical money and the ridiculous way in which we mine it, smelt it, assign value to it, transfer our freedom to it, and ultimately become subservient to it. Today we have largely left physical money behind, and yet the ideas are easily transferrable to the devices we’ve made — what were originally intended as tools have become something more.

This poem is my attempt at expressing some of these ideas. It’s actually an acrostic poem — the first letter of each line spells out incurvatus in se. Coincidentally, it has the same amount of lines as a sonnet, though lacking the formal structure of one. The rhyming couplets are intentional to give the lines a feeling of being closed in or trapped.

Hope you enjoy!

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