This is the classic poem which majestically covers the old testament in one united narrative, giving human voices to goodness and evil, and setting thThis is the classic poem which majestically covers the old testament in one united narrative, giving human voices to goodness and evil, and setting them in the epic stately terms of battle and political overthrow. The subject material carries with it an automatically epic quality, but Milton brings out the living voices in the stories, and unites them into a beautiful tragedy of all that makes our unique species uniquely troubled.
Satan is the most prominent character. His one defining characteristic is his considerable intellect, which he applies to destructive ends. His second defining characteristic is bitter hatred of all that is good or happy. Using his intellect to justify his bitter hatred, he deludes himself. As such, constantly with Satan we read fallacious uses of the intellect. Here is an example in which he begins by jealously regarding Adam and Eve in paradise:
Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two, Imparadised in one anoter's arms, The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust, Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire, Among our other torments not the least. Still unfulfilled, with pain of longing pines! Yet let me not forget what I have gained From their own mouths. All is not theirs, it seems; One fatal tree there stands, of Knowledge called, Forbidden them to taste. Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord Envy them that? Can it be a sin to know? Can it be death? And do they only stand By ignorance? Is that their happy state, The proof of their obedience and their faith? O fair foundation laid whereon to build Their ruin! Hence I will excite their minds With more desire to know, and to reject Envious commands, invented with design To keep them low, whom knowledge might exalt. p.99
Satan's emotions shift from jealousy ("while I to Hell am thrust") to the moral self-justification ("can it be a sin to know? can it be death?"). The first imulse is honest jealousy, but his intellectual reaction to this is to suppress his lament and reimagine himself as the selfless crusader against tyranny. His reasoning is that the notion of "the sacred," embodied by the forbidden tree of knowledge, is tyrannous. However his reasoning is a facade he only half believes, as he interupts his reasoning with the hateful ejaculation "Of fair foundation...!" Satan is the force of resentment that tears down what is so painful to build.
"the more I see Pleasure about me, so much more I feel Torment within me, as from the hateful siege Of contraries"
With such a monumental and influential work as this, we encounter many cliches that we have become dulled to. One example, of the "bad guy" who loves nothing other than the bring actually happy people down. Misery loves company. Consider when Satan allows himself to marvel at the beauty of the world God has created "all summed up in man" - a work of "concentred beams," of elaborated creative deisgn. The fact that, for his crimes, he has banished from heaven clearly makes him pine for what he lost for himself. However, because of his intelligence and pride therein, his lamentation and awe leads not to repentence, but to revenge: though it will not improve his state, he will destroy what it took God so long to build, to temporarily make him feel powerful again. Milton understood that this was not just a story, but a mechanism by which so much evil spreads:
Satan: "O earth, how like to Heaven, if not preferred More justly, seat worthier of gods, as built With second thoughts, reforming what was old! For what God, after better, worse would build? Terrrestrial Heaven, danced round by other Heavens, That shine, yet bear their bright officious lamps, Light above light, for thee alone, as seems, In thee concentring all their precious beams Of sacred influence: As God in Heaven Is centre, yet extends to all, so thou, Centring receiv'st from all those orbs; in thee, Not in themselves, all their known virtue appears, Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth Of creatures animate with gradual life Of growth, sense, reason, all summed up in Man. With what delight could I have walked thee round, If I could joy in aught - sweet interchange Of hill and valley, rivers, woods and plains, Now land, now sea, and shores with forest crowned, Rocks, dens and caves; but I in none of these Find place or refuge, and the more I see Pleasure about me, so much more I feel Torment within me, as from the hateful siege Of contraries; all good to me becomes Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state. But neither here seek I, no, nor in Heaven, To dwell, unless by mastering Heaven's Supreme [Being], Nor hope to be myself less miserable By what I seek, but others to make such As I, though thereby worse to me redound [rebound]. For only in destroying I find ease To my relentless thoughts; and him destroyed, Or won to what may work his utter loss, For whom all this was made, all this will soon Follow, as to him linked in weal or woe -- In woe then, that destruction wide may range: To me shall be the glory sole among The Infernal Powers, in one day to have marred What he, Almighty syled, six nights and days Continued making, and who knows how long Before had been contriving? p.207-8
Another notion that has become a cliche is that of "playing God." It is a phrase connected to topics such as robotics and genetics which are debatably a question of morality when seen outside of traditional critian values, but at the heart of this phrase is a condemnation of arrogance. Eve's "seduction" is not passive. She allows herself to be enamored of arrgoant dreams of omnipotence. The question is why a blessed being like Eve, living in paradise, should want the power of knowledge. Forgetting about the phrase "quest for knowledge" or "search for knowledge" which in our modern age carry overwhelmingly positive connotions, I feel as if "knowledge is power" should be on our minds. The arrogant desire for power is the crime, not the innocent curiosity of a child in a library. Perhaps this is why Satan appears in Eve's own dreams and not only as an external threat:
Satan [in a dream]: "O fruit divine, Sweet of thyself, but much more sweet thus cropped, Forbidden here, it seems, as only fit, For gods, yet able to make gods of men! And why not gods of men, since good, the more Communicated, more abundant grows The author not impaired, but honoured more? Here, happy craeture, fair angelic Eve, Partake thou also: happy though thou art, Happier thou mayst be, worthier canst not be. Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods Thyself a goddess not to Earth confined, But sometimes in the Air, as we; sometimes Ascend to Heaven, by merit thine, and see What life the gods live there, and such live thou." p.117
But why should God threaten at all? Why should he forbid and castigate? I would like to say as a matter of fact, not as a value judgement per se, that we have become, as a society, more and more like Milton's Satan:
Satan: [...]If what is evil Be real, why not [let it be] known, since [it would then be] easier shunned? God, therefore, cannot hurt you, and be just; [If] not just, [he's] not God; not [to be] feared then, nor [to be] obeyed: Your fear itself death [therefore should] remove the fear. Why then, was this forbid? Why but to awe? Why but to keep ye low and ignorant, His worshippers? He knows that in the day Ye eat thereof [what] your eyes [see], that seem so clear Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as Gods, Knowing both good and evil, as they know. That yet should be as Gods, since I as Man, Internal[ly with the intellect of] Man, is but proportion[ally] meet [met]; I, of [from being a] brute, [become] human; yet [you will be], of [from mere] human, Gods.
Milton's syntax for Satan is very pared down, and I exapanded it slightly just to allow myself to see the reasoning clearly. Milton understood how the arrogance of logical soundness despite absence of validity could lead smart men to their own road to ruin, and the ruin of others. Today, we question our leaders like Satan questions God's motives, and this is no bad thing. But what we think to be "the good" is never safe from sudden revision at any time, and without faith that there exists, somewhere, that which is good, we run the risk of allowing chaos to enter in its place.
Aside from our modern distaste for draconian rules such as respecting the untouchable, the sacred, we have a even more severe distaste for Christian notions of gender politics. Often the idea that a woman is made ("merely") from the rib of a man is interpreted as an attempt to justify ownership of women, or the inferiority of women. But this is at least not Milton's conception of it. Described here, God takes a part of Adam (women are after all the same creature, the same flesh, the same bones) and makes of it, as he can, something creative "under his forming hands", something perfect and for the reason of making a paradise for makind:
Adam: [God] stooping, opened my left side and took From thence a rib with cordial spirits warm, And life-blood steaming fresh; wide was the wound, But suddenly with flesh filled up and healed. The rib he formed and fashioned with his hands; Under his forming hands a creature grew, Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair That what seemed fair in all the world seemed now Mean, or in her summed up, in her contained, And in her looks, which from that time infused Sweetness into my heart unfelt before, And into all things from her air inspired The spirit of love and amorous delight. She disappeared, and left me dark; I waked To find her, or forever to deplore Her loss and other pleasures all abjure; When out if hope, behold her, not far off, Such as I saw her in my dream, adorned With what all Earth or Heaven could bestow To make her amiable. On she came, Led by her Heavenly Maker, though unseen, And guided by his voice, nor uninformed Of nuptial sancitity and marriage rites. Grace was in all her steps, Heaven in her eye, In every gesture dignity and love. I overjoyed, could not forbear aloud: "This [good] turn hath made amends; thou hast fulfilled Thy words, Creator bounteous and benign, Giver of all things fair, but fairest this Of all thy gifts, nor eviest. I now see Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, my self Before me; Woman is her name, of Man Extracted; for this cause he shall forgo Father and mother and to his wife adhere; And they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul" p.198-9
Adam cannot live without Eve from the moment he sees her. Her beauty and femininity makes him complete, and in Adam's own words, unlocks feelings "unfelt before." "What seemed fair [before] seemed now mean." God toys with him, allowing him to dream of woman before presenting him with the real thing. I think this passage is romantic and a reflection on the incompleteness of men without women - the fact that men are lost without women, described by Adam/Milton as "in every gesture dignity and love" "heaven in her eye."
However, after eating of the fruit, Adam not only blames God but attempts to blame Eve entirely and leave himself blameless. In a way that must have been intended to have been comically anachronistic, Milton channels through Adam's voice the cliched self-justifications of weak men who blame their heartbreak and "female snares" for all their miseries and failures:
Adam: Oh why did God, Creator wise, that peopled highest Heaven With Spirits masculine, create at last This novelty on Earth, this fair defect Of Nature, and not fill the World at once With men as Angels, without feminine; Or find some other way to generate Mankind? This mischief had not then [would not have] befallen, And more that shall befall - innumerable Disturbances on Earth through the female snares, And strait conjunction with this sex: for either He never shall found out fit mate, but such As some misfortune brings him, or mistake, Or whom he wishes [is she who he] most shall seldom gain, Through her peverseness, but shall she her gained By a far worse [man], or, if she love, withheld By parents, or his happiest choice too late Shall meet, already linked and wedlock-bound To a fell adversary[...] p.263
Led my the Archangel Michael through a "Christmas Carol"-esque vision of human misery yet to come, Adam witnesses his descendents Cain and Abel, the seed of jealous wrath that can breed murder in the heart of every man:
Michael: "These two are brethren, Adam, and to come Out of thy loins; the unjust the just hath slain, For envy that his brother's offering found From Heaven acceptance; but the bloody fact Will be avenged, and the other's faith approved Lose no reward, though here thou see him die, Rolling in dust and gore[...] p.282
Scrooge-like, he asks if these are not merely the ghosts of what things not only may be, and Michael answers that the human condition is now only to walk the fine line between the better and worse angels of our nature:
Adam: "I yield it just," said Adam, "and submit. But is there yet no other way, besides These painful passages, how we may come To death, and mix with our connatural dust? "There is," said Michael, "If thou well observe The rule of Not too much, by temperance taught In what thou east'st and drink'st, seeking from thence Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight, Till many years over thy head return; so may'st thou live, till, like ripe fruit, thou drop Into thy mother's lap, or be with ease Gathered, not harshly plucked, for death mature
In the breathtaking final sequence of the final book, we see the ages of man pass, and how cruelty - that can only come from the humanly intelligent awareness of evil - multiplies in front of Adam's weeping eyes, all predictably descended from the first act of violence from Cain:
So violence Proceeded, and oppression, and sword-law, Through all the plain, and refuge none was found. Adam was all in tears, and to his guide Lamenting turned full sad: "O, what are these?" Death's ministers, not men, who thus deal death Inhumanly to men, and multiply Ten thousandfold the sin of him who slew His brother; for of whom such massacre Make they but of [except for] their brethren, men [make massacre] of men? p.288
Why is that in spite of disease, hunger, natural diaster and all other horrors of nature, it remains that the worse suffering ("massacre") of men is in the hands of other men? It is the "knowledge" of good and evil that allows us to commit evil. Our aggressive drives become something far worse when we can rationally plan our wrongdoing, create our plan for torture and execute it with whatever reasoning we prefer.
I had the urge to read this after finishing reading a impressive contemporary book called "Maps of Meaning" by Jordan Peterson. The book was an apologia for religious and mythological views of the world, written from a secular-scientific standpoint.
I had never felt drawn to read the book. It's concepts were strange and, in the words of Doctor Fausts words, "hard." ...That man was bad and man deserves punishment and knowledge is bad and rules shouldn't be broken. I never had the desire to read hundreds of pages of difficult syntax and vocabulary in order to re-read the bible stories. I questioned everything about Christian morality.
But this was because I lacked whatever it was that made generations of men, such as Milton, fascinated with theology and the old testament myths, and the urgent messages for living they contained. Inspired by Jordan Peterson, I now feel a fascination for these stories and would like to weave in some paraphrasings of Peterson's commentaries with passages that I found particularly beautiful and illustrative of the problems unique to humankind.
Two things that I think are essential to concede, after Peterson: 1). evil DOES exist, and that it exists because of our "knowledge", that is, the human reason that animals, innocent of evil, lack. If the idea of "evil" is diluted or we cannot understand that we have the unique potential for a creative expression of evil, the meaning of the fall cannot be grasped. 2). The sacred object such as the apple is not a totalitarian concept. The fact that there are certain things in life that one meddles with at one's peril is inescapable. Holding the concept of "the sacred" is the attiude of cautiousness, rather than arrogance, before the unknown. ...more
This changed my way of thinking about fundamental notions. Towards the end it becomes harder to see exactly what he's getting at, and as the book progThis changed my way of thinking about fundamental notions. Towards the end it becomes harder to see exactly what he's getting at, and as the book progresses, the diagrams become more and more speculative, but for the first half at least it had a revelation on every page. Also, Peterson mentioned one of my favourite films, "Crumb" in a footnote....more
This is a wonderful novel that features a protagonist, Philip Carey, that is neither entirely unfortunate, nor entirely blessed. His personality is inThis is a wonderful novel that features a protagonist, Philip Carey, that is neither entirely unfortunate, nor entirely blessed. His personality is intelligent, modest and honorable but not entirely wise, and more than a little insecure. He suffers from a club foot which gives him an inescapable feeling of inferiority from early in his childhood, The club foot comes and goes in the narrative, and for long stretches it is irrelevant to the plot, but it always re-emerges in Philip's most vulnerable moments. We can all relate to this kind of state of disability that, though a minor obstacle to our aims in life, seems to loom large by virtue of being attached to us. An early scene with a teacher gives Philip hope to overcome his "cross to bear," and it is not clear whether the confidence so momentarily instilled in him is a good thing or not:
"I'm afraid your choice of professions will be rather limited. You naturally couldn't go in for anything that required physical activity."
Philip reddened to the roots of his hair, as he always did when any reference was made to his club-foot. Mr Perkins looked at him gravely.
"I wonder if you're not oversensitive about your misfortune. Has it ever struck you to thank God for it?"
Philip looked up quickly. His lips tightened. He remembered how for months, trusting in what they told him, he had implored God to heal him as He had healed the Leper and made the Blind to see.
"As long as you accept it rebelliously it can only cause you shame. But if you looked upon it as a cross that was given you to bear only because your shoulders were strong enough to bear it, a sign of God's favour, then it would be a source of happiness to you instead of misery."
He saw the boy hated to discuss the matter and he let him go.
But Philip thought over all that the headmaster had said, and presently, his mind taken up entirely with the ceremony that was before him, a mystical rapture seized him. His spirit seemed to free itself from the bounds of the flesh and he seemed to be living a new life. He aspired to perfection with all the passion that was in him. He wanted to surrender himself entirely to the service of God,(...) and as he limped up the chancel, very small and insignificant beneath the lofty vaulting of the Cathedral, he offered consciously his deformity as a sacrifice to the God who loved him. p. 109
Like with other heroes with a destiny, Philip never knew his real parents. He is brought up by his tough but principled uncle and his doting, barren aunt. They are relateable as the relatives who "want the best from us," however can only express it tyrannically, and cause the rebellious youth to turn into dead-end paths to spite their admonitions. This episode, where friends of the family are called upon to enable the young Philip to enter one of a narrow field of respectable professions, is interesting to read in today's meritocratic age:
His entire fortune had consisted of only two thousand pounds, and though it had been invested in mortgages at five per cent. he had not been able to live on the interest. It was now a little reduced. It would be absurd to spend two hundred a year, the least he could live on at a university, for three years at Oxford which would lead him no nearer to earning his living. He was anxious to go straight to London. Mrs. Carey thought there were only four professions for a gentleman, the Army, the Navy, the Law, and the Church. She had added medicine because her brother-in-law practised it, but did not forget that in her young days no one ever considered the doctor a gentleman. The first two were out of the question, and Philip was firm in his refusal to be ordained. Only the law remained. The local doctor had suggested that many gentlemen now went in for engineering, but Mrs. Carey opposed the idea at once.
"I shouldn't like Philip to go into trade," she said. "No, he must have a profession," answered the Vicar.
(...) Finally it was suggested that he should become articled to a solicitor. They wrote to the family lawyer, Albert Nixon, who was co-executor with the Vicar of Blackstable for the late Henry Carey's estate, and asked him whether he would take Philip. In a day or two the answer came back that he had not a vacancy, and was very much opposed to the whole scheme; the profession was greatly overcrowded, and without capital or connections a man had a small chance of becoming more than a managing clerk; he suggested, however, that Philip should become a chartered accountant. Neither the Vicar nor his wife knew in the least what this was, and Philip had never heard of anyonebeing a chartered accountant; but another letter from the solicitor explained that the growth of modern businesses and the increase of companies had led to the formation of many firms of accountants to examine the books and put into the financial affairs of their clients and order which old-fashioned methods had lacked. Some years before a Royal Charter has been obtained, and the profession was becoming every year more respectable, lucrative and important. p. 223-4
Philip's rebellion against the bourgeois professional world takes him to Paris, to study art, where he experiences the exciting society of student debate in dingy local pubs, seriously questioning after the truth of artistic beauty. This moment here captures the moment when such discussions run rapidly out of steam, only to be saved by a new round:
At that time impressionism reigned in the Latin Quarter, but its victory over the older schools was still recent; and Carolus-Duran, Bouguereau, and their like were set up against Manet, Monet, and Degas. To appreciate these was still a sign of grace. Whistler was an influence strong with the English and his compatriots, and the discerning collected Japanese prints. The old masters were tested by new standards. The esteem in which Raphael had been for centuries held was a matter of derision to wise young men. They offered to give all his works for Velasquez' head of Philip IV in the National Gallery. Philip found that a discussion on art was raging. Lawson, whom he had met at luncheon, sat opposite to him. He was a thin youth with a freckled face and red hair. He had very bright green eyes. As Philip sat down he fixed them on him and remakred suddenly:
"Raphael was only tolerable when he painted other people's pictures. When he painted Peruginos or Pinturichios he was charming; when he painted Raphaels he was," with a scornful shrug, "Raphael."
Lawsom spoke so aggressively that Philip was taken aback, but he was not obliged to answer because Flanagan broke in impatiently.
"Oh to hell with art!" he cried. "Let's get ginny."
In a poignant moment in which Philip's dreams are dashed by his grumpy but respected professor, the issue of money is raised. With surprising sympathy, the curmudgeon discourages Philip, for his own good, from continuing with his course. Whether right or wrong advice, the professor's lament over middle class poverty is a memorable injection of anxiety into the story which increases and increases as Philip's life becomes ever less stable:
"There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money. They are hypocrites or fools. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. I pity with all my heart the artist, whether he writes or paints, who is entirely dependent for subsistence upon his art."
Philip's woes truly begin after he drops out of art school and begins to study medicine. He makes new friends at a new institution in London and begins to settle into his chosen profession. However he falls hopelessly in love with a contemptuous young waitress called Mildred. At first meeting, everything repulsive in her personality that his brain screams to avoid cannot withstand the "bondage" of Philip's predestined love for her:
He went over he features one by one; he did not like her mouth, and the unhealthiness of her colour vaguely repelled him. She was common. Her phrases, so bald and few, constantly repeated, showed the emptiness of her mind he recalled her vulgar little laugh at the jokes of the musical comedy; and he remembered the little finger carefully extended when she held her glass to her mouth; her manners like her conversation, were odiously genteel. He remembered her insolence; sometimes he had felt inclined to box her ears, and suddenly, he knew not why, perhaps it was the thought of hitting her or the recollection of her tiny, beautiful ears, he was seized by an uprush of emotion. He yearned for her. He thought of taking her in his arms, the thin, fragile body, and kissing her pale mouth: he wanted to pass his fingers down the slightly greenish cheeks. He wanted her. p.452
While Mildred toys with him and accepts Philip's gifts without sexual reward in turn, Philip, in spite of her attractions to other (married) men, deceives himself into thinking that her libido is simply as cold as her personality. But the lie is given to this when Philip introduces her to his art school friend and Griffiths, who she promptly runs off with. In the shock of the moment, Philip begins to understand something about the "beastly" true nature of sexuality, that which other men are comfortable with, and through which they have what Philip wants, but which Philip, for the type of person he is, cannot embrace.
Because Mildred was indifferent to him he had thought her sexless; her anaemic appearance and thing lips, the body with its narrow hips and flat chest, the languor of her manner, carried out is supposition; and yet she was capable of sudden passions which made her willing to risk everything to gratify them. He had never understood her adventure with Emil Miller: it had seemed so unlike her, and she had never been able to explain it; but now that he had seen her with Griffiths he knew that just the same thing had happened then: she had been carried off her feet by an ungovernable desire. He tried to think out what those two men had which so strangely attracted her. They both had a vulgar facetiousness which tickled her simple sense of humour, and a certain coarseness of nature; but what took her perhaps was the blatant sexuality which was their most marked characteristic. She had a genteel refinement which shuddered at the facts of life, she looked upon the bodily functions as indecent, she had all sorts of euphemisms for common objects, she always chose an elaborate word as more becoming than a simple one: the brutality of these men was like a whip on her thin white shoulders, and she shuddered with voluptuous pan. p.627
After Mildred's fling with Griffiths ends without a future, she is happy to return to the reliable Philip for resources and shelter. His utility as a beta-male provider is summarized in her repeated refrain that Philip is "a true gentleman" Momentarily she feels sorry for her abuse of him, but Maugham describes how quickly pity of a man by a woman turns to contempt of his weakness, and (as manifested later), the more severe offense of being sexually rejected by a weak man:
She was surprised when he refused her suggestion, but she shrugged her shoulders: let him put on airs if he liked, she did not care, he would be anxious enough in a little while, and then it would be her turn to refuse; if he thought it as any deprivation to her he was very much mistaken. She had no doubt of her power over him. He was peculiar, but she knew him through and through. He had so often quarrelled with her and sworn he would never see her again, and then in a little while he had come on his knees begging to be forgiven. It gave her a thrill to think how he had cringed before her. He would have been glad to lie down on the ground for her to walk on him. She had seen him cry. She knew exactly how to treat him, pay no attention to him, just pretend you didn't notice his tempers, leave him severely alone, and in a little while he was sure to grovel. She laughed a little to herself, good-humouredly, when she thought how he had come and eaten dirt before her, She had her fling now. She new what men were and did not want to have anything more to do with them. She was quite ready to settle down with Phillip. When all was said, he was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and that was something not to be sneezed at, wasn't it? p.780
While Philip's life rushes chaotically forward between his doctor's training and his chaotic, all-consuming passion for Mildred, an old friend of his loses his life. Philip falls into a depressed rumination over his the lack of meaning his friend's life ended up in:
Philip felt a sudden horror for what had once been his friend, He tried to force himself to read, but presently pushed away his book in despair. What troubled him was the absolute futility of the life which had just ended. It did not matter if Cronshaw was alive or dead. It would have been just as weell if he had never lived. Philip thought of Cronshaw young; and it needed an effort of imagination to picture him slender, with a springing step, and with hair on his head, buoyant and hopeful. Philip's rule of life, to follow one's instincts with due regard to the policeman around the corner, had not acted very well there: ita was because Cronshaw had done this that he had made such a lamentable failure of existence. It seemed that the instincts could not be trusted. Philip was puzzled, and he asked himself what rule of life was there, if that one was useless, and why people acted in one way rather than in another. They acted according to their emotions, but their emotions might be good or bad; it seemed just a chance whether they led to triumph or disaster. Life seemed an inextricable confusion. Men hurried hither and thither, urged by forces they knew not; and the purpose of it all escaped them; they seemed to hurry for hurrying's sake. p.686
Later the same though recurs in relatively happier circumstances: Philip has survied a lot of hardships and appreciates, now that he has escaped from the worst terrors of poverty and shame and unrequited love, that nothing other than deviation from the perfect, happy "pattern" of life could make the happy pattern what it is:
There was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be discovered a more troubling grace. Some lives, and Hayward's was among them, the blind indifference of chance cut off while the design was still imperfect; and the the solace was comfortable that it did not matter; other lives, such as Cronshaw's, offered a pattern which was difficult to follow, the point of view had to be shifted and old standards had to be altered before one could understand that such a life was its own justification. Philip thought that in throwing over the desire for happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realized that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as all the other details of his life came in to the elaboration of the design. He seemed for an instant to stand above the accidents of his existence, and he felt that they could not affect him again as they had done before. Whatever happened to him now would be one more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached he would rejoice in its completion. It would be a work of art, and it would be none the less beautiful because he alone knew of its existence, and with his death it would at once cease to be. p.866
A happy ending is made for Philip by the end of the book. It is beautifully written. Philip, thinking about his unborn son, returns to thoughts of the "pattern" of life, and turns once again to think about his deformity, but with an enlightened perspective on the pain and weaknesses that this new life must inevitably pass through, as everyone in fact must:
He thought of passing his hands over his little perfect limbs, he knew he would be beautiful; and he would make over to him all his dreams of a rich and varied life. And thinking over the long pilgrimage of his past he accepted it joyfully. He accepted the deformity which had made life so hard for him; he knew that it had warped his character, but now he saw also that by reason of it he had acquired that power of introspection which had given him so much delight. Without it he would never have had his keen appreciation of beauty, his passion for art and literature, and his interest in the varied spectacle of life. The ridicule and contempt which had so often been heaped upon him had turned his mind inward and called forth those flowers which he felt would never lose their fragrance. Then he saw that the normal was the rarest thing in the world. Everyone had some defect, of body or of mind: he thought of all the people he had known (the whole world was like a sick-house, and there was no rhyme or reason in it), he saw a long procession, deformed in body and warped in mind, some with illness of the flesh, weak hearts or weak lungs, and some with illness of the spirit, langour of will, or a craving for liquor. At this moment he could feel a holy compassion for them all. They were the helpless instruments of blind chance. He could pardon Griffiths for his treachery and Mildred for the pain she had caused him. They could not help themselves. The only reasonable thing was to accept the good of men and be patient with their faults. The words of the dying God crossed his memory: Forgive them, for they know not what they do. p.995
How can I summarize this novel? To me it is the closest thing in existence to the truth of life between two covers. It is the finest thing I've ever read in the realist tradition. It is a journey of self-formation through painful confrontation with reality and hard-earned experience. It is a marvelous, heartbreaking, heartwarming and above all TRUTHFUL book.
This is a story of a band of killers who recover the scalps of indians by comission. The main character is something of a blank slate, other than hisThis is a story of a band of killers who recover the scalps of indians by comission. The main character is something of a blank slate, other than his instinctual aggression and hard-heartedness. The most memorable character is Judge Holden, who is introduced to us during an episode in which he sets a mob against an innocent man for the crime of child molestation, only to reveal that he did it as a joke. When we meet the character again we're prepared to find out what a world is like run by such "judges" with a contempt for "justice" other than nature's stark laws of deviousness and power.
The novel is extremely visceral in tone, casting doubt on any notion that peace can exist outside of civilized rule and order. Perhpas appropriately, it does not have much of a sense of progression in the narrative.
The number of characters is immense and it is difficult to identify much with any individual names: they are, with few exceptions, faceless hired killers. In this ways and in others, including the quality of the language, it is similar to Moby Dick: it is a sometimes hellish, sometimes blackly comic sequence of anedcotes from the outskirts of civilisation. The list of subtitles that begin each chapter (some subtitles referring to events that only last a couple of paragraphs) give an impression of the density and relentlessness of events without any sense of linear progression.
One particularly memorable aspect of its style is the way in which the environments are described. "Harsh" hardly begins to describe it. There characters always seem to be surrounded by surfaces akin to molten lava or razor blades; the landscape doesn't seem so much like a endless arena for adventure so much as a constantly wearing, grinding hazard:
The expriest: The malpais. It was a maze. Ye'd run out upon a little promontory and ye'd be balked about by the steep crevasses, you wouldnt dare to jump them. Sharp black glass the edges and sharp the flinty rocks below. We led the horses with every care and still they were bleedin about hteir hooves. Our boots was cut to pieces. Clamberin over those old caved and rimpled plates you could see well enough how things had gone in that place, rocks melted and set up all wrinkled like a pudding, the earth stove through the molten core of her. When for augh any man knows lies the locality of hell. For the earth is a glove in the void and truth. There's no up nor down to it and there's men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoofprints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod melted rock? I'd not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could well see in the long ago how it was little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that firey vomit for to salvage back those souls that had by misadventure been spewed up from their damnation onto the outer shelves of the world. Aye. It's a notion, no more. But someplace in the scheme of things this world must touch the other. And somthin put them little hooflet markings in the lava flow for I seen then there myself. p.105
The most directly stated theme is that of war. The philosophy of Judge Holden is crytpically revealed in bits and pieces, and seems to make up a coherence whole. It seems that he views the prohibition of cruelty and murder as an imposition of narrowly human desires for permanence and guarantees: in his view, he accepts the world as it really is - that life is a battle with no end:
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practioner. This is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. p.197
The judge is also an intellectual with knowledge of several languages and freakish vocabulary. In this regard (and hopefully only this regard) he represents the author whose style is similar to Hemingway in its simulataneous obscurity of lexicon and brusque directness of sentence construction. Like Hemingway, the McCarthy seems to love confronting the reader with terms that they haven't heard of, not because they are pretentious or difficult, but only because they reference ways of living that they haven't tried. In this passage, McCarthy also defends precision and economy of language, and subtly refutes that writerly use of rare words is some mere decorative choice:
Judge: Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. Toadvine: What's a suzerain? A keeper. A Keeper or overlord. Why not say keeper then? Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even when there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements. Toadvine spat. p.160
The book is difficult. Firstly, similar to Conrad and Faulkner, the cast is simply too large to quietly assimilate. Be prepared for a lot of flipping back. Secondly, like Melville, the narrative structure is only nominally there, and most of the book is like a list of events, after the striking opening and the return to conventional narrative in the denoument. The value of the writing is not in its narrative power (other books by the same author do however show this) but in the display of virtuosity and bleak human insight it offers....more
No, I didn't end up understanding quite how Gödel's Theorem works, but I now understand a great deal leading to it. I understand how formal systems haNo, I didn't end up understanding quite how Gödel's Theorem works, but I now understand a great deal leading to it. I understand how formal systems have their powers and why it's such an important subject. I understand the idea of isomorphisms better, how formal systems resemble the flow of genetic information inside cells, the xen attitude to logic, and, with greater clarity than ever before, how "higher" and "lower" levels of a system can coexist simultaneously. The book is far richer than I can even credit it for, and given unlimited free time on a desert island I would dedicate a month to studying it with the careful, honest progression it asks you to invest. I did some of the easier formal systems for a few minutes apiece, but I admit that by the time of the "BlooP / FlooP" chapter, I had become intellectually lazy and just wished to steal the conclusions (easier said than done, there are few snappy, soundbyte-conclusions here). Aside from its value as a textbook, it is a work of great creativity and panache, just as awe-inspiring as the works of Escher and Bach it dissects and applies to scientific themes. This is simply as good as non-fiction writing gets: passionate without being prissy, philosophical without being pedantic, and designed with the reader at the very centre. If you do not learn anything that Hofstadter presents, it's your fault. If you're seriously interested in getting an introduction to the subjects in the book, then set aside the time and really make a project out of it. It's worth it....more
This dry-sounding pelican book revealed to me a lot of very misleading ideas I had, until finishing it, been labouring under. Despite being first publThis dry-sounding pelican book revealed to me a lot of very misleading ideas I had, until finishing it, been labouring under. Despite being first published 1964, its perspective on contemporary history seems no less relevant to how later decades have transpired. Barraclough and other contemporary historians make the cleavage between "Modern" an "Contemporary" at a period around the end of the 19th century. Barraclough takes a skeptical stance towards reformulations of a European-centred historiography, however acknowledges that the impossibility of continuing with older formulations are one of the things that make the Contemporary Period a very different object of study for the historian:
[New formulas] have been made by historians who have perceived, quite correctly, how rickety the conventional threefold division of history into "ancient", "medieval" and "modern" has become. In particular, it has been suggested that, just as the Mediterranean was succeeded by a European age, so now the European has been, or is being, succeeded by an Atlantic age. This scheme, which implies that the central theme of contemporary history is the formation of an Atlantic community, is plausible and attractive; but there are three reasons why we may hesitate before endorsing it. First of all [...] it took shape as a projection backwards from the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and was not current [...] among historians before the Second World War. Secondly, the sequence "Mediterranean-European-Atlantic" is as much a reflection of a European point of view as the sequence "ancient-medieval-modern" which it is intended to replace, and for that reason alone it is a dubious appellation for a period one of the most obvious characteristics of which has been a decline in European predominance and a shift of emphasis away from Europe. And, finally, [...] the trend in recent times has been for this economic community to get weaker rather than stronger. p.21-23
Barraclough assures us that he does not impose these distinctions in retrospect; rather if anything the description is a return to the profound feeling by Europeans of discontinuity, well-documented in the writings of that generation, that we dyed-in-the-wool moderns have lost or become acclimatized to:
It is in the years immediately preceding and succeeding 1890 that most of the developments distinguishing "contemporary" from "modern" history first begin to be visible. [...] Before the nineteenth century had closed, new forces were bringing about fundamental changes at practically every level of living and in practically every quarter of the inhabited globe, and it is remarkable, if we examine the literature of the period, how many people were aware of the way things were moving. The ageing Burckhardt in Basel, the English journalist W. T. Stead, with his vision of the "Americanization of the world," Americans such as Brooks Adams, even Kipling in the sombre "Recessional" he wrote for Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1897, are only a few of the more outstanding figures among a multitude who sensed the unsettling impact of new forces: their particular prognostications, the fears and hopes they attached to the changes going on around them, may have proved wrong, but their perception, often dim but sometimes acute, that the world was moving into a new epoch was not simply an illusion. p.24-5
[...]Finally Europe, which had tried to make the world its appendage, became the appendage of the two world-powers, The United States and the Soviet Union. [...]They were a turning-point in the process by which the system of balance of power, European in origin and dependent for its continuance upon the pre-eminance of Europe, gave way to the system of world polarity, division among a multiplicity of competing and self-balancing interests to the establishment of great self-contained, continent-wide power blocks, from which rigid iron curtains excluded all extraneous powers. At the end of this development, and symbolizing the change, stand the Berlin wall of 1961 and the United States' action to enforce the withdrawal of Russian rocket bases from CUba in 1962.p.108
After drawing attention to the diminishment of European hegemony internationally, the book asks us to consider the full significance of the major discontinuities within the internal political systems of European nations. After universal franchise, an entire political tradition was not so much transformed as deserted, in Barraclough's view. Here, his analysis of the word "party" in politics was a major revelation to me:
The effect of [universal franchise], stated shortly, was to make unworkable the old system of parliamentary democracy that had developed in Europe out of the "estates" of late medieval and early modern times, and to inaugurate a series of structural innovations which resulted in a short space of time in the displacement of the liberal, individualist representative system by a new form of democracy: the party state. A number of factors have combined to conceal the revolutionary nature of this transformation. The first is terminological. In England, in particular, the mere fact that the history of political parties, and the term "party" itself, reach back in apparent continuity into the seventeenth century, has been sufficient to create the illusion that all that occurred was a process of adaptation which broadened the foundation but left the essence of the old structure standing. In the second place, current ideological conflicts have obscured the issue [...] by comparison with the one-party system prevalent in fascist and communist countries [...] it has seemed almost treasonable to inquire how far all the modern forms of government mark a breach with the representative democracy of a century ago. In this respect the currently popular distinction between liberal and totalitarian democracy is not altogether satisfactory, since [...] it fails to take account of the fact that communism, fascism, and the modern western multiparty system are all different responses to the breakdown of nineteenth-century liberal democracy under the pressure of mass society.
[...]To speak of defense of democracy as if we were defending something we had possessed for generations, or even for centuries, is wide of the mark. The type of democracy prevalent today in western Europe - what we summarily call "mass democracy" - is a new type of democracy, created for the most part in the last sixty or seventy years and different in essential points from the liberal democracy of the nineteenth century. It is new because the politically active elements today no longer consist of a relatively small body of equals, all economically secure and sharing the same social background, but are drawn from a vast amorphous society, comprising all levels of wealth and education, for the most part fully occupied with the business of earning a daily living, who can be mobilized for political action by the highly integrated political machines we call "parties." In some cases - for example, in the "people's democracies" of eastern Europe - there may be only one, elsewhere there will be two or more parties; in either case the fact remains that the party is not only the characteristic form of modern political organization, but also its hub. [...] The essential point is that ultimate control, which during the period of libral democracy was vested in parliament, has slipped, or is slipping, from parliament to party - at different speeds and by different routes in different lands, but everywhere along a one-way road. p.130
Despite this being a mildly titled pelican introduction to a subject, this is a discomforting conclusion that undermines the extant consensus that our democracy, in comparison with the "extreme" ideologies, has the vindication of a long history behind it. The clear conclusion, and the full working significance of mass participation and Party Politics, is one that very few people show awareness of when they talk about "democracy." Barraclough continues to rather rub this point in, explaining the political presumptions of the brave new world that we have naturalized ourselves to:
The transition from sedate liberalism, with its respect for birth, property and influence, to mass democracy, which was an accomplished fact in the United States by 1850, was a far more hesitant process on the European side of the Atlantic. Here only the impact of industrialization in the period after 1870 was strong enough to override conservative resistance and carry the change through. The new political attitudes and methods manifested themselves first of all in England, immediately after the passing of the Second Reform Bill in 1867, though it was only after the passing of the Ballot Act in 1872, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883, and the Third Reform Bill of 1885, which raised the electorate to around five millions, that democratization of the franchise could be said to have been secured. p.134
The position of the deputy, the representative or member of parliament, has altered in funamental ways. Although lip-service is still paid to the theory which makes him the representative of the whole nation, bound only by his conscience, it is obvious that the actual position is very different. In reality, as M. Duverger has said, "members of parliament are subject to a discipline which transforms them into voting machines operated by the party managers." They cannot vote against their party; they cannot even abstain; they have no right to independent judgement on questions of substance, and they know that if they fail to follow the party line they can have no expectation of re-election. The one indispensible quality demanded of them, in short, is party loyalty, and the theory of classical representative democracy, that the electors should choose a candidate for his ability and personality, has ceased to count. p.148-9
The ideological conflict is neither so distinctive a feature of contemporary history as it is often assumed, nor is it always much more than useful propaganda for the pursuit of other objectives. The spread of literacy and the rise in its wake of new methods of mass indoctrination led, without doubt, to a marked increase in the power of propaganda framed on crude ideological lines; but throughout the nineteenth century western Europeans had launched diatribes against the "Asiatic despotism" of the Tsars no less virulent than those later launched against the communists, and there was no aspect of the hatred of the "godless Reds" which had not already been expressed a century earlier regarding the French revolutionaries. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the rise of a new ideology which came after 1917 to be identified with Soviet Russia, and the ensuing conflict between the new ideology and the old, profoundly affected the character of contemporary history. What is misleading is to regard it as the central issue to which all else must be subordinated. Marxism was less the cause than a product of a new world situation. [...]We shall hardly be wrong if we describe the emergence of a new ideology as the last component of the new world situation that was coming into existence during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. It was the final proof that a new period of history was beginning. Just as liberalism had emerged after 1789 as the ideology of the bourgeois revolution and a challenge to autocracy and priviledge, so at the beginning of the twentieth century Marxism-Leninism emerged as the ideology of the expected proletarian revolution and a challenge to dominant liberal values. p.200-1
Yet more topsy-turvy (at least to me) is how Barraclough points out that this was the real revolution of the 20th century: the uniform destruction of the bouregois-aristocratic democratic rule and its replacement by party politics. With it, the change from politicans addressing themselves to an informed elite, to addressing a mass audience.
A conventional overview of the bridge between the 19th and early 20th centuries would give significant retrospective agency to the marxist intellectual tradition. Barraclough does not outright deny that revolutionary movements generally were the signs of this radically new contemporary age, however he is more likely to stress the aforementioned revolution within parliamentary democracy writ large. And with regards to communism, points out how they themselves were, in the majority, a very sedate group of intellectuals in comparison with the wave of terrorism that shocked the precarious political establishment. Instead, Barraclough highlights the intellectual divison between the defenders of the humanist tradition of the aristocratic and bourgeois rule, and the attackers of this tradition:
For the historian it is easier to trace the distintergration of old attitudes and patterns than the formation of new ones. The central fact marking a break between two periods was the collapse - except in formal education, which was thereby increasingly cut off from the mainstream of social development - of the humanist tradition which had dominated European thought since the Renaissance. The attack on humanism took many forms and came from many directions; but at its heart was disillusion with humanism itself, and it was the discrepancy between its professions - namely, respect for the dignity and value of the individual - and its practice - namely the dehumanization and depersonalization of the working classes - that initiated the revolt. p.235
Nietzsche's disruptive influence on the nineteenth century's picture of intellectual man, the purposive master of his own fate, was reinforced by the work of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, with his assertion of the superiority of intuition over intelligence. It was reinforced also by new trends in the physical sciences and by the impact of new psychological insights. Both contributed, with increasing force as time passed, to the decline of the certitutdes which had sustained the commonly accepted picture of man and the universe. Science, in the first place, dissolved the old concept both of nature and of man's place in nature. The French mathematician, Henri Poincaré, denied that science could ever know anything of reality; all it could, he asserted, was to determine the relationship between things. In England a similar view of the world as a structure of emergent relationships was put forward in F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality (1893) and developed by Whitehead and the realitivsts. "Nature by itself," Bradley maintained, "has no reality"; the idea that nature was "made up of solid matter interspaced with an absolute void", which had been inherited from Greek metaphysics, was untenable and must be discarded. Space, Bradley asserted, was only "a relation between terms which can never be found." [...] The trend of modern science was to suggest that the universe is unintelligible, senseless and accidental, and that man, in Eddington's phrase, is "no more than a fortuitous concourse of atoms." Such views, as they passed into wider circulation, could not but have a dissolving effect, and the same was true of the new psychology of Pavlov and Freud. p.237-8
In an interesting digression on writers in the self-consciously "modernist" era, Barraclough frames the vaunted experimentation of authors like Joyce by connecting their alienated, outsider sensibility with the reaction against the cultural naivite of the masses:
For the most part the experimentation which was characteristic of the first half of the twentieth century failed to arrive at positive results; certainly it failed to produce a new synthesis. It would be a mistake to take this failure too tragically. Many of the writers and artists of the period were frankly destructive in purpose and had no ambition to build anew; their object was simply to clear the ground and break with the past. The result neverthekless is that much of their work has retained only historical interest.
It was this sense of alienation, of disinheritance, of the individual's incommunicable solitude, that was the framework of art and writing in the years before and after the First World War. [...] Since [the writer] falls by the wayside becasue life is meaningless or because he is a purposeless bundle of atoms thrown haphazardly into the dark emptiness of space - nothing remains but to communicate, seemingly at random, whatever the writer's sensibility brings to the surface. The ultimate refinement - some would say the reductio ad absurdum - was the surrealistic word sequences of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and E. E. Cummings. A not unsympathetic writer said that Getrude Stein, in using words for pure purposes of suggestion, had "gone so far that she no longer even suggests." It was a criticism which applied more generally. Of Shönberg similarly it was said that his music had "become so abstract, so indivudal and so divorced from all relation to humanity as to be almost unintelligible." Some of the greatest artists, sensing that they were heading for a dead end, drew back. Stravinsky, for example, recoiled after 1923 from his early "dynamism" to neo-classicism.; Picasso quickly returned from his "adventures on the borderline of the impossible" and refused to be bound by any single forumla. But in general, there was an evident tendency for art to degenerate into a mannerism, and for artists and writers to break up into coteries whose thoughts were too esoteric to strike a responsive chord. p.245
This cultural pesimism [...] was comprehensible as a reaction against the complacent assumption, common among liberal-minded intellectuals at the beginning of the century, that the spread of literacy would automatically bring about the dissemination of the existing culture through the whole of society. There was never any reason why it should. The expectation that the new activated classes would simply absorb the literary, artistic , and moral standards of the old was contrary to all historical experience. [...]It was easy to accuse the masses of indifference to serious literary and artistic activites and to blame them for the alleged gap between culture and civilization; but it was equally important to ask whether artists and wrtiers had anything to say that was relevant to their new audience, or whether they had lost touch. [...] What was certain [...] was that the new public, which the spread of literacy had created on a world-wide scale, was different in its tastes and preoccupations from the fairly homogenous educated elite to which writers and artists had hitherto addressed themselves. p.252
This book is my favourite pelican of all time. It is densely factual, original, clearheaded and profound beyond its remit. ...more
Worth the hype etc. etc. etc. many people have consistently said for six generations now why now it's time for you to hunker down and read the damn thWorth the hype etc. etc. etc. many people have consistently said for six generations now why now it's time for you to hunker down and read the damn thing. It's a healthy dose of literary greens and the historical highpoint of prose realism, probably of literary prose period; and written at a time in which writers like Eliot faced society in all it's clumsy, runaway hugeness....more
A heartwrenching and thematically rich novel telling the tragic life of the mixed race laborer, bootlegger, and later fugitive, Joe Christmas. It is sA heartwrenching and thematically rich novel telling the tragic life of the mixed race laborer, bootlegger, and later fugitive, Joe Christmas. It is set in the Southern slums of the early twentieth century; familiar to anyone who has read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The novel's most striking feature is that it is told mostly from the point of view of third persons, whose droll Southern cynicism relates the terrible events of the plot as apathetic gossip. This dispiriting but tense tale condemns this false assuredness of conviction that such gossip embodies. In a couplet of wisdom, Faulkner writes:
Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. [p.91]
The anti-hero, Joe Christmas, has his bleak future shaped by not one, but sequentially two religiously fanatical father figures. The second (adopted) father, McEachern, discovers him with his lover at the dance hall, having disobeyed his tight strictures:
'Away, Jezebel!' he said. His voice thundered, into the shocked silence, the shocked surrounding faces beneath the kerosene lamps, into the ceased music, into the peaceful moonlit night of young summer. 'Away, harlot!'
Perhaps it did not seem to him that he had been moving fast nor that his voice was loud. Very likely he seemed to himself to be standing just and rocklike and with neither haste nor anger while on all sides the sluttishness of weak human men seethed in a long sigh of terror about the actual representative of the wrathful and retributive Throne. Perhaps they were not even his hands which struck at the face of the youth whom he had nurtured and sheltered and clothed from a child, and perhaps when the face ducked the blow and came up again it was not the face of that child. But he could not have been surprised at that, since it was not that child's face which he was concerned with: it was the face of Satan, which he knew as well. And when, staring at the face, he walked steadily toward it with his hand still raised, very likely he walked toward it in the furious and dreamlike exaltation of a martyr who has already been absolved, into the descending chair which Joe swung at his head, and into nothingness. Perhaps the nothingness astonished him a little, but not much, and not for long.
Then to Joe it all rushed away, roaring, dying, leaving him in the centre of the floor, the shattered chair clutched in his hand, looking down at his adopted father. McEachern lay on his back. He looked quite peaceful now. He appeared to sleep: bluntheaded, indomitable even in repose, even the blood on his forehead peaceful and quiet. [p.154]
In a Faulknerian sentence, towards the end of the novel, Faulkner describes the waves of bystanders - the bystanders who have also collectively revealed the events of the plot - who gather as the pushover, Byron Bunch, surveys the outside scene of Joe Christmas's trial:
From the shallow, flagged terrace the stone columns rose, arching, weathered, stained with generations of casual tobacco. Beneath them, steady and constant and with a grave purposelessness countrymen in overalls moved (and with here and there, standing motionless or talking to one another from the sides of their mouths, some youngish men[:] townsmen, some of whom Byron knew as clerks and young lawyers and even merchants, who had a generally identical authoritative air, like policemen in disguise and not especially caring if the disguise hid the policeman or not), with almost the air of monks in a cloister, speaking quietly amongst themselves of money and crops, looking quietly now and then upward at the ceiling beyond which the Grand Jury was preparing behind locked doors to take the life of a man whom few of them had ever seen to know, for having taken the life of a woman whom even fewer of them had known to see. [p.312]
The story ends with some optimism: Faulkner has us momentarily believe he will bring all these characters to the same lonely destruction, but gives us just the slightest relief with a very moving final callback to the tale's beginning. This optimism comes at a cost, however, re the fate of Byron Bunch. Perhaps Faulkner is telling us here that happiness is only measured by the final balance of exploitations....more