A.E. Reiff's Reviews > A Sense Of Reality

A Sense Of Reality by Graham Greene
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Sep 02, 2010

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Read 2 times. Last read September 2, 2010 to November 12, 2010.

Whenever I read this book I have an uncanny sense of reliving buried past shadow events as unlikely as this narrator's. Those raw, untempered provocative things are dreams of an underworld savage if brought into day. In the urbane surface texture here, as I read "Under the Garden" I admire the care he takes of me with little metaphors, x-rays as maps, doctor's reports as bombing runs, intelligence, and all the while he says how it couldn't have happened the way he remembers it. In reading I remember along and above the text on the page of my own mind where projections and correspondances play out cinematically. If I try to capture one in writing the whole castle disappears. Like he says dreams are bigger than the eye.

This is more than evocation. When I read reviews looking for validation of my experience it seems nobody got that. It's like T. H. White's Book of Merlin in this, the line of the imagination goes so far down into the lunar mount as to run off the hand. Charles Williams evokes such impressions where the young bride opens the book standing dead in All Hallows Eve, a spirit on the bridge. Caves and spirits, Orpheus and Cerberus, subtexts done to others as they done. Epitaph of a Small Winner is totally different from this even if resembling on the surface, that is, a man writing his life after his death. No dream states at all, but a way to retell the fictional life. Whether this is fiction or religion is at issue, as if the Celtic immram could be turned into Tarot, which of course they have.

That's got to be what appeals in the subterranean passages of Tolkien's evocation of the dark. But what's to say that Sterne's Tristram in telling about his birth before birth is any different from the telling of death after death. Or in this case that the dream, being the thing that connects the totality of things, isn't our prison that we wake up from in the day. Kwang-tze says those whose flesh and skin are smooth as ice and white as snow (I,i), confront this bodily sense, that "when we sleep the soul communicates with what is external to us; when we wake the body is set free" (Legge, I, 178). A Sense of Reality evokes daylight as a respite imagination. So in "Under the Garden" the old man who looks like a carrier pigeon says, "we are deeper here than any grave was ever dug to bury secrets in. Under the earth or over the earth, it's there you'll find all that matters" (30). And to cut to the bottom it's the ancestors, who went before who live in our brains if we recognize them there? That's why I'm to go to North China to teach, I will meet up with Zhuangzi, but what will we say? It is enough to stop.

Necronauts or necrophants? The capital persons who arbitrate taste say necronauts, fictionauts. They kid about the grave, like Yeats, and have their hands mashed in the frozen mat of Lucifer's shag in Dante's hell. Death is their dominion but the death boats sailed before. "Come back to tell you all." Hades, which was once thought America, where the dead live, oxymoron that, is domiciled in imagination at the foot of the lunar mount. Those who scale it, under the garden, are in more than danger of death. Garden we may take as symbolic. Under that garden the bodies are buried. Necronauts propose to visit there in imagination. Greene has already gone.

The narrator is his ancestor of a seven year old boy that he was, as he is, and writes in his garret. By part 5 of Garden we are cooking up a disbelief in death. Jarvis says of the monk's skulls, "they don't believe in death any more than I do" (45). While nobody will admit it the whole of the underground is symbolic, allegoric even of Celtic cauldrons, Dantean monoliths. And of course he is addressing parts of himself and we believe just as much as we believe Kwang-tze when he says "the sagely man keeps his mouth shut and puts aside questions that are uncertain and dark; making his inferior capacities unite with him in honoring (the One Lord)" (I,193). Kwang-tze whose philosophy says there is none, then reverts to "an appeal to the Infinite" (196). Now either this is another case of Stephan Hawking who cannot make up his mind about God or it is a case where anyone who speaks of it doesn't know and those who don't do, which being interpreted means that in the metaphor and the symbol he says what otherwise he cannot say. Thus we believe the metaphor and disbelieve the rhetoric of everything underground. The Sun boat of Ra, the pushcarts obsidian, the rowboats paid with blind pennies, the rows of stones in every graveyard navigate the dead. It is just as simple as remembering your grandfather.

It's as though all our lives were living some dimly remembered impression received in a suspended state. He seeks to find the daughter. It has been the whole passion and expression of his life but not consciously known, not even now in the sense of the present of his writing, recollecting when he has been ajudged cancer terminal. Doesn't that sound like every life? You can deny it! The underworld is eldritch with impression, cross between hobbits caught in the brewers' hall and Alice in Wonder, AND THEN Javitts spills from a shoebox the jewels onto the floor, "reds almost as deep as raw liver, stormy blues, greens like the underside of a wave" (51). This allegory: "ABSOLUTE REALITY BELONGS TO DREAMS AND NOT TO LIFE." There were necklaces and bracelets,"lockets and bangles, pins and rings and pendants and buttons" (52). You see it or feel it. I can say as anyone I went to my Aunt's attic http://perkiomenapocrypha.blogspot.co... and occupied two hundred fifty years of the Hereford Mennonite past http://perkiomenapocrypha.blogspot.co.... Great trunks full. Shelves full. Linens and hand painted china, chests of art. It explains a half million words spilled of the Pennsylvania past. I think, as Javitts says, "it's nothing to what lies below out of sight." The Acanthus markings http://animalwilderness.blogspot.com/... in those pots come from a single woodblock cut by this Aunt kept in a box till I started hammering clay, bending edges into eyes and staining squares with cobalt. I started this years after.

To get further, all this is below the garden. I started a garden again after the universes went into space, especially corn, standing in it up to ankles and calves. For entertainment I took desert tagetes out to the street and planted it next to a full lippia that hangs over the curb. Its gold will surmount with white balls the lippia as if the two were dancing. They are up out of the flood to love the dry! And having found the gold treasure Wildditch is off, back to moment when he departed and back to the desk where he writes. And for validation he goes outside and meets the gardener and the story repatriates him into the mundane just the way the hobbits come home in the end and set right the shire, or Borges at last in the end goes back to Borges http://www.kissthewitch.co.uk/seinund... becomes Borges, merely Borges. So Wildditch revisits the spot in the real that he knew in the irreal, finds it shabby and small, like waking in the dark to a room before dawn when a second before the eyes saw all the universe streaming.

I have undergrounds in the yard inhabited by tortoise. I do not go there out of respect for their sanctity but feel the dark of their snugness and the ripe odor of the den. I have a cavity upstairs, the crawl space where I laid a floor of boards to walk, but before they put in more duct. I left a bag of silver there, forgot it ten years, then one day remembered and sent an expedition. He kicked it with his foot he said. I keep thinking there are trap doors in my aunt's house where she has hid the great treasure that I must find, dream continually of my grandfather's arts and crafts lodge on a lake with its secret compartments filled with sculptures and prints. Last night I dreamed of a sculpture of my mother's, a head of ebony and Abyssinian and there I have looked into my wife's heart.

Then he is about to go from the island, finding none of the artifacts of the past life below, he sees the oak, riven by lightning, sawn down and finds the "po", the chamber pot he escaped with, and so "he had a sense that there was a decision he had to make all over again" (61). Go back or go on. Years between reading this I planted my own red oak, on a whim that now rivals electric lines. It is light and of dark. Not to fear the dark, but not to deny, I went in my seventieth year but one, with Chuang Tzu and David, Yeats, the elders, into the abyss I had only dreamed. It was deep pits, caves like the Balrog inhabits underground, but that is denial by metaphor. The real is Jonah Runoff, as Hercules turned the rivers to clean them, but this is not about cattle, stables or manure, but the imagination. So these things in the depth, in the Augean stables, how to simply clean them? Isn’t their memory their existence? Doesn’t taking away the memory take away the life? But living with stink is a problem when consciousness comes.

In PTSD, consciousness breaks involuntarily in upon dreams, smells, memories, fears. The example comes to mind of Arthur Rimbaud who divides his life in two over the “hope of recovering the key to his lost innocence” (Henry Miller, “When Do Angels Cease to Resemble themselves? A Study of Rimbaud." New Directions 9, 39). So to quote Rimbaud: “if my spirit were always wide-awake…I would not have given in to degenerate instincts, to a forgotten epoch.” Miller says, “what it was that sealed his vision, and thereby brought about his doom, no one knows-and probably no one ever will know.” All our lives are filled with such events, maybe not all, but they are neutralized by denial, selection, amnesia, drugs. In other words Rimbaud gives himself up to debauch and every vice just to forget the pain, the lost innocence. He made himself monstrous. He made himself a comprachicoes, who change the physical appearance of human beings by mutilating children, but on his own. He mutilates his soul inexpertly, which is his salvation because his making monstrous doesn’t take and he turns to faith.

There are many likenesses to psychological disfigurement in the underworld comprachicoes' applied mutilations, none greater than those of the German grandchildren of Rudolph Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/eu_germany.... These things must either be faced or denied. Rainer Hoess shows the immense pain but also the courage of the great. The view is that silence is complicity. The comprachicoes removed the memory of dislocated joints, stunting the spine, burning the face, incisions, manipulations and restraints with a drug, a stultifying powder, an anesthetic escape, so that the mind's ability to recall the depravities imposed on it was deadened, and if remembered, remembered with an anesthetic so the meaning of the pain was masked with forgetfulness. Consciousness reconstructs, reconnects the pain with its meaning by removing the bandage of inoculated, anesthetic memory. Then the pain of realization begins. This happens over a lifetime and is rather different from immediate traumas of assault and consequent memories treated with propranolol. This drug is said to pose an identity dilemma since our memories make us who we are and their removal prevents learning from our mistakes, the point being that if the comprachicoes could have administered propranolol they could have gone on mutilating and maiming ad infinitum, like the mandarin who is taken to another planet to be tortured forever in exchange for peace on earth. Peace at the price of no memory. So our sufferings make us whole in this view.

There is a social issue raised by the suicide of Clay Hunt http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelook..., the vet activist who saw his friends killed in front of his eyes. How much can the drugs, the escapes and consciousness heal?

There is no lack of disinfectant of the making monstrous and its memory among the unfeeling, but to take a view through metaphor, wind is greater than water, that is, the wind of consciousness is greater than the water of memory and identification of the pain. You can know that on mountaintops. Down at the pain, at sea level, mere humidity swallows you up without a fish in sight. Swallowed by a fish, wake up in the belly, cradle and earth. Similarities to a fish belly are darkness, humidity, vistas to cross. Subject to forces and denial makes a Jonah. Staying away from the beach won’t help. You get to be a hundred, two hundred and start to wake a little to these forces. Three hundred and even in Bilbo Baggins belly light dawns in the darkness.

So here’s the promise, God will rescue him out of his trouble. The trouble is himself and the forces. He doesn’t come without a past even if he doesn’t know. He doesn’t come without a present even if he doesn’t feel. It gives meaning to blindness. If it weren’t for friends along the way, women usually, who save his life, he wouldn’t survive at all. He doesn’t want to give account of the women though, he wants to account the forces. He wants to take out after his enemies but he has to face himself. All unmentionable, all dark shot with rays, lots of rays, but the light doesn’t blind him. The dark does. Even in darkness light dawns for the upright. He gets to be compassionate because of the dark, the affliction, the pain that lines tiled hallways of cement floors, all along the halls in different states of dementia, drooling, moaning. This is no dream but an image from the past. He’s not nobody from the Midwest, he’s worse. He comes out of the grave shorn, unshorn with the memory of his sins. His sins unless you say the innocent are the oppressed and what is done to the kindreds, the strange fruits of their tortures, beatings, is the fault of some enemy. That’s the one, the enemy of forces. So he looked at three hundred into the dark and it was getting light. By then he had lived twenty lives, thirty. By then the illuminant hadn’t filled every corner of the hallway in the belly. They were all still there, but without the same power, like they had lost mass, like oxygenated a river were diverted in their midst. This river he could float but not like some aging Huxley or Eiseley reimaging evolution, floating on his back down the canyons of rock. Even at three hundred the light that dawns is still earth light the pains gibber at. He walks down the center of the hall like he did the first time. What did the boy see but what we know? They could not touch him. They had to wait for that. That hadn’t happened yet.

What was it like in Noah’s childhood? Playing with too much water. Jonah, playing at the wharf with pelicans for pets would come home with shells in a bag. Nobody can say if we’re all that way. Oh do not call them naive who kick in the belly womb. The fish is their life. Life is their fish. Moses floated early. How far is it to where he kicks the rock. He hit the rock with his stick. He hit the rock! Ouch. The rock has a sense of humor about it even at the time it puts Moses to bed in Egypt. We go down to get his body in a few years the way we go down to get our memory of the dirty hallway with its stretchers and wheelchairs. The results of the finished work of the comprachicoes are all along both sides of the hall, misshapen, drooling. Funny it has no smell. That was from all the disinfectant. There was no lack of disinfectant among the unfeeling. Then of course there were all the drugs pumped into the skin. That was before drugs were so common. All the pains took them. Palsy took him drugs. Rage took Valium. Lust had a range of pharmacopoeia. Hatred must have eaten some. Sicknesses all. Diseases all. Rampant in the hall. Covered when the Lord entered that hall long before and found a species of Noah and Jonah. A hall more like a tunnel of misery. My sin was there that I resurrect here. My sins were theirs. The enemies inoculate you with pain. Redemption is not cleansing like a nuclear flash, or a flood. It feels more like a plant growing.

Jonah Runoff

If water is the symbol of pain then there are different sizes of vessel in which the volume of water collects. That does not indicate the pain is greater, it just means it is felt more because of the larger vessel. The water from a kitchen spigot is nothing compared to a thunder storm on the mountain, when the runs off the mountain and collects in the vessel. The vessel feels the more than when a slicker laid on the ground. Jonah was this kind of runoff. He had to be sunk to make an impression.


So all this revealed with the good in the underground substrate, finding it out, as Greene's narrator does after he is terminal. The good is even greater. What nurse gets in bed with a patient? One could embrace the heart being of a soul? Necronauts boast they ride in Charon's boat, cross and recross with Dante. Are they 40, 50, 60, 70, in full flesh after meal, wine and love made possible and satiate until long sleep and talk of Beckett dying? David has just this boatman, this flower. How his hair is growing thin. Cheeks hang. You think the mind diminished but he sees what frightens all, his life and work are not enough. He sees the cold, no alibi. Everybody knows. Faulkner frowns. None good. Gone down in ships. Vanity, said the man's son.

Shekhinah is the girl in David's bed. It is a parable of age. He was cold at the end, no longer dreamed of what he lived. Not full of himself, the athlete supple beyond bend, who led a troop fifteen fugitive years, slept on the ground, fasted for days could not get warm. He shivers in the kingdom with memories and when he opens his eyes he is not home. He is in a tent with a flag on the top like a Bedouin, surrounded by sweets he can't eat, lords and courtiers he can't stand. So they bring a girl to warm him. She lays beside the memories of Absalom and Gath, Saul at night, air and men, intrigues and women. He is freezing. She feels the bone. Compassion flows around them. She feels the wasted muscle of the sinew arms. Compassion flows around them, feet and hands. She loves the man, else how stand? Now he sleeps. She has fulfilled rest to the king. But he stirs. His dreams are light. He thinks of Absalom. She is a nurse, a blanket, a pillow. The lights are out. A guard stands. What kind of love has the girl in his bed? For a friend, to sing and hold when they go where none has gone. Go not alone is the wisdom of the home. The everlasting in the bed, his fingers ache, digestion unsettles, gaps in his teeth, eyes dry on good days. No cough, dementia or out of breath moaning. Her comfort does not prolong.

He sees beyond the bone. The miracle of the words so great he has set apart the godly for himself. You have filled my heart with greater joy. I will lie down and sleep in peace. These are good. Four sons lost! How do we know he lives a life of faith? Hang around all night. He says with amazement what spring and winter behold in each other in the sea they can't cross. She holds tight in these fits. Heart reaches. Wishes herself two. You call this a king and bone shop. Think, having done, of ancestral memory, as there is of birth and life, that folk wisdom of death initiates itself. While old ladies in the home, all men having gone, whisper to one another that they know. They boast. We never quite find out, till flesh melts quick as it can. She doesn't leave. She has been thousands of years. http://apoeticalreadingofthepsalmsofd...

In III parts: Part II Continued here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
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