I do ramble, don’t I?
I do ramble, don’t I?
A brief postscript to yesterday’s post, if I may indulge myself.
I mentioned that Christian novelists have at their disposal a philosophy that can offer different answers than those that have been proffered by many novels in the last century or so (not to imply that this is some sort of conspiracy among novelists or anything, or even that there is a unified philosophy among modern novels. I’m not totally crazy!) However, it is interesting to note that what are essentially existentialist ideas have had to be tackled even within Christendom itself. As apparently contradictory as it may sound relativism, dialectical thinking and a host of other such ideas managed to worm themselves into Christian thinking in some instances. The primary force behind addressing and counteracting this was Francis Schaeffer, who joins C.S. Lewis as one of the two great Christian apologists of the last century. I couldn’t recommend his work highly enough.
So, it turns out that every bookshop in Cork city is pretty much sold out of anything a I might want to read. You walk into Waterstones to have any inquiries met with something along the lines of “Books, yeah. We used to have lots of those in here. Not now though, and all the publishers are closed for the holidays so don’t even think about ordering something. How about this? I’ll turn my back and you can steal some of the shelving if it will make you feel better. Deal? Eh?” I spent an abrasive few hours searching for a few books, in particular The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle. If you’ve not already read it it’s a wonderful book. The sort of book you read and then want to have tattooed onto your body.
Now, wouldn’t that be a great chat-up line? “Hey. Want to see Chapter 6?”
Well. Despite my promises I never updated did I?
I had a post written about Crime and Punishment which was intelligent, deeply insightful and incredibly witty all at the same time.
Unfortunately the monkey deleted it. Bad monkey! He’s not getting any peanuts anytime soon.
So, that is my excuse for not posting until now. All that gut wrenching effort lost. It drove me into a downward spiral of depression, alcohol, sex and existentialist novels. Yes, I’m currently reading The Castle by my good buddy Franz Kafka. It’s a heart warming tale of a family of teddy bears that go on a picnic in the woods.
So, the Dostoevsky. Well, for the ‘great existentialist novel’ the ending was a little bit too happy for me. But, I will not give the details away for those among my superabundance of readers that haven’t read it. You’re a multifarious sort, a readership straddling the whole globe. I mean, there’s a chance that all of you may not have read Crime and Punishment! You humans are full of surprises.
Nevertheless, Crime and Punishment was very interesting from the point of view that it is essentially the tale of a superman (a la Nietzsche’s superman or Ubermensch), or at least the tale of a man who aspires to be a superman. However, C&P predates Thus Spake Zarathustra by about 17 years, which would imply that Dostoevsky’s conception of the idea predates Nietzsche’s. The interesting part is that the protagonist never quite attains superman status, he doesn’t really manage to properly ‘step over’ morality in order to transcend that humdrum existence of the normal person. In this sense, is it the great existentialist novel or the great anti-existentialist novel?
On the matter of the great anti-existentialist novel, I think that this is something that is quite simply begging to be written. There is a quite obvious trend in (particularly Western) society at the moment toward some form of ‘faith’. This is manifesting itself in both good ways and bad ways. There is a notable trend to various forms of fundamentalism (fundamentalism in the sense of a ‘not-liberal’ faith, not in that militaristic/lunatic sense with which the word has become associated as of late). This trend is being egged on by a current unwillingness to accept that life has no meaning beyond itself. It is, in fact, encouraged by a more general fear which is being created by the mass media in the West at present. Not that I’m saying there is a general trend toward any sort of ‘real’ faith or a proper understanding of such matters, but there does seem to be a trend to a desire for something beyond mere existence to cling on to.
So, I think that the novel to harness this current ‘fad’ and to produce a novel where the protagonist is subject to the same ordeals he has been for the past 100 years, but comes to completely different conclusions, could well be the first ‘great’ novel of this century.
On a slightly less grand scale than ‘great novel of the century’, existentialism is something that I feel has not been properly tackled by Christian novelists. The existentialist philosophy was often propagated most effectively through the novel. Dostoevsky and Sartre are good examples of this but modern novelists have often propagated existentialist ideals in a less blatant manner. The novel as an artform seems to still embrace the idea that ‘nothing has any meaning’ even when society at large is doubting this. Some of the most beautiful novels I have ever read explore the idea that it is nothing but our interactions with those about us that give our life substance (I think Haruki Murakami is a good example of this). I think the Christian novelist has at his disposal a philosophy with much more ‘meaning’ than this and the person who manages to deploy this idea in a properly literary manner could well have a classic on his hands.
Of course, such an endeavour is liable to be laughed at by critics. It would probably be labelled ‘regressive’ if not worse things. Still, if it harnesses the power of the current societal trend it could well be the critics who are laughed at in the end.