I should probably automate the apology-for-not-posting-in-ages in this thing, saving me the trouble of typing it in every time. While on the topic of apologies, I’ve noticed that I occasionally promise to post my opinions about something or other and then never deliver on this promise. A case in point is when I said I’d post a review of Matrix: Revolutions. Let’s just say I was unimpressed.
A more recent promise is that I’ll finish off my discussion on the Argument from Dependency some time before the heat death of the universe. This promise still stands although I think the Universe has a head start on me.
But for now I will digress back to another favourite topic of mine (and, again, one I’ve often promised more of my thoughts on). Yes, I want to talk about modern literature again. I’ll bet you’re excited! Firstly, reading back over previous posts, I do realise that I’m using the word ‘modern’ in several different ways. I’ve used it to refer variously to literature/poetry etc. of the early 1900s and also pretty much anything from then until now (inclusive). I think I shall use ‘contemporary’ to refer to more recent stuff form now on, in order to avoid confusion. Of course, I was probably the only person confused in the first place.
Anyway, the idea that has been fermenting in my mind for the last while (glimpses of which have already made their way onto the blog) and which I intend to elaborate on in the near future is that the post-existentialist, post-modern, post-post-modern, (etc.) contemporary novel, having been robbed of the luxury of objective meaning by the aforementioned movements, has settled upon the beauty of human interaction and human relationship as it’s currency of beauty. In the modern novel life itself may or may not have any meaning (sometimes this issue is ignored, sometimes a lack-of-meaning is implicitly or even occasionally explicitly embraced) but we, as people, can still relate to each other. The only thing of beauty that can now be found is the human relationship. It is this that the modern novel has clung to (in my humble opinion, which is far overreaching it’s authority). I intend, in a future post or two, to explore this idea through the writings of Haruki Murakami (whom I’ve mentioned before) and maybe a few other contemporary authors. But first a modern (not contemporary) example of, well, the complete opposite.
(Warning! Spoilers ahead. If you’ve not read ‘The Castle’ by Franz Kafka and intend on doing so someday it may be best to stop reading now.)
A few weeks ago I finished The Castle by Franz Kafka. Kafka’s name has become associated with bureaucracy, indeed the term ‘Kafkaesque’ is often used to refer to more Byzantine bureaucratic institutions, and The Castle is no different to his other novels in that it’s primary theme is that of a man struggling against an oppressive and faceless system which seems to stymie him at every turn. This itself makes for interesting reading but more interesting to me, especially in light of the previous paragraph, is the fact that the protagonist, K., is also faced with a complete lack of real human relationship. He never manages to come in proper contact with any of the bureaucrats in the Castle that are dominating and controlling his life, the reaction of the townspeople to him is a hostile one because of his foreign nature, those people he does have contact with are mainly fulfilling their role as per orders from the Castle (for example, two assistants sent to him who infuriated him with their jocularity and unwillingness to help properly turn out to be quiet and sensitive individuals who acted as, essentially, different people because they were ordered to do so.) K. falls in love with a woman, Frieda, who seems to be constantly swayed by what others tell her of him and whose loyalties seem to never really lie with him. She eventually leaves him. The novel is harsh, not simply because poor K. must go up against an unrelenting system, but that he must do so alone in a town where the mere individual is important only in terms of his relation to affairs at the Castle. Essentially, this ‘beauty of the human relationship’ which I’ve talked about is entirely missing from The Castle. This makes for quite interesting reading.
My thoughts on these matters are all progressing toward an idea of a proper Christian answer to the contemporary novel (as I’ve mentioned here and here). By proper I mean that a Christian novel should first itself stand alone as a good work of literature and secondly propose a system contrary to that of many contemporary works. I think it is time the novel reclaimed the idea of objective meaning, especially in a time such as this when a media-inspired fear is causing many in the west to search for something objective to cling to.