Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 11 & 12

Introductory Remarks

The novel's action gallups forward. I can hardly restrain myself from moving forward. In fact, I haven't, already. I'm done the book. Still, we'll take this slow. Having read the last three chapters, it is my opinion that each should be taken individually. So, we'll say that Friday, July 28th will be Chapter 13; Wednesday, August 2nd will be Chapter 14; and, appropriately, we will begin the final discussion on Sunday, August 6th. Happy reading!

Discussion Points

1) My footnote informs me that Lancy, France is the first place-name which Chesterton improvises in the novel. Do you think it bears some significance? Being that they are in France, the name "Lancelot," jumped into my mind. I wonder if the reader is meant to think of that man's story in some conjunction with the present one? Certainly, there could be a comparison with the "anarchy" that consumed Arthur's idealistic state and the anarchy which, in Chapter 12, seems to cover the world. It is also noteworthy that the anarchy in Arthur's case comes from confused good-intentions and love. Your thoughts?

2) Permit me to reproduce a long passage from Chapter 11:
The ex‑Marquis had pulled the old straw hat over his eyes, and the black shade of the brim cut his face so squarely in two that it seemed to be wearing one of the black half-masks of their pursuers. The fancy tinted Syme's overwhelming sense of wonder. Was he wearing a mask? Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything? This wood of witchery, in which men's faces turned black and white by turns, in which their figures first swelled into sunlight and then faded into formless night, this mere chaos of chiaroscuro (after the clear daylight outside), seemed to Syme a perfect symbol of the world in which he had been moving for three days, this world where men took off their beards and their spectacles and their noses, and turned into other people. That tragic self‑confidence which he had felt when he believed that the Marquis was a devil had strangely disappeared now that he knew that the Marquis was a friend. He felt almost inclined to ask after all these bewilderments what was a friend and what an enemy. Was there anything that was apart from what it seemed? The Marquis had taken off his nose and turned out to be a detective. Might he not just as well take off his head and turn out to be a hobgoblin? Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodland, this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the glimpse always unforeseen, and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme had found in the heart of that sun-splashed wood what many modern painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.
I love this for innumerable reasons. First of all, the great education of our author is evident by his effortless application of the word chiaroscuro right before he slams impressionism. I also think that this single paragraph perfectly wrestles the reader into the proper, bewildered state for the thicker allegory which is about to follow. This wood is like Dante's, and really sets up the final leg of the journey. Any other comments on this or another exceptional passage?

3) I recognize more overtones of the French Revolution in the stories of how the two peasants turn inexplicably, and also in the presentation of the confusing mob-mentality. Thoughts?

4) It is important from Chapter 12 forward to keep particularly in mind exactly who is who amongst the former anarchists. That is, who represents what day of the week?
It plucked the Secretary clean out of his saddle, as a knife is whipped out of its sheath, trailed him kicking terribly for twenty yards, and left him flung flat upon the road far in front of his frightened horse. As the car took the corner of the street with a splendid curve, they could just see the other anarchists filling the street and raising their fallen leader.

"I can't understand why it has grown so dark," said the Professor at last in a low voice.
My footnote reminds me that the Secretary is Monday - the day corresponding with the first day of creation, when God spoke and then there was light. When he falls, it becomes inexplicably dark.

Note, also, how Dr. Bull, who is Saturday, has become quite the philanthrope in this section: appropriate, since on his day God created man.

My favorite part of these two chapters is this other light/darkness conflict at the chapter's end (a great passage):
"Do you see this lantern?" cried Syme in a terrible voice. "Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did not make it. You did not light it, Better men than you, men who could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing. You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind; you will destroy the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of apes will never have the wit to find it."

He struck the Secretary once with the lantern so that he staggered; and then, whirling it twice round his head, sent it flying far out to sea, where it flared like a roaring rocket and fell.
Recall the discussion at the book's beginning between the order of a streetlamp and the freedom of a tree. I think Chesterton is coming full-circle from that first philosophical discussion. Something that struck me then, and which Joe H. has recently brought to mind, is this: Isn't, ultimately, a tree the better example for order then even the stationary lamp? I thought Syme's poetic idealism a little misplaced in his confidence in man's constructed order. The amazing teleology that leads a tree to grow from a seed into a trunk with leaved branches (instead of a fax-machine) seemed the more poetic ideal for me - and for Chesterton, who once wrote that he was amazed to wake each morning and find the grass green again. I knew there was some sort of lesson coming for Syme. And here, as he champions Christendom's light against Monday (the aboriginal light spoken by God) it is obvious that Chesterton is preparing to unravel his meaning. Why are the days of Creation on the "Anarchist's" council? Why are none of them as they seem? Is anything as it seems? At this point of the novel, the question that dominates the reader's mind is the question that the characters keep asking: "What does it all mean? The answer awaits!

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Blogger Friguy said...

The title of Chapter 11--"The Criminals Chase the Police"--should have been our first hint at the paradoxical and sudden unravelings of these few pages.

Our first discussion point is a great insight. After some thought, it doesn't seem a stretch that G.K. may have intended us to think of the Roundtable. Camelot fell with Arthur alone, pitted against his prized friend Lancelot and forsaken by the other knights. The situations don't match up one-for-one in characters or in details, but the gist is the same. I tend to think of Arthur, Lance, and the knights more as placeholders for Jesus, Judas, and the Apostles, with Mary (Guinevere) left standing at the cross (stake). But I think the chaos which ensues in "Lancy" is rather reminiscent of the betrayal at the court of Camelot.

The second discussion point is a very long paragraph that I, also, marked off for its beauty and revelatory nature. How about "that tragic self-confidence which he had felt when he believed that the Marquis was a devil"? We do well not to villanize too quickly those who might otherwise be our friends.

Regarding the third point, "mob mentality" captures the scene. I was reminded of the classic scene before the jailhouse in "To Kill A Mockingbird." Go ahead and knock it because it's on most seventh-grade summer reading lists. I don't care--that novel is a compendium of lessons on Christianity in the form of an American adventure. The sharp inhumanity and sardonic grimaces of the lynch-mob in "Mockingbird" are akin to what Syme probably saw in Lancy.

Chesterton calls Impressionism the "final skepticism." Why "final"? By this, does he mean to say that human artistry and culture hit rock bottom in the 20th century? That notion seems untrue to the Chestertonian worldview. What, then, means he by "final"?

We shouldn't overlook the short course we receive in political theory. "The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists ... He looks poor ... That is why he is rich." This is quite a critical examen of the three Estates. One (like me) might consider it too extremist. Certainly, those who have been given much by the Lord are at high risk to be ungrateful and disobedient to Him, but they are not necessarily bound to anarchy/lawlessness/immorality. He condemns the rich and exalts the poor. But what of the bourgeois class? Cannot the rich be saved, or the poor lost? This section seemed immoderate.

Regarding the unfolding allegory, I thought it poignant that Renard's mode of false assistance to Syme's band is to pull a lantern from the ceiling of his Gothic home. It is unwise, I suppose, to tear down the House of God, especially in falsehood. Then, as Syme's brigade sit in the car before the angry mob, the final shafts of sunset light up the vehicle "like a burning chariot." Are we not to think of Ezekiel and the vision of the flaming chariot? I imagined Syme driving off to heaven with "Chariots of Fire" playing triumphantly in the background. Instead, he was cornered on a tumbola that stretched into the boiling waters of hell. I was close...

Lastly, Ratcliffe suggests near the end of Chapter 12 that Sunday may have killed the man in the deep darkness. I'm not sure how the allegory will play out, but if "the man we've never seen" indeed represents God, Ratcliffe has now suggested that Sunday could kill God. Can such a thing be? The junk lyricist of "Jesus Christ Superstar" would respond in the affirmative, or else he never would have written the song, "Long Live God." That optative statement of well-wishing is one I don't think we can presume to apply heavenward; let's leave that to express our sentiments for the Pope. In place of contemplating His death, we could spend our time in service of God. Ultimately, are we not all sent by Him Whom we have never seen to carry His lantern of life and love to the godless of the world? John 20:29.

7/25/06, 4:36 PM  
Blogger Joey G. said...

Some good questions raised, David.

As far as why Chesterton calls Impressionism the "final skepticism," I don't think he means in a "chronological" sense so much as a "logical" sense. A person who ends in Impressionism begins by doubting that things are as they seem. He ends by doubting that anything is at all in any sense but that things seem. The "floor dropping out on the universe" is that "final skepticism" that a tree might not be a tree or a rock a rock: there is no objective reality, merely our "impression" of what may be. Some would consider it an unfair critique of this modern movement in art, but take a look at Monet's "red boats." There's not a damned boat in the picture. As for what is in the picture: there are as many answers to this questions as there are viewers of the painting. And that, I think, is Chesterton's quam. And in anticipation of the objection that might be raised, that more abstract movments like surrealism seem more "skeptical," I would simply say that the surrealist outlook is philosophically "impressionistic," no matter what the art critics say. Think of Impressionism as the teaching of the heresiarch, and all of the modern schools as distillations of the same fundamental error.

To answer your other comment, Dave, about Chesterton's "immoderate" crash course in political science, I must ironically compare him to Monet. As an author, and as a philosophical mind, Chesterton very frequently paints with "broad strokes." His fat fingers might have found it difficult to hold a thinner stylus. Just a little knowledge about Chesterton tells us that he is being hyperbolic here. He was a connoisseure of fine wines and cigars. He enjoyed living "the good life" and saw it as no impediment to his Christian knighthood. He recognized that there was nothing wrong, per se, with having a heavy-laden camel, so long as you did not expect to take it through the needle's eye. It is not things we possess that interfere with holiness, but things which possess us. Chesterton, with his broad strokes, went after the error which is more commonly made, and risked a hyperbole to do so. There are those who would be so brash as to take his word without caveat, imagining that it is truly impossible for a rich man to follow the righteous path. But how many people, in our age of materialism, are in danger of that error? No, the more common tendency is to hoard possessions and wealth and to become too much possessed of what is passing by. This materialism was one of the modern heresies about which Chesterton wrote most often, and I would characterize his comments here as part of that crusade. Might he have been more careful? Sure. But such political statements are not nearly as fun to read.

7/26/06, 9:51 AM  

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