Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 14

Introductory Remarks

What does it all mean? Chapter 14 finally begins to peal back the veil. I've read to the end of the novel now, and find that Chapter 14 presents the "problem" of the novel in a condensed sort of way. Chapter 15 then makes the "argument" in true Chesterton form. My discussion of this section will be a bit more systematic, rather than in bullet points as with past chapters. I will keep my comments isolated to Chapter 14 here.


The allegory is heavy from the get-go in this chapter. What do you make of the men ploughing through ploughed fields and trudging through dark thickets in pursuit of Sunday "till each was turned into a figure too outrageous to be mistaken for a tramp?"

Reading on, something important occured to me during the conversation between Dr. Bull and the others about how Bull never disliked Sunday because he fancied him as some sort of over-grown baby. This something important was the notion of "mischievousness" - so importantly distinct from "wickedness." And I thought back, as all our six crusaders must be thinking in the novel, on "what it all means." And it occured to me that if Sunday was the man in the dark room, and also the President of the anarchic council - if he really was playing both sides of the chess board - well, then, there was never any real danger. Frustrating as it might be, we have to call "no harm, no foul." For the "bombing" that Sunday had commanded them was a farse: He knew it would never happen, because he knew his six councilmen were disguised cops, for he had chosen them. He knew the cops were in no danger when he sent them in, because he knew there was no serious anarchic council. The whole thing was a bit of mischief. And I must admit, I wondered if Abraham thought the same thing coming down off the mountain with Isaac...

The next section that put me on to the real "problem" of the novel was the Secretary's comments about Sunday's laughter. Sunday represents to Monday something "gross and sad in the Nature of Things." My footnote made much of this and quoted the section from Orthodoxy I have reproduced below.
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
Orthodoxy, IX
A beautiful paragraph. But why would God hide his laughter from us? Why does Sunday's laughter so infuriate Monday? The answer is because we - because Monday - cannot understand the "game." It's easy enough for us to conceive of God laughing in our good times. There's that painting of Jesus laughing which I despise because He looks like a Rastafarian. But I hate it for more than that. I had it because it unsettles me. God is, after all, eternal, and all moments are present to Him at once. He's not just laughing through your baby's first steps - he's also laughing through your baby's lukemia, if He's laughing at all. Forgive me the bit of seeming irreverence that it might take to say this. But this is what Chesterton was on about. This is, I think, what the book is all about.

The book is talking about the question of theodicy. How can the universe be "justified?" The old argument from the beginning about order versus anarchy - why was it that the tree, the natural thing was all in chaos in the illustration, and man's doings try to "restore" some sort of order by way of railway timetables? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Why this disorder in the world, in the universe? Yes, the fall, but why did we fall? Why did God make us so that such could happen? I think back to all our discussion of this is Dr. Lowry's class at the Seminary...

Of course, I have something of an answer, and so does Chesterton - but he's fleshing out the problem first. He's trying to look more deeply into it before he springs his "solution" on us. And the disillusionment of the Professor, the stubborness of Gogol, the scorned anger of the Secretary, and the baffled affection of Bull are all symbolic of mankind's experience of this problem. The days of Creation have received crazy messages and been led on a wild chase. Sunday is laughing at Monday. "God is in his heaven..." and mankind always has some place in the pit of the stomach that objects. But is God just in His heaven...?

The end of the chapter alludes to where Chesterton is going. His choice of "Sunday" is also a bit of a hint. I go back to my first observation in this post: the man have journeyed through the dark forests and muddy fields in pursuit of Sunday, and have now arrived, tattered and worn, at a large estate. And what does each find prepared for him? New clothes... Hrmm...

Labels: ,


Blogger Friguy said...

The whole adventure seems a crusade, the reward of which is immanent. The trudging and trampling sounds like a life well lived in cheerful servitude to the great Commander.

The Greek notion of "Pan" is mentioned three times, so there must be some pertinent significance. I am missing it, however. Anyone?

Chapter XIV is certainly striking deep into the fundamentals of life, existence, humanity, and divinity. There is a marked return to that initial idea of the world's "inside-out-ness". Syme lays out the "secret of the whole world", as I quote:

"We have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front."

And he proposes, also, that the gargoylish grimace of Sunday from out his cab was really only a playful gesture in a game of hide-and-seek. If these things be true, what a remarkable concept!

In this light, we can imagine the world as though it were one glorious tapestry. In reality, from heaven/front, it is one flowing image of spectacular color and artistry; whereas, from earth/behind, it appears a tangled, fraying mess of a thousand starts and stops and knots.

The setup for the final chapter is grand. Will all the frantic, fraying strands be sewn together in the end?

8/2/06, 4:08 PM  
Blogger Joey G. said...

Thanks, Dave, for pointing to Syme's observations. They remind me of Exodus 33:
"Then Moses said, 'Do let me see your glory!' He answered, 'I will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name, LORD; I who show favors to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives. Here is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. When my glory passes I will set you in the hollow of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face is not to be seen."
Sounds kind-of like hide-and-seek to me...

As for Pan. My only suggestion would be that it reflects man's tendency to turn to pagan religion and to the confused notion of pantheism in an attempt to explain things. There's no real injustice being done to us in our suffering if we're just part of one big organism. Buddhism and Hinduism "solve" the problem of evil in a kharma system, a theory of balance. The universe is all One, and no real harm can be done to any one part. It only is an ostensible evil, as another part, perhaps unseen, increases.

Syme's answer to the Professor is that it also means "panic." I wondered what this meant, and I think Chesterton is alluding to the fact that men fall upon paganism and these eastern systems in a sort of panic to explain their problems and to justify the incongruities in the universe without the aid of revelation.

8/2/06, 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Chris L said...

I agree with Joe on the significance of the references to Pan. The issue is distinguishing God from his creation, and understanding the link between them. Pantheism is an over simplification, when man fails to understand the link he simple combines them and claims that they are one.

Another section I wanted to comment is something Dr. Bull said
"I can tell you what is a trifle creepy about Sunday. His room is near, his clothes are neat, everything seems in order; but he is absent minded. Some times his great bright eyes go blind."
This passage really made me think. It seems to be a very succinct presentation the question of theodicy and in way the entire mystery of the novel. Throughout the whole novel seems thing to be completely chaotic but as Joe pointed out if Sunday was the man in the dark who made them police officers then there really was no chaos at all it was all in his control all along.

As Joe pointed out this chapter certain does allude to where Chesterton is going. As they men arrive as Sunday's they receive new clothes, and comfortable carriages and room and are notified that fancy dinner is being prepared. It makes as reflect on the two biblical aspect of Sunday, we think of Sunday as the day on which God rest, and are characters finally get a chance to rest as they arrive as Sunday's mansion, but also new clothes and the feast remind of Christ's resurrection, and wedding feast of the lamb.

Any way this chapter was one of my favorite, and reminds me of the book of Job (a book eluded to more then once in this novel). Job and his friends discussed the problem of Theodicy in much some same way the council members do in this chapter.

Chris L

8/3/06, 9:14 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home