Slow Posting

Slow Posting

I’m definitely getting the pregnancy sleepies. I’ve been crawling into bed at 9 or 10 and sleeping in as late as Bella (and Dom) will let me. And trying to sneak in a nap or two if possible. I’m planning some posts about books and other stuff. Just not getting to them as quickly as I’d hoped.

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  • Uh-oh…now I’m going to actually have to come up with something semi-coherent on the matter.  That’s scary.

    I think I’ll start at the bottom, though.  The two point you make – the book’s bleakness and its coldwarness – are my two biggest criticisms.  They don’t make me dislike the work, at least not fundamentally.  But I do think they’re significant flaws.

    The Cold War context does tend to date the work a bit, and that’s unfortunate, I think.  Doomsday scenarios don’t tend to take that particular form in our times.  And the “we’ve done it again” nature of this particular nuclear apocalypse seems even more unlikely.  But it’s his underlying pessimism that really “shines through” there.

    That’s my biggest beef.  There are plenty of authors I love who enjoy poking fun at others – probably because I enjoy satire, and that’s an essential element of the genre.  (Waugh’s the master of that particular style, in my mind.)  But I don’t enjoy authors that are mean about it.  And Miller really seems to fall into that camp.  Folks like Waugh make fun of others, but there is always/often an underlying sense that they respect or love the people they are lampooning.  Miller’s too sharp for that.

    As for the rug being pulled, I can sympathize with that reaction, as well.  I think the fact that the work is meant to take place over a long span of time (and that it’s meant to have three distinct parts) makes that a bit more palatable to me – at least from a structure standpoint.  But I do remember being shocked the first time, especially in the Fiat Homo section.  (Again, points to Miller’s underlying cynicism, I think: something that was – sadly – reflected in his own life.)

    Ditto on the “fantastic portrayal of the Church” stuff.  And if you know what happens at the end with Rachel, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’m confused by that every time.  I’m convinced it’s important, and have even created a number of theories about what Miller is saying (including some that don’t conclude that the Earth is empty of all life).  But I can’t convince myself any of them are actually right.

    My other major criticism is the way Miller allows the Lazarus character to drop largely by the wayside in the third section.  He’s the backbone, in some ways, of both Fiat Homo and Fiat Lux.  And he seems to be holding the work together.  (I wonder if your dissatisfaction with Part III could be connected to that as well as the “rug” aspects.)

    But despite my many (and often conflicting) thoughts on the book, I’m left with the powerful images of those final few pages: Rachel, Zerchi, and the Church’s continued existence in the face of never-before-experienced odds.

    The finale is where the book really grabs me, and that’s why I love the work so much.  Well, that and a certain weakness for sci-fi.

  • I’m glad you felt the same way about the bleakness. Most of the mentions I’ve seen in the Catholic blogosphere are raves about how great it is (Julie D. was the notable exception, I think), and while I will concede that it’s an important book, even a haunting book, it’s also rather depressing. In fact the experience reminded me a bit of reading Crime and Punishment, another book whose greatness I can see but the reading of which makes me feel quite cramped and claustrophobic.

    I think what really got me about his pessimism was how integral it seemed to his understanding of the fallen nature of man and original sin. In the Fiat Lux section, the abbot seems disappointed but unsurprised by Thon Taddeo’s non serviam, the implication seems to be less of a warning against the dangers of intellectual pride and more of an assumption that one cannot be an intellectual without succumbing to such temptations. At the heart of the novel’s world view seems to be a pessimism about the pursuit of knowledge. By contrast, the Church has raised up many great saints who are also great scholars. I’m thinking especially of St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) who said: he who seeks truth seeks God.

    Perhaps Miller wants to contrast the search for truth with the search for knowledge as power, but if so he fails to have a character who properly represents the proper role of the scholar. The monks role as conservators who fail to understand the treasure they guard seems to imply a false dichotomy between holiness and scholarship.

    I am likewise mystified by the Lazarus/ Wandering Jew character. Why does he drop out of the story? What was he doing there in the first place? He’s intriguing but I just don’t understand the character’s function in the story. I think you may be right that his fading away in the final act might be what makes that section seem so unsatisfying.

    I did find the whole final sequence satisfying up to the point when the Rachel figure appears: the confession, Dom Zerchi’s internal monologue as he lays dying, especially the conversations with Dr Cors and with Brother Francis’ skull, those were all very fine. Like you say, they are powerful and stick with you. But then, when it comes to Rachel, I am lost. I’m curious as to your theories. He says she’s an image of the resurrection, but it’s a monstrous image rather than a glorious one.

    Perhaps if I could reconcile those two figures, Rachel and Lazarus, I might come to some kind of peace with the book. Right now, I’m still more troubled than anything else.

  • Yeah, I definitely can’t “rave.”  I love the book, mostly because I find it so thought-provoking…and because of the afore-mentioned attachment to sci-fi works.  But it’s not an easy book to read, in a lot of ways.  And it’s not a book I would even universally recommend, so I can’t truly say I “rave” about it.

    I do think Miller comes across as (and quite possibly was) a bit of an anti-intellectual, to at least some extent.  I’m not sure how much of that might have been colored by his life-long battle with depression – a battle that he finally lost.  I think this also fits with your (correct, in my opinion) contention that the book fails to present a pro-scholar character.  Leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable, sort of the way I feel when reading Kierkegaard – “faith seeking understanding” seems to be getting short shrift in both cases.

    Moving past Lazarus, who frustrates me as well as you (and badly damages the last third, I think), I’ll take on the Rachel question by starting this way: I have no idea what Miller’s trying to say there.

    OK, getting that out in the open right now.  But here are a few more thoughts.  I’m not so sure she’s monstrous.  Pre-awakening, she is surely seen that way.  But post-awakening, that’s not so clear to me.  Depends on how you take the whole “rejection of baptism” bit.

    My wild theory is that her existence is meant to be a sign that the earth will be reborn at the end of time, not reconceived.  (I trust I make myself obscure.)  I think perhaps Rachel is meant to be seen as a “new Eve” in a way that Mary was not – a woman who was the first in a newly reborn world.  And I think that perhaps the second nuclear holocaust is suggested as the prophetic way in which our old earth was reborn – the end of the world, using world in the narrow sense.  Not exactly sure how that squared with the space ark, though. 

    It raises interesting issues for me as to just what is meant by “a new Heaven and a new Earth,” and how that might come about.  And it seems possible that Miller is suggesting that Rachel is not in need of baptism because she has been “awakened” in the new earth – the one that is free from the stain of original sin.

    I feel like I’m about 7,000 feet away from the trunk, standing on a particularly wispy limb at the moment.  But that’s the way I’ve come to grips with Rachel in my own mind.  Especially since the rejection of baptism is a highly troubling event, otherwise.

    I’m not convinced there is a coherent explanation, though.  And I’m even less convinced this is the one, even if there is one to be found.


  • Aargh! Curses! First Conqustador, now I have plunged into the Changeverse trilogy! How do you expect me to finish it all by Lent? I’m only halfway through Dies the Fire! I just wish the books were clean enough for my 16-year-old son, who would love the plot idea. Much to think about, but the Wicca thing is a little tiring.

    Two other recommendations:

    1. The Michael O’Brien “Children of the Last Day” series, which is a traditional Catholic version of the Left Behind screed.

    2. Certainly not as religious but more of a Cold War political saga, the Allen Drury series that includes Advise and Consent, which my HS principal (an Eastern European priest who fled the Commies in the 1950s) felt was the best political novel of all time.

  • Goodness, it’s catching! My mom tells me my younger brother is now reading Conquistador.
    Wonder if he’ll dive into the Change. Seems like his cup of tea.

    Good luck with the reading. I’m a speed demon, but I know not everyone inhales their books. Sometimes I think it would be better if I slowed down to savor the books. But then I really want to find out what happens next.

    It is frustrating how many books with good ideas are not fit for the young’uns. We have the same problem trying to recommend books to my bookwormish nephew, who’s 14.

    I’ve read Fr. Elijah. Think I even posted on it somewhere. Or maybe I meant to but never got round to it. Will probably get to other O’Brien books eventually. I thought it was rather bleak in outlook. Not quite as dark as CFL, but still the whole faithful remnant thing seems rather pessimistic to me. I did enjoy the action adventure pace and the character development. And thought the spirituality was interesting, mostly well-done though sometimes troubling, too.

    Father Barry, I’m still re-reading and thinking about those final scenes. I will get my thoughts together eventually.

  • No worries.  The longer you re-read and think about it, the less I actually have to defend my hair-brained positions.  And you may be able to explain the finale to me when all is said and done.  That would be a good, good thing.

  • Ok, to move away from your hair-brained ideas for a bit…

    I’m on a high from finishing my blog post on Till We Have Faces and have some wild ideas based on some similarities in the endings of the two books. So I’m going to run with them and see if there’s any sense.

    In TWHF the ugly (could you call her deformed?)Orual brings a complaint against the gods, rather like Mrs Grales who wants to give “shriv’ness” to God for making her deformed and for his Justice. Both women then die. Orual, as she had been told by the God, had to die; but her death was an inner death. She also was told that she would become Psyche. And she does, she gains a new face and is just as beautiful as her sister. And in becoming another Psyche, she becomes another goddess, another bride of the god.

    So then could you see Mrs Grales’ death in a similar light? She dies after confessing and being forgiven. She is reborn with a new face, a beautiful, innocent, newborn face. One that is able to look upon God and see His Real Presence. Is able even to minister to the priest and give him communion. She doesn’t need to be baptized because she is already reborn.

    Amazing now that I re-read how similar the final moments of these two characters are, the realization that “you have to give up the bitterness—“be granting shriv’ness to God,” as she’d say—before anything; before love.”

    Before Love. Canticle is bleak because in the end only two characters have been able to do this: the priest and the woman. “Bombs and tantrums. They don’t forgive.” The world has blown itself up because man cannot reconcile himself to God, cannot love because it cannot forgive.

    I suppose Rachel is somehow a new Eve, but perhaps only in the sense that any woman once she regains the state of grace, being completely purified of sin, is an image of Eve before she fell. She is an image of the resurrection, what we will look like when we are given new bodies, white garments to match our purified souls. 

    Just as Orual becomes Psych, Mrs Grales becomes Rachel. It isn’t really a new person so much as a new name to go with the new face, just as in baptism one receives a new name.

    I wonder too, if there might be a deliberate word play on Grales/grail. Is that Miller’s style? Is it merely a coincidence of sound? If so, then to what purpose?

    That ultimate scene with the spaceship always seemed so awkward to me. But what I focused on most in this reading was the brother slapping the dust off of his sandals. This place has rejected the message, they will go to a new place and preach the word there. The only life that’s left on earth is the shark. He existed before man and continues to exist after man, a force of nature, brooding and hungry.

    I guess Miller is saying that God might have promised not to destroy the earth again, not to send a flood. But he didn’t promise to prevent man from doing so. So the earth reverts to what it was before man. And man will seek a new earth. Of course, he leaves completely unanswered what the story will be in that new heaven and new earth. Perhaps this is an image of apocalypse?

    Ok, now it’s very late and I really have to get to bed. I’ll just post this and come back tomorrow to see if it still makes any sense.

  • Oh and as the Mrs. Grales head is dying he compares it to a scab or an umbilical cord. A scab, the result of a wound, the dead skin sloughs off and underneath is new, healthy skin. When an umbilical cord falls away all that is left is a naval, not a deformity but a natural part of a healthy, beautiful baby. A reminder of an extremity that was once vital but is unneeded in this new phase of life.

    And it can’t be a coincidence that we never learn Mrs Grales’ Christian name. So Rachel is her Christian name in the reborn body.