Sunday, May 3, 2015
hold by the material
So that was volume two. In volume three he does, Eddison, in fact, make lists of objects in the real world, but always for the sake of loveliness, loveliness, until I want to suggest that this formula itself is loveliness to him; it is the flesh of his impressions, and I think about the satisfaction that he might have felt as he wrote it out once again, and the objects moving almost bodily past his senses as he spelt their names, each instance of the lovely listing motion reinforcing every other instance by reminding him of it -- "green lawns and flower-beds and trim deep-hued hedges of clipped box and barberry and yew: long rows of mullioned windows taking the sun, whose beams seemed to have fired the very substance of the ancient brickwork to some cool-burning airy essence of gold" – the author feeling as if vitality was inhabiting the structure, which, like music, is expected to uphold the substance of its lyrics by transcending them.
I want to say that his books are elegies that refuse to be elegies, they will not give in, the author reaches the end of the story in Ouroboros and decides that there will be no end; a wish is granted, and the characters in chorus decide that they want to have it all again in a cycle and on and on forever. Which places a contextual weight on the phrase “nobody wants” in that sentence from his letter, “A very unearthly character of Zimiamvia lies in the fact that nobody wants to change it.” The society in Brave New World has that "unearthly character" too, and the same goes for 1984 – Eddison and Orwell and Huxley were publishing within a few years of one another – oh – but -- in Orwell and Huxley the disruptive force, when it comes, is heroic and singular, in Eddison it is misguided, habitual, thoughtless, wrong, bad, and en masse.
Here is a problem that he has created for himself: Eddison wants his characters to be active and free.
Yet, at the same time, static in Valhalla.
Choice, freedom; he needs them to choose freely to stay, just as the characters in Ouroboros choose their revolving fate. So! The king invites a number of people to dinner (“All the company were in holiday attire”) and asks them what they would do if they could build a new planet from nothing. The response from the first several of them is: I would have it like this one. “I, too, hold by the material condition. This world will serve. I’d be loath to hazard it by meddling with the works.”*
It’s not until one of the people at the table teases him by taking up the challenge, “and some bell of mockery chimed in her lazy accents,” that the real world is created. “Much like [Zimiamvia] but crooked.” They try it out. And Eddison can go on to say that the real world is one that the best of them (the god-monads) don’t want.
Eddison, Orwell and Huxley agree on the desirability of choice but not on the purpose of it.
*The presence of the king complicates their assertions because it would sound like treason if they told him they wanted a change, but when the Vicar (normally a liar, and definitely plotting) says “this world fits, I ask no other,” he is telling the truth in spite of himself.