Phase 1. Phase 2. Phase 3. Phase 4. Phase 5.
Kafka was a fan. Not just of The Man Who Was Thursday, either — I'm talking the whole ball of wax. Weird, huh? The man who gave us Gregor Samsa enjoyed reading G.K. Chesterton.*
Anyway, my conclusion to the debt we grubby Neo-Pagans owe Chesterton will be as scattered as the post that kicked it all off. Consider yourself forewarned.
If you head over to goodreads and check out the “fair-to-middling-to-poor” reviews of The Man Who Was Thursday, you’ll find a common observation among them. The book divides neatly into three acts. The first act enchants, the second takes some of the shine off that effect, and the third baffles and alienates. Frankly, it's a fair summary of my own experience as a reader.
Thursday’s first act presents itself as an ominous and enclosed mystery, which threatens to overwhelm the last of our compromised hero’s remaining virtues. The second act, to most readers’ surprise, subtly shifts from a paranoid fatalism to an absurdist caper. The third act is almost all explication — making sense, insofar as sense can be made, of everything that led up to it. A seemingly inescapable solipsistic tragedy has flowered into a great, romantic awakening.
The almost universal approval of the first act is curious to me. Fatalism has its own romantic appeal, of course, and who among us can resist a good conspiracy theory? The contemporary reader, however, is disinclined to be “freed” from the conspiracy. Philip K. Dick is commonly referred to by Thursday's goodreads reviewers, and with good reason. If there is a predominant (and predominantly appealing) Post-Modern narrative, surely it's that of the Grand Conspiracy. It can spin apart via entropy a la Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, or disappear down the solipsistic rabbit-hole a la the Wachowski Sibs' Matrix trilogy or V For Vendetta. Neither option dodges the sensational spectre of fiery, apocalyptic blood-letting. Nobody wakes up from the nightmare — the Post-Modern hero just does a subtler job of apprehending it.
This, then, is the predominant motif within the Magisterium of the Western Imagination. Approach with caution.
|"Also: an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered..."|
*This, with other factual observations, comes courtesy of A.S. Dale's The Outline of Sanity: A Life of G.K. Chesterton. The errors, on the other hand, are all my own.