23 January 2012

Thoughts in the Snowfall

If Burt Bachrach asked “What’s it all about, Alfie?” then Roth’s Zuckerman responds, “Its all about nothing.” Unlike in Everyman, where the stars remind the narrator (not Zuckerman of death, in I Married a Communist “the stars are indispensable.” There, up far above human foibles, the stars just exist. Up there, human actions have no effect: “hydrogen alone was determining destiny . . . There is no betrayal. There is no idealism. There are no falsehoods. There is neither conscience nor its absence. There are no mothers and daughters, no fathers and stepfathers. There are no actors. There is no class struggle. There is no discrimination or lynching or Jim Crow, nor has there ever been. There is no injustice, nor is there justice. There are no utopias. There are no shovels.” All that exists up in the sky are burning furnaces of the people who have died and become stars. And all of the stars exist in the sky together without conflict: there is a universe where “error does not obtrude.” Yes, the stars are indispensable because they exist above and outside human concern. Nothing occurs up there, and nothing matters. Down here, where everything matters, it isn’t about anything.
What is it all about, Alfie? Complexity, but not in theory; it is about the unfathomable complexity of human motive and action that people attempt to simplify, categorize and dismiss. Eve didn’t marry a communist, Murray says, she married a man hungering after a life and yet a man who could not construct one that fit. “Nobody finds his life. That is life,” Zuckerman wonders aloud to Murray, his English teacher, who in the story of Ira Ringold offers one final lesson to his illustrious student.
And to avoid that complexity and that failure, Zuckerman has retreated into his cabin. To avoid having to construct a life that fits, and forever failing to successfully do so, Zuckerman has withdrawn from active life. “What are you warding off? What the hell happened?” Murray wonders. Interestingly, in Exit Ghost, Zuckerman will return to the City and almost decide to engage again in life, but at the end, retreat back to his cabin where all is safe and all of the conflicts occur only in the words that he writes. I suppose what happened is the content and meaning of the Zuckerman novels.
What happened? If I cannot find my life, what can I find? Finally, for Murray, all that is left is the myth of his own goodnessand for that he had to sacrifice Doris. “Because its not a static system . . . Because everything that lives is in movement. Because purity is petrifaction.” And so I live impure in impurity. We wonder why it is we do what we do, and we have to “endure without knowing.” The stars are indispensable: they endure without knowing.


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