Monsters

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

Susan Gibb writes in a comment:

Never wanted so much to discuss a book. It is endless in its questions and yet is satisfying in its story. I think you have it nailed with your estimation of Suttree as so completely human, and think that valuation answers the question of monsters within. Don’t we all harbor them? Don’t we daily forget them unless they rattle at the gates, and we check the lock to make sure it is secure. Or sometimes, let them loose.

We know that characters in fiction aren’t human, yet the genius of fiction is to focus the reader onto the populations of a fiction “as if” they were. We agree that Sherlock Holmes is a fiction. But he seems real, so real that most everyone knowns who he is, even if they haven’t read the stories.

In life, we have to act. But we also have no way of verifying whether our choices are the “right” ones, regardless of external influence or position. For example, in the letter section of the morning paper, a comment is made about the UCC’s stance on same-sex marriage as an “endorcement of sin,” referring to Leviticus’ “abomination” section as “proof.” The writer writes, “If you are going to believe that the Bible is the word of God, as many of us do, then you must follow it to the letter.” In this writer’s world, human “choice” is an alien concept, since all he must do to live correctly is to “follow” the letters, without any doubt as hindrance to “right.” Whenever a thing is to be done, consult the book. This is not, however, “proof” of right, as Sophocles teaches in Antigone. It’s a paradigm. This is far from saying that anything goes or that ethical models are “wrong.” The paradox is that we “must” choose; we can’t however cast off reason and replace it with “thoughtlessness,” which is not what Augustine argues in the rigorous City of God as a measure of the good of faith. Suttree chooses to depart Noxville in the novel (is this the right or wrong decision?). He moves just ahead of the “hunstman” who “lies all wheres” and whose hounds tire not.” Suttree will always be dogged. And this huntsman will reapear in another aspect in Blood Meridian as the “judge.” But both the huntsman and the judge are shadows and deceivers, working behind the “coldforger” who will construct his image in the eyes of other witnesses, just as the reader constructs the fiction from “letters” on the page or screen with that most valuable of things human: the thinking mind.


One response to “Monsters”

  1. susan says:

    I do wonder sometimes if the matter of choice itself has many angles to it. Sometimes, when faced with a choice we are stressed so by its implications and its power. It is not enjoyable, this knowledge of choice, whether it must employ a risk of evil to engender good, or a simple one of red or blue. Sometimes, we forsake the power of choice because it is too difficult to face, and cry and moan and blame the fates that the choice is not given us, that something is out of our control. It never is, we’ve chosen already to avoid it. But then the right or wrongness of the path bears us no blame. Suttree sought answers only when things welled up enough in him to make him question his life, himself. He moved upon events, not moved to make them happen. He seems not so much to seek new things, but rather to discard them when they fall apart beneath his weight, stopping first to ask a God, or whiskey or the woods for answers.