For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Magus (2)

Colchis's stories and anecdotes (sometimes true, sometimes not, who can tell?) are some of the most fascinating parts of The Magus, and within these parables are couched various aphorisms and gnomic utterances. Whether these pronouncements are entirely to be trusted or not is something we alone must decide. Fowles, I think, is playing around here with the idea of the novelist as god or guru. However, I can identify the truth in many of these:

Politeness always conceals a refusal to face other kinds of reality.

Duty largely consists of pretending that the trivial is critical . . .

. . . the human mind is more a universe than the universe itself.

But, as the Spanish say, a drowning man soon learns to swim.

The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.

Never take another human being literally.

An answer is always a form of death.

Any opinions on the above would be most welcome! I particularly like the last two, and to me they sound resoundingly true.

We humans talk in riddles and metaphors much of the time, whether we're conscious of it or not. What we say and how we say it reveal huge things about us spiritually and psychologically — again, whether we realise it or not. What we say is, disturbingly often, not what we mean; and we have to read 'between the lines', and interpret the silences between words, even more than the words themselves, to get at the real truth.

And all answers can certainly be seen as forms of death (though potential springboards for new questions too). In life and in the novel the search is often more interesting than the solution, the puzzle more seductive than the unveiling, the labyrinth more compelling than the unravelling, and the grail quest more exciting and full of life than the discovery of the grail itself.

Near the end of the novel Fowles makes a rare authorial appearance, speaking in his own voice:

The smallest hope, a bare continuing to exist, is enough for the anti-hero's future; leave him, says our age, leave him where mankind is in its history, at a crossroads, in a dilemma, with all to lose and only more of the same to win; let him survive, but give him no direction, no reward; because we too are waiting, in our solitary rooms where the telephone never rings, waiting for this girl, this truth, this crystal of humanity, this reality lost through imagination, to return; and to say she returns is a lie.

But the maze has no centre. An ending is no more than a point in sequence, a snip of the cutting shears. Benedick kissed Beatrice at last; but ten years later? And Elsinore, that following spring?

Fowles is speaking a great truth here, but he's teasing us too about the approaching end of his novel, and how all apparent endings are artificial, snips of the cutting shears, and the beginnings of something else.

In the end, the end of his book is open-ended, but the last words with which he ends are these: Cras amet qui numquam amavit / quique amavit cras amet, which, as Amanda translates in a comment on my first post on the Magus, mean: Let those love now who've never loved; let those who've loved, love yet again — which gives us all some hope for the future.

9 comments:

Dick said...

I read 'The Magus' shortly after publication and enjoyed it enormously. However, I think that maybe I'm probably only really ready for it now. Time for a re-read. Thanks for this, Robert.

The Weaver of Grass said...

The politeness one interests me Robert. I make an effort always to be polite = this is as much for my own benefit as for that of the 'receiver', although - having said that - being polite in answer to someone who is rude gives one a certain smug satisfaction. Wouldn't you agree?

Hilary said...

I have been a fan of John Fowles forever....loved The Magus.......have also a book of his poems, that I read again and again.
My favorite is Crusoe.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think it's good to reread, Dick, but one does run the risk of disappointment. Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I too like politeness, Pat — but I think that here Fowles is talking about that stifling and conventional form of bourgeois politeness which papers over difficulties and refuses to recognise the at times disturbing truth of things.

I haven't read his poems, Hilary, but must do so! Thanks for visiting.

Hildred said...

I am pleased to see further wise words on The Magus, - at one time in my life John Fowles influenced me greatly. Too many moves when I opened my library shelves to children to take what they wanted, has left me with only The Aristos. But your postings bring a lot of different thoughts and memories to the surface and I am inclined to re-read and to see where I would stand now with Fowles.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think that's the only book of his I haven't read, Hildred. Rereading later in life can be a dangerous thing, but in this case (The Magus) it worked.

Hilary said...

Oh, yes, the Aristos.....love that one too.

Amanda said...

I'm back after being out of town and now see this second post on The Magus! You are correct, how do we know Conchis is telling the truth? That is part of his charm, so to speak - and I always loved the fact that his name was meant to sound like 'conscious'.

The Solitary Walker said...

Ah, Conchis, conscious, yes!