Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Waugh, Greene & the heart of their matter

Graham Greene, like James Hilton, wrote 'talkies' before any such thing existed. His books translate directly onto the screen ; they require no prior cultural knowledge, and yet allow a complex immersion in lives very different from our own, in faroff countries where we nonetheless feel at home. But only for 90 minutes.

Evelyn Waugh's books were avant la lettre Netflix series- i.e creations so fractally cinematic as to be, save by their silliness, intrinsically interminable. A film could be made of Brideshead- indeed a film was made a dozen years ago- but such a film would be bound to disappoint. On the other hand, over the span of a dozen golden hours, Gielgud and Olivier and the young Jeremy Irons could do justice- that being the name snobs give to God's Mercy- to Waugh's best novel in perhaps the most sumptuous, the most consummate, mercifully messageless, TV series the Beeb ever produced. 

What made Waugh different from Greene and Hilton is that he had, from the first, seen Cinema as not synoptic but prismatically Social. The audience matters more than what happens on the screen. The young Cambridge man may say 'Expressionismus' from the expensive seats but Ada and Gladys, housemaids both, say 'foreigner' and nudge each other. Indeed, Waugh worked hard to make himself a foreigner to his fellow Cockneys. Sadly, 'Expressionismus' is a costermonger trait. 

 The young Waugh was suicidal- he had swum out to drown believing, an Iphigenia among Taurians, the sea washes away man's evil. Yet, writing of his own intricately arriviste Pont street predicament- Love not star crossed but blighted by caste and coin and the fact that Pont street love isn't love at all- he understands that, for Ada and Gladys, there is a different type of cinematic suspense. What genre are they watching?

After several shiftings of perspective, the focus becomes suddenly and stereoscopically clear. The girl is seated at a table leaning towards a young man who is lighting her cigarette for her. Three or four others join them at the table and sit down. They are all in evening dress.

“No, it isn’t comic, Ada—it’s Society.”

“Society’s sometimes comic. You see.”

Waugh can now be wholly a satirist- Society must be comic because Ada and Gladys 'make it go' - but Euripedean Romance is conserved. Why? There was a substitution. An innocent deer took the place of Iphigenia. But this meant she would have to slaughter Hellenes- even her own brother, Orestes. Christ is a better pharmakos. Waugh enters the Church and Stella Maris lustrates Artemis' sea. But, Waugh remains puerile. The Church can't enter him save in the manner of Captain Grimes entering Knox Minor. Waugh dies on the toilet. Yet there is a turd on the carpet the family ignore. Bereavement, even when the subject of a Synoptic diakonia, or such Social tact as is properly respectful of Death's pomp and circumstance, is always a funny business. The fact that 'Society's sometimes comic', means, save when de rigueur, as at the wake, it always is.

Waugh, some 70 years ago, writing for Commonweal- an American Liberal Catholic magazine- explained the difference between his cinematic style and that of his fellow convert,- (Graham Greene's) style of writing is grim. It is not a specifically literary style at all. The words are functional, devoid of sensuous attraction, of ancestry and of independent life. Literary stylists regard language as intrinsically precious and its proper use as a worthy and pleasant task. A polyglot could read Mr. Greene, lay him aside, retain a sharp memory of all he said and yet, I think, entirely forget what tongue he was using. The words are simply mathematical signs for his thought. Moreover, no relation is established between writer and reader. The reader has not had a conversation with a third party such as he enjoys with Sterne or Thackeray. Nor is there within the structure of the story an observer through whom the events are recorded and the emotions transmitted. It is as though, out of an infinite length of film, sequences had been cut which, assembled, comprise an experience which is the reader 's alone, with­out any correspondence to the experience of the protagonists. The writer has become director and producer. Indeed, the affinity to the film is everywhere apparent. It is the camera's eye which moves from the hotel balcony to the street below, picks out the policeman, follows him to his office, moves about the room from the hand­cuffs on the wall to the broken rosary in the drawer, recording significant detail. It is the modern way of telling a story. In Elizabethan drama one can usually discern an artistic sense formed on the dumb-show and the masque. In Henry James’s novels scene after scene evolves as though on the stage of a drawing-room comedy. Now it is the cinema which has taught a new habit of narrative. Perhaps it is the only contribution the cinema is destined to make to the arts.

Waugh's own novels are marvelously 'story-boarded'. But each episode is so richly constructed, each character imbued with such charm or irritating, yet addictive, eccentricity, that we wish to live over a period of weeks with an operatic serialization of a novel one might previously have read in an hour on a commuter train. I understand, some critics thought parts of Brideshead were overwritten- but, with Lawrence Olivier's to give tongue to the dying Lord Marchmain's soliloquy, who would cry sufflaminandus erat? Here is the Church's version of the Law against Mortmain. What follows is reverse Theodicy. Man mustn't be modern, so  Christ's bride remain ever a coltish maiden.

Waugh & Greene read History at Oxford. Both turned to Catholicism. This seemed retrograde. Neither had much to say about the British Empire, which had grown bigger but weaker, or about International Finance, which was obviously headed for a bust, or the problems of England's own poor- topics on which the older generation of Anglo-Catholic men of letters continued to be very voluble. Yet they felt themselves to be avant garde. Why? 

Waugh explains-
The artist, however aloof he holds himself, is always and specially the creature of the zeitgeist; however formally antique his tastes, he is in spite of himself in the advance guard. Men of affairs stumble far behind.

In the last twenty-five years the artist's interest has moved from sociology to eschatology. Out of hearing, out of sight, politicians and journalists and popular preachers exhort him to sing the splendours of high wages and sanitation. His eyes are on the Four Last Things, and so mountainous are the disappointments of recent history that there are already signs of a popular break­away to join him, of a stampede to the heights. 

Perhaps Waugh and Greene knew that they too- like the governing classes of the great Empires which had died during the Great War- would be foolish to worry about Sanitation or Sociology or Social Credit or panaceas more poisonous yet. There was a cancer eating at their Katechon. The only question left was in what spirit would they approach the Eschaton? 

For Greene, it was Pity. '"If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? If one reached what they called the heart of the matter?

There is a story, probably apocryphalthat Waugh said to Greene 'you have made more money out to the Devil than I have out of God'. The Devil, of course, is a liar. Pity is one of those lies. But so is Damnation. Every wop, kike, wog or nignog, whose English is a little too perfect, claims, when found out, to be a Prince among his own people. Satan has a Kingdom, where if lies are what you like, you too can belong. 

Greene's genius was to imbue lives of quintessential triviality with the possibility of a terror sufficient to hold boredom at bay. Transgressions of a squalid type, Treasons unworthy of the attention of the Secret Police, yet can make life cinematic and imbue the too slowly crawling seconds with suspense.

Scobie is a second rate Colonial spy. Pinkie is a wannabe spiv. The petty rackets in which they are engaged involve a type of Freedom which lacks the honesty of the naked Slavery it replaced.  Both manage to bring some drama into, if not their lives, then their deaths, thanks to a little exposure to Catholic endoxa. 

Waugh, perhaps believing Greene to be the mouthpiece of the 'New Theology' of Hans Urs von Balthasar, for whom Hell might be empty, sternly upholds the orthodox doctrine, as expounded by Garrigou-Lagrange. His article isn't really about Greene's novel. It is an attacks on heretical 'modernism'.

As I have suggested above, Scobie is the complement of Pinkie. Both believe in damnation and believe themselves damned. Both die in mortal sin as defined by moral theologians. The conclusion of the hook is the reflection that no one knows the secrets of the human heart or the nature of God's mercy. It is improper to speculate on another's damnation.

This is why Greene's novel is great literature- or has such greatness as is achievable in the type of literature ordinary people can find absorbing on their daily commute. A veil is drawn over the eschaton. Something of the Katechon is illumined. That is all one can ask for from a paperback.  After all, Greene wasn't a priest. He wasn't a Professor of Theology. The Encyclical Humani generis, which came out at about this time, clarifies that converts like Greene and Waugh need lose no sleep over why and where their frail human-too-human understandings might fail them. The Magisterium has the answers. What they are, it may be mischievous to inquire. 

Nevertheless the reader is haunted by the question: Is Scobie damned?

Were American Catholics, readers of the Commonweal magazine, indeed haunted by any such question?  Of course not. But, from Waugh's point of view, they may have been infected by modernism. A touch of fire and brimstone might be salutary. 

One does not really worry very much about whether Becky Sharp or Fagin is damned. It is the central question of "The Heart of the Matter.” I believe that Mr. Greene thinks him a saint.

Scobie is sympathetic. One might imagine him doing something truly Saintly but then one might oneself do such a thing knowing full well that Saintliness was far from us.  

Perhaps I am wrong in this, but in any case Mr. Greene's opinion on that matter is of no more value than the reader's.

Why? Because we also see ourselves in his other characters. They live on as we live on. Something has been subtracted from their lives as something is always being subtracted from ours. In memory, that thread which was plucked may be redolent of Grace. But then other memories supervene or the reverie is disrupted.  

Scobie is not Mr. Greene's creature, devised to illustrate a thesis. He is a man of independent soul. Can one separate his moral from his spiritual state? Both are complex and ambiguous.

Why? It is because Waugh & Greene's Katechon- that which staves off the Apocalypse- is riddled with cancer. Waugh and Greene came of age in a Zombie Empire. 

Waugh, in his early twenties, 'storyboards' his own suicide, by poison, with this evocation of the darkies that are the human backdrop of his peregrinations in Guyana or Greene's mapless journeys in West Africa- 

At the foot of a low banyan tree the savage lies very still. A large fly settles on his shoulder; two birds of prey perch on the branch above him, waiting. The tropical sun begins to set, and in the brief twilight animals begin to prowl upon their obscene questings. Soon it is quite dark.
A photograph of H.M. the King in naval uniform flashes out into the night.

For Waugh & Greene, that 'savage' was saved. He had not committed suicide. Nor had he obdurately persisted in a way of life made supportable only by the accident of it having avoided, or outlived, its own, not parousial auto da fe, but parrhesia's felo de se.  For the 'savage', the King Emperor is not an implacable alterity. The Royal Navy had in fact suppressed the slave trade. But, for Greene & Waugh- English-too-English converts to, but the ideological equivalent of Bishop Samedi's revolt against a Baron of the same name- serving H.M the King was a but personal and aleatory Katechon.

For the English convert to Catholicism- by a, not Duns Scotus, scholastic, but De Maistrean stochastic, type mystery- a bankrupt habitus could, providentially, be conserved as the illusion of conatus or the spark of synderesis. In other words, fiction could be literary, not factious or farcical simply.

 Catholic philosophy, which burgeoned in bulk between the two Vatican Councils without any broader benefit whatsoever, nevertheless- precisely because it was systematic- shielded Catholic intellectuals from the grosser, or more reductionist, dogmas of the age. Thus, its practitioners of parrhesia displayed an enviably elastic paranoia- an urbane adaptability to any ad captum vulgi axiom whatsoever- which meant that Greene and Waugh could be received as something more than merely bilious converts from a famously melancholic isle whose storm-tossed Empire was headed for an Iceberg engendered by its own frigid Titanicism.

When not engaged in fiction- where, Oxonian twins, piling Ossa on Pelion, they sought to extinguish Pater, Wilde & Beerbohm's aesthetic Olympianism- these but journalistic neurotics, unconsciously yearning for the jazz of the nigger or pizzaz of the Hollywood kike- lied unceasingly, that too in a priggish, adolescent, manner as if truly forgetful of the true import of their Ozymandias fetish. 

Centuries ago, in his dateless childhood, Ozymandias had sprung to the top of the toy cupboard tired of Adam’s game. It was a game peculiar to himself and Ozymandias which Adam had evolved, and which was only played on the rare occasions of his being left alone. First, Ozymandias had to be sought from room to room, and when at last he was found, borne up to the nursery and shut in. He would watch him for some minutes as he paced the floor and surveyed the room with just the extreme tip of his tail expressing his unfathomable contempt for European civilization. Then armed with a sword, gun, battledore, or an armful of bricks to throw, and uttering sadistic cries, Adam would pursue him round and round the room, driving him from refuge to refuge, until almost beside himself with rage and terror, he crouched junglelike with ears flattened back and porpentine hair. Here Adam would rest, and after some slight pause the real business of the game began. Ozymandias had to be won back to complacency and affection. Adam would sit down on the floor some little way from him and begin calling to him softly and endearingly. He would lie on his stomach with his face as near Ozymandias as he would allow and whisper extravagant eulogies of his beauty and grace; mother-like he would comfort him, evoking some fictitious tormentor to be reproached, assuring him that he was powerless to hurt him any more; Adam would protect him; Adam would see that the horrible little boy did not come near him again. Slowly Ozymandias’ ears would begin to come forward and his eyes begin to close, and the delectable exercise invariably ended with caresses of passionate reconciliation.

Girls, everywhere, did this too. But, Waugh and Greene had been bred to a 'mai-baap' relationship with dusky Ozymandiases- should no more rewarding career prospect be forthcoming. 

Then they entered the Church- which, after all, originates east of Ozymandias's memorial and is itself a Mother which employs men who are called Fathers to deal with horrible little boys. 

Look at the unblushing way Waugh, analysing Scobie, strikes a note so stupidly, self-servingly, false his American audience is obliged to pass the matter over in well bred silence. 

First, there is his professional delinquency. In the first pages he appears as an Aristides, disliked for his rectitude; by the end of the book he has become a criminal.

Waugh, and his Liberal Catholic, American readers, knew this was nonsense. Men of Scobie's rank in some shithole West African port could make money and serve their Intelligence function by running their own black-market operation. If wifey wants to go to South Africa, you wangle her a cushy job with high travel priority. Sierra Leone had diamonds. An Aristides would be decidedly de trop

Even in peacetime, a Scobie who had succumbed to drink and loose women would not have been considered, or treated, as a criminal. He'd have been sent to East Africa to oversee pyrethrum production or something of that sort. There wasn't much a White Man could do in the Dark Continent which would land him in jail.

There is nothing inevitable in his decline.

There was no 'decline'. Scobie may have started of as an atypical officer. He became a typical officer because that is how bureaucracies work.  Then he killed himself. Lots of officers did. But it wasn't because of the machinations of some greasy Levantine. No doubt, a  superior would have made a note on the man's file to the effect that he had been due a long leave which had to be cancelled because of the war. Scobie was a good enough soldier. Then he broke. The fact is, if his work had truly been 'mission critical' he might have hung on by his fingernails for the duration of the conflict. But his work wasn't important at all. He could be easily replaced- perhaps by an officer eager to get as far as possible from danger. 

Waugh's exercise in casuistry fails because Scobie has sufficient seniority to decide what was or wasn't theft. A discretionary, administrative, Economia, not legalistic Akribeia, had been entrusted to him. His personal probity was of no consequence. The Empire was at War. If he could find a British or French priest to confess to- fine. An Italian or German priest, for obvious reasons, wouldn't do. But the determination of whether or not a sin has occurred- like the determination of what is or isn't a justiciable crime- is a matter entirely in the hands of those licensed by Church or State. Both would be inclined to draw a veil over anything untoward, not out of pity- Scobie's vice- but as a matter of pragmatic Economia. Middle Management must be content with a modest spiritual life. Only if it literally has a dozen severed heads in the freezers should it get to vapor on about Hellfire and Penitence. 

Waugh, it may be, wishes his American readers to understand that the Brits were terribly prim and proper and ran their Empire in the spirit of pettifogging audit clerks. 

He compromises himself first in order to get his wife's passage money. She is in a deplorable nervous condition; perhaps, even, her reason is in danger.

Suppose that were true. He is senior enough to make provision for her- after all, his own morale matters. If she needs to be sent away, there is always some bureaucratic way to do it. The British Empire was founded upon an 'Economia' in which 'compassionate' considerations had due weight in deciding such matters. The Red Cross in Cape Town would have been persuaded it had a crying need for her services. A travel warrant would have been issued. The thing was purely routine. Scobie would have been regarded as a smart man who knew how to run things.  

He is full of compassion.

No. Compassion was Bureaucratic. It had to do with morale and esprit de corps and maintaining the prestige of the Administration. Scobie's vice was pity- better he had been a peeping Tom or the sort of chap who can't contain himself and gets roughed up in the Gents toilet.  

But she is making his own life intolerable; he wants her out of the way for his own peace.

Just saying so to your superior would be enough to get the wheels turning. Both Waugh and Greene knew how the Empire worked. The Americans may not have done.  

As things turn out the trip to South Africa was quite unnecessary. Providence had its own cure ready if he had only waited. He gets the commissionership in the end, which was ostensibly all that Louise wanted. But behind that again lies the deeper cause of her melancholy, that Scobie no longer loves her in the way that would gratify her vanity. And behind the betrayal of his official trust lies the futility of his official position.

Behind which lies the futility of a Zombie Empire. 

The law he administers has little connection with morals or justice.

Britain was at war. The law Scobie administers is a tool to suborn support or put the fear of God into the indifferent. 

It is all a matter of regulations—a Portuguese sea-captain's right to correspond with his daughter in Germany,

which should have been used to 'turn' the man or his daughter- or at least pretend to do so for Head Office.  

the right of a tenant to divide and sublet her hut,

a matter of the highest political importance! What if she is Mende and the sub-tenant is Temne? Divide et impera

the right of a merchant to provide out of his own property for the security of his family.

Does that Fifth Columnist not know there is a War on? Provide for his family indeed! 

He knows that his sub­ordinates are corrupt and can do nothing about it. Whom or what has he in fact betrayed, except his own pride?

But pride is enough. Nothing more is needed. In British English there is a word- 'doolally'- which refers to a type of psychosis, occasionally suicidal, suffered by troops sent to the Indian hill station of Deolali awaiting sea-passage home. The futility of existence in that limbo drove soldiers to shoot themselves or otherwise stain their service record. Scobie went doolally. There may have been some greasy Levantine at the bottom of it. But Levantines soon get their comeuppance- one way or another.  As for the Major, let us say cherchez la femme and leave it at that. 

Secondly, there is his adultery. His affection for the waif cast up on the beach is at first compassionate and protective; it becomes carnal. Why?

He had a daughter her age who died back in Blighty. 

He is an elderly man long schooled in chastity. There is another suitor of Helen Rolt, Bagster the Air Force philanderer. It is Bagster's prowling round the bungalow which precipitates the change of relationship.

A Girardian would speak of mimetic desire and the pharmakos, the scapegoat, this requires.  

It is Bagster in the background who makes him persevere in adultery when his wife's return affords a convenient occasion for parting. Bagster is a promiscuous cad. Helen must be saved from Bagster. Why? Scobie arrogates to himself the prerogations of providence.

Prerogations of providence? Waugh seems to believe that God's care of the world is a mechanical thing. It is Positive Law- Akriebia, not Economia. This is not orthodoxy. Scobie may be said to have had an unmet need for confidence in God. For want of a good shepherd, a sheep went astray. We can't blame the Diocese too much. War-time exigencies, donchaknow. 

He presumes that an illicit relation with himself is better than an illicit relation with Bagster.

And so it may have been. So it was. Bagsters little trouble the heart.  But they may give you syphilis. 

But why, in fact, need it have been illicit? She might marry Bagster.

Who might turn out to be a Methodist! Better a Catholic's kept woman than the helpmeet of a ranter! 

Thirdly there is the murder of Ali. We do not know whether Ali was betraying him. If he had not been a smuggler and an adulterer there would have been nothing to betray. Ali dies to emphasize the culpability of these sins.

The guy was doing Intelligence work. Bumping off servants who spy on you sends the right signal.  War time conditions, donchaknow. 

Fourthly there are the sacrilegious communions which Louise forces upon him;

The difficulty here is that Scobie killed himself for no good reason. He may have been of unsound mind. He couldn't be sure his communion was sacrilegious. Once again, the orthodox approach was to leave judgment in this matter to the shepherd, not the sheep. Waugh and Greene must have been aware that this was the great attraction of the Catholic Church. The Puritanical Consciousness- the 'man inside me who is angry with me'- gives up that which is most crushing in its burden to saner, safer, merely bureaucratically fallible, hands. 

and fifthly, his suicide, a re-statement of that blasphemy in other terms.

Such judgments are not required of the layman. From the shepherd's point of view a sheep was lost because its needs were not met. That is the sort of problem which a professional organization run on up to date principles can fix- at least in the Statistical or De Maistrean sense. Doctors of Souls are like Doctors of Bodies. They change their arrangements so as to offer a better service though, no doubt, from time to time, the wrong limb is amputated.

He dies believing himself damned but also in an obscure way—at least in a way that is obscure to me—believing that he is offering his damnation as a loving sacrifice for others.

It was not obscure to the French. They understood altruistic suicide and later on developed a theory of mimetic desire such that Scobie is intelligible as a pharmakos. Indeed, from the Imperial point of view, Scobie injects a little heart into a Zombie enterprise. In the constructivist mathematics of, not soteriology, but keeping up appearances, conserving the Katechon, Scobie is a 'witness'. So are we, in so far as we suspend belief reading this tosh. 

We are told that he is actuated throughout by the love of God.

Which he takes to be pity. But we don't believe in this type of pity any more than we think God likes watching us poop. So we aren't really told Scobie is actuated by anything other than his own dim haecceity.  

A love, it is true that falls short of trust, but a love, we must suppose, which sanctifies his sins.

Why must we do so? Could we not become Christians instead?  

That is the heart of the matter.

No. We come to the heart on the next page. Scobie had thanked God he hadn't been in England to see his child die. Then a ship is sunk by a submarine and the survivors are brought in after 40 days on an open boat. A little girl whose parents had already died is one of them. Scobie is left for a few moments alone with her. He prays God grant her peace even if that mean, for himself, damnation.

Why? There is no great mystery of theodicy here. The people on the boat needed to keep the kid alive to survive psychologically. She served her purpose. Scobie serves his too.  His adulterous affair is with another survivor- a 19 year old widow. I suppose she would have been about the same age as Scobie's daughter- had she lived. Scobie keeps her alive giving her whatever of himself he can for the same reason that the little child was kept alive on the boat. But the young widow recovers. Scobie kills himself so the books balance. Simone Weil, wishing to eat no more than she believed she would have eaten in occupied France, died at about the same time. The coroner said- 'the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed'. The Eucharist is a sure provision against Weil's kenotic inedia or Scobie's patripassian poison. Evil is not the form God's Mercy takes in this world because Mercy is not Pity. It won't fuck you even though you tried to punch the boss at the Christmas party but the cunt knew krav maga and now you've got a broken nose and it's fucking Christmas for fuck's sake and who deserves a leg over more- you or her new boyfriend who is a Merchant Banker?

As Greene says-  Love is not safe when Pity is prowling around. On the other hand, the Church can improve its arrangements just as the Admiralty can improve its system of convoys. Fewer 'lame ducks' need be 'sniped'. Mercy is operationalizable and improvable by the proper application of Management Information Systems and the techniques of Operations Research. Of such, indeed, is the Katechon and the oikonomos mysterion of Providence's invisible hand. 

Within this economy, it is perfectly feasible to condemn oneself to save another. The thing happens all the time. But, if the thing is properly coordinated, none need feel they were irrevocably damned. 

Waugh, with unconscious wit, asks his much more technocratic audience-

Is such a sacrifice feasible? To me the idea is totally unintelligible, but it is not unfamiliar. Did the Quietists not speak in something like these terms?

No. They spoke in terms the Church considered intelligible enough to distinguish and condemn. Quietism may verge into some heretical type of 'theosis'. But, becoming God, the illusion of multiplicity is overcome. Sacrifice is otiose for alterity is an illusion.

The notion, however, of offering oneself as a sacrifice so another may be spared has nothing to do with mysticism. The thing is purely transactional.  

I ask in all humility whether nowadays logical rule-of-thumb Catholics are not a little too humble towards the mystics. We are inclined to say: "Ah that is mysticism. I'm quite out of my depth there," as though the subject were higher mathematics, while in fact our whole Faith is essentially mystical.

The mysterion (sacrament) arises within an oikonomia- an economic ordering. That which coordinates the Katechon is difficult to pull apart and specify. Father Garrigou Lagrange well knew, from Pierre Duhem, that 'higher mathematics' has no esoteric axioms. Rather it is simpler than those used in the physics of a period. I suppose, this is Waugh's point. But everyone is out of their depth with those who drown in their own verbal diarrhea. 

We may well fight shy of discussing ecstatic states of prayer with which we have no acquaintance, but sacrilege and suicide are acts of which we are perfectly capable.

The reverse is the case. At least as children- or when of strong drink taken- ecstatic prayer is what comes easiest to us when suitably prompted. Hesychasm is similar to a pain-management or self-soothing technique all kids teach themselves. Later, we can always buy a bottle or find some other way to get high. But, even in sober middle age, the contagion of a crowd may have us speaking in tongues and seeing beatific visions. Sacrilege is difficult. As a child I would not step on the cracks in the pavement. I still will not willingly pass under a ladder. As for attempting suicide- I am incapable of it- unless eating a dozen chocolate eclairs qualifies. The sad truth is it takes a certain quantum of courage to do even very bad things. 

To me the idea of willing my own damnation for the love of God is either a very loose poetical expression or a mad blasphemy, for the God who accepted that sacrifice could be neither just nor lovable.

Yet, the Katechon requires nothing less. We all must go about our daily business, harrowing the hell of separation, no matter whom it is we love and kill with sword or kiss.  

Mr. Greene has put a quotation from Peguy at the beginning of the book "Le pecheur est au coeur meme de chretiente . . . Nul n'est aussi competent que le pecheur en matiere de chretiente. Nul, si ce n'est le saint," and it seems to me probable that it was in his mind to illustrate the "Nouveau Theologien" from which it is taken, just as in "Brighton Rock" he illustrates the Penny Catechism. The theme of that remarkable essay is that Christianity is a city to which a bad citizen belongs and the good stranger does not.

This is true of any city. I'm a bad Londoner. Mother Theresa isn't a Londoner at all.  

Peguy describes the Church, very beautifully, as a chain of saints and sinners with clasped fingers, pulling one another up to Jesus. But there are also pas­sages which, if read literally, are grossly exorbitant.

Coz the guy was French! You know what dem furriners be like.  

Peguy was not three years a convert when he wrote it, and he was not in communion with the Church. He daily saw men and women, who seemed to him lacking his own intense spirituality, trooping up to the altar rails while he was obliged to stay in his place excommunicate. The "Nouveau Theologien" is his meditation on his predicament. He feels there is a city of which he is a true citizen, but it is not the community of conventional practicing Catholics, who are not, in his odd, often repeated phrase, "competent en matiere de chretiente." He feels a kinship with the saints that these conventional church-goers do not know and in his strange, narrow, brooding mind he makes the preposterous deduction that this very true and strong bond is made, not by his faith and love, but by his sins. "Litteralement," he writes, "celui qui est pecheur, celui qui commet un peche est deja chretien, est en cela meme chretien. On pourrait presque dire est un bon chretien." "Litteralement"? : what is the precise force of that passage? Much depends on it. Does "literally" mean that any and every sinner is by virtue of his sin a Christian? Was Yusef a sinner and therefore Christian? No, because Peguy has already stated that strangers outside the chain of clasped hands cannot commit sin at all. Is Yusef damned? Can a sinner by this definition never be damned? The argument works in a circle of undefined terms. And what of the "presque" ? How does one "almost" say something ? Is one prevented by the fear of shocking others or the realization at the last moment that what one was going to say does not in fact make sense ? In that case why record it ? Why "almost" say it ? This is not a matter of quibbling. If Peguy is saying anything at all, he is saying something very startling and something which people seem to find increasingly important. Mr. Greene has removed the argument from Peguy's mumbled version and re-stated it in brilliantly plain human terms; and it is there, at the heart of the matter, that the literary critic must resign his judgment to the theologian.

Waugh is being silly. There is no 'circle of undefined terms'. There is only the circle of 'oikeiosis'- belonging, appropriating, claiming ownership or membership and thus becoming subject to a specific jurisdiction. Peguy's Nationalism and his Socialism and his Catholicism are highly individual but, in each case, not actively subversive of endoxa. He may have been an awkward sod. But he was no shirker. We think well of him. He died in the War. 

Scobie too is circumscribed by circles of oikeiosis. D'you remember the riots at Pujehun? His home leave was cancelled and so his child died far away from him in England. Then there was that bad business with the survivors of the U-boat attack. I heard another child- his daughter's age when she died- died right in front of him and he prayed from his heart and...well, you know the gossip. Cherchez la femme- a young widow the same age his daughter would have been. 

Greene presents Scobie as a fellow passenger on a familiar but clapped out  Catholic vessel. The ship falls out of convoy because of engine trouble. A U-boat 'snipes' the 'lame duck'. Scobie offers a girl a place on his life-boat. But then there is no place there for himself. Perhaps if Father Brule had not died of blackwater fever or if a replacement for him had been sent expeditiously... but these are matters for the Archdiocese. I understand Cardinal Spellman has this marvelous system set up by I.B.M which promises to increase efficiency by 11 per cent! 

Waugh may have believed that American Catholics were racists. They would not be able to comprehend why Scobie loved a black man he didn't trust. We can scarcely do it now- we know too much about Imperialism. Yet, it allowed its cogs some illusions. Then, for Scobie, those too were stripped away. His unwinding is rapid. His oikieosis un-spirals. The clockwork toy throws away the children. 

The mark of Cain is upon him and his lover knows it.

She said, "I heard this morning about Ali. Did you do it?"

"I didn't cut his throat myself," he said. "But he died because I existed."
"You know," she said, "this is the end for us. I can't  go on ruining you any more.
 "My dear," she said, "don't think it's easy. I've never done anything so hard. It would be so much easier to die. You come into everything. I can never again see a Nissen hut or a Ford car. Or taste pink gin. See a black face. Even a  bed . . . one has to sleep in a bed. I don't know where I'll get away from you. It's no use saying in a year it will be all right. It's a year I've got to get through. All the time knowing you are somewhere. I could send a telegram or a letter and you'd have to read it, even if you didn't reply." 

He thought: How much easier it would be for her if I were  dead. "But I mustn't write," she said.

Scobie could have driven away. He could have been strong. But the habit of unhappiness requires a codependent. 

"But, dear, what do we do?" She surrendered completely. "I don't mind going on as we are. I don't mind the lies. Anything." 

"Just leave it to me. I've got to think." He leant over her and closed the door of the car. Before the lock had clicked he had made his decision.

There was no one left for him to hurt and so the Priest, Father Rank, says Scobie had truly loved God. I suppose pity might be love if expressed to the infinite. At any rate, the novel ends with an Advaitic punchline of a Music Hall type, the widow having revealed her husband loved only himself-

 "And you may be in the right of it there, too," 

What Pity was to Greene, Charm was to Waugh. The one did not pity the Church, the other wrote of it in an entirely charmless manner. I think it is safe to say they truly loved the old dear. Commonweal's contributors might try it sometime. Bromides benefit from being less woke.  


No comments: