Another Look at Karl

Karl Marx was not necessarily the last of the philosophes, but in contrast, he could easily be seen as the death of the philosophes.  Karl Marx was avidly opposed to anything having to do with reform, instead, he advocated the revolution of the proletariat.  All of the eighteenth century philosophes were in support of reform through already established governments in order to implement their own ideas.  Karl Marx was influenced by, but directly opposed to the political reform strategies and the internal reform ideas of the French Socialists.  Marx believed that only revolution could cause true reform through destroying the social class structure.  Piecemeal reforms would not be able to transform society because the class struggles that permeated throughout history were never accidental factors, but class struggle was in itself deliberate, and the proletariat would have to become class-conscious in order to overcome their oppressive existence.

None of the philosophes brought that much complexity into their political ideals solely because they were reformist in nature according to Marx’s taste.  He was influenced by them, yet he understood that he would have to oppose all of their ideas in order for him to create what he thought was the correct intellectual agenda and ultimately achieve the revolution of the proletariat.  However, Marx conducted political writing and research in the very same ways that French philosophes such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau did.  He used a variety of directly opposing views as his resources, and he wrote his agendas in such an authoritative manner that would be reminiscent of Rousseau.  However, Marx’s nullification of all past political works including the philosophes and his radical, purely working class rhetoric would have been bizarrely foreign to the Enlightenment philosophers, and thus Marx only had abstract connections to them.

Marx’s theories were purely working class and revolutionary in manner.  Marx was indeed, the beginning of a new era in political writers who would write according to their own analyzations of events around them, (such as Marx’s reactions to the revolutions of 1848).  Marx utilized his own interpretations of Hegelian historical analysis in order to define and point out class struggle in the world around him.  Although Karl Marx absorbed influences and styles from the aforementioned great philosophers of the preceding century, his work can be more accurately interpreted in view of his contemporary surroundings.

I Was an Anvil without Rust

I felt like I was dying, again

Only in passing

I do not dread the day in which the blackness

Will return

Fell through awkward silences as if

I was an anvil

Without rust

Dead writers on the wall

(James, Wilde, Shaw, Twain, Hardy, Emily)

The sun had burnt my pupils lightly

Bill’s sonnet sprouted

You are the grave where buried love has lived

They are there,

As well as I, I think, while staring

Into Mennonites

My black lungs lust for one more

(I will give in, again and again)

No Atonement For God

In Atonement, Ian McEwan intricately weaves various conceptual threads, including psychological realism, subjectivism, irony, and Christian philosophy, into a contrived metafictional web that literarily simulates the human mind.  McEwan begins this intricate web by using stream of consciousness and alternating points of view(most notably through Robbie, Briony, and Cecilia), in order to establish psychological realism.  The form of psychological realism McEwan employs evokes the theme of subjectivism, which is interwoven with Christian concepts of atonement that guide the reader to Atonement’s ultimate question, “…how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one …she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her”(McEwan 350).  Briony, therefore, mirrors mankind by attempting to install order in the chaotic world of Atonement.  But she eventually realizes that her attempts at playing God are completely contrary to the harmonious world she desires, which she then attempts to redeem by creating a good, fictional world.

She ruthlessly subordinates everything in the real world to her need to serve the demands of her own fictional world.  Raised on a diet of imaginative literature, she is too young to understand the dangers that can ensue from modeling one’s conduct on such an artificial world.  When she acts out her confusion between life, and the life of fiction, the consequences are tragic and irreversible.  Thus, she attempts to use fiction in order to correct the very errors that fiction helped her to commit. But the chasm that separates the world of the living from that of fictional invention ensures that, at best, her fictional reparation will act as an attempt at atoning for a past that she cannot reverse.(Finney)

Briony’s selfish desire for order is first discovered through her attempt to “…guide (her older brother Leon) away from his careless succession of girlfriends, toward the right form of wife, the one who would persuade him to return to the countryside, the one who would sweetly request Briony’s services as a bridesmaid”(McEwan 4). She does so by directing her cousins to act out her play, “The Trials of Arabella”, for him.  Briony’s description of her controlling need for fairy-tale harmony rapidly transmute into obsessive, methodical implications regarding her toy “cowboys, deep-sea divers, humanoid mice-suggested by their even ranks and spacing a citizen’s army awaiting orders”(McEwan 5).  Briony’s three paragraph, direct and indirect characterization of her younger-self, ultimately changes into a ironically prophetic contradiction, “Her wish for a harmonious, organized world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing.  Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel”(McEwan 5).  These sentences first appear to be simple, direct characterizations, but actually allude to ironic contradictions  once Briony’s wrongdoing is revealed.

Her desire for a harmonious world causes the destruction of Robbie and Cecilia’s love, and forms the paths they take to their deaths.  Briony devastated their lives by causing the loss of each other, that only remained connected through abstract love: a recurring theme in McEwan’s novels(Jensen). It is also clear that (in the words of another critic), childhood Briony “…lacks introspection and broad vision… and she’s most concerned that life line up in the order she prefers”(Vidimos).  Thus, Briony’s childish fantasies that seek harmony, ironically cause utter chaos she cannot control any other way in her mind besides completing herself through atonement(by creating an alternate fairy-tale with a happy ending for Robbie and Cecilia).

McEwan primarily establishes Briony’s carefully orchestrated point of view, because it “…manages to make the state of mind that leads Briony to make her false accusations against Robbie plausible, if not sympathetic… her willful naivete and self-dramatizing imagination lead her to ignore the truth, the ways in which her ignorance about the grown-up world would result in a terrible crime…(that) she will later try to expiate through… gestures of atonement”(Kakutani).  The crime Briony commits is persuading herself and the authorities that she witnessed Robbie rape her cousin Lola,(connecting it with events she childishly misunderstood between him and Cecilia) consequently sending him to jail, and separating him from his love, Cecilia(McEwan 169-175).  McEwan’s use of psychological realism subsequently develops into the theme of subjectivism, which is ultimately accentuated by his revelation that Briony is the fictional author of the novel, attempting to atone for the crime she had committed(McEwan 330).  Briony writes with self-consciousness, hence, she characterizes her younger-self with immaturity and a destructive desire for control-both of which compel her to stand by what would be a seemingly arbitrary lie(if it wasn’t for Robbie’s sexually explicit letter to Cecilia).

Although Briony seeks atonement for her sin, she cannot change that, in reality, Robbie died at Dunkirk, and Cecilia was killed by Luftwaffe bombers(hence they never reunite), except for her writings(which she explicitly confesses), “…I’ve made a huge digression and doubled back to my starting place.  It is only in this last version which my lovers end well…”(McEwan 350).  Hence, elderly Briony incorporates a subtle Christian element into the narrative, which introduces a whole new theme to Atonement.  First and foremost, Robbie is an apparent Christ figure, most notably when he shepherds the twin cousins back when they run away(an allusion to The Parable of The Shepherd that is expanded upon in Part Two), only to be wrongly arrested on arrival(McEwan 171).  The Christian Satisfaction theory of atonement, that Jesus is sacrificied for God’s plan, parallels Briony’s sacrifice of the innocent Robbie in order to fulfill the harmony of her dellusional fantasy world(Robinson).  Yet when Briony matures and realizes her catastrophic sin, her role changes to “…the individual Christian believer seeking wholeness”(Robinson) in the Moral theory of atonement.

Consequently, McEwan threads Briony’s psychologically realistic use of literary devices into her self-conscious, subjecive, and tragically ironic account.  Briony then supplements her literary devices with underlying Christian theories of atonement, in order to create an even more psychologically realistic portrait of herself. Thus, Briony’s Atonement is knowingly “…a philosophical novel, pitting the imagination against what it has to imagine if we are to be given the false assurance that there is a match between our fictions and the specifications of reality. The pleasure it gives depends as much on our suspending belief as on our suspending disbelief”(Kermonde). Briony’s Atonement is futile, but is necessitated by her moral obligation to repent for the sin she committed against Robbie the Christ-figure; hence, there is “No atonement for God, or novelists… It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all”(McEwan 351).  In Briony’s point of view, her life-long attempt at atonement, by writing Atonement, has  helped to redeem her, which alludes to the meaning of the novel: that atonement is the mind’s own self-satisfying and subjective product.

The Monotony of Life, A Brief Analysis of Waiting For Godot

Samuel Beckett has explicitly stated that the character Godot, in his classic play, Waiting For Godot, is not an allegory for God.  If Beckett’s word on his play is believed to be true, there are still significant biblical corollaries that need to be analyzed in order to understand the main existential theme of meaninglessness in the play.  The two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, eternally wait for a man named Godot on the side of a road they never take.  In a Christian point of view, this could be seen as Vladimir and Estragon having the free will to take the path toward enlightenment, and yet choosing inaction instead (and thus never attaining salvation).

The parallels between Christian and Existential philosophy can be seen throughout the play, and if the reader is not aware of Becket’s statements on Godot, then they could come to the conclusion that Godot is indeed an allegory for God.  This reaction can be most easily understood through Vladimir and Estragon’s initial hypothesis as to why they are waiting for Godot, “Estragon: What exactly did we ask him for? Vladimir: Were you not there? Estragon: I can’t have been listening. Vladimir: Oh … Nothing very definite. Estragon: A kind of prayer. Vladimir: Precisely.”  One may argue however, that Vladimir and Estragon do not seem like reliable sources because of their flawed character traits, especially due to the irony of the play. However, there are many direct and indirect biblical references in the play that can support a Christian hypothesis.

The biblical references pertain to salvation and are allegorical, particularly in one conversation where Godot is Christ the savior and the two tramps are the two thieves, “Vladimir: Our savior.  Two Thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other… (he searches for the contrary of saved)… damned. Estragon: Saved from what? Vladimir: Hell”.  Vladimir suggests that if they do not find Godot, then they will be damned to the hell of living without meaning, hence the conflict of the play.  The mood portrayed just by the setting alone is depressing (a country road, a dirt mound, and a willow tree), but very plain, almost like purgatory.  Through a Christian interpretation, the main characters are the two thieves waiting in limbo to find out whether they will be saved.

Although Vladimir and Estragon wait and come across a few travelers on the way, none of them are Godot.  However, the tramps would not know that because they do not even know what Godot looks like.  The first act seems inconclusive until the end of the day when a messenger boy is sent from Godot to tell the tramps that he is not coming.  Interestingly enough, the messenger boy is none other than a shepherd, a recurring symbol in both the bible and Waiting For Godot.  Jesus was sent by God to herd the sheep and guide them to salvation.  Godot sends his shepherd to guide the tramps into inaction by not giving them any guidance at all.

The second act and day comes and goes the same as the last one, and the same as it always has gone and always will be for the tramps.  Vladimir and Estragon deconstruct linear time within the play by not taking action, and thus suffer through the same day every day.  The brother of the messenger boy from before comes to give the same news to the main characters.  This boy seemingly gives a hint of Godot’s identity, “Vladimir: (softly) Has he a beard, Mr. Godot? Boy: Yes Sir. Vladimir: Fair or… (he hesitates)… or black? Boy: I think it’s white, Sir. Vladimir: Christ have mercy on us…”  Through characterizing Godot as an allegory of a classical depiction of God, and then denying him being God, Beckett is saying that our perception of God is false.  The play connects to the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard through the blending of Existentialist and Christian ideas.  An individual must find God himself in order to escape meaninglessness, and not fatalistically wait for a divine being to arbitrarily save him.