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comment by _refugee_
_refugee_  ·  1465 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: August 10th: What are you reading this week?

What did you think?

user-inactivated  ·  1464 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Hey! I don't hubski on the weekend so I didn't see this until just now. I finished the book on Saturday.

So the entire final act (Bernard, Helmholtz, and the Savage talking with the Controller) and epilogue (Savage at the Lighthouse) of the book is almost superfluous, but where it isn't it is surprising in direction.

The whole of the book is spent showing how messed up all societies are. The glitzy, consumerized, and clean future of London, and the nasty, brutish, and short version of Malpais (literally means Badlands which I thought was funny). Neither of the societies has life perfected. On the one hand there is high art remaining in Malpais, and on the other there was real and genuine contentment for most people in London and the civilized world. People took pride in their work, they delighted in sexual promiscuity, and didn't really notice the lack high art in general. In Malpais they had religious ceremony and real art but they were nasty to each other and competed and fought over status. Both of the societies were arguments for and against the other throughout the entire book.

But in the final act you have the Savage and the Controller articulating and belaboring these points where it wasn't really necessary. There were a few more points that I was able to articulate for myself better as a result of their conversation, but it was really just focusing already formed ideas as opposed to revelation.

What this scene really does for me is argue for London in its current state, because overwhelmingly the only argument against London, peace, and contentment is high art and love. But when presented with these somewhat convincing points, the Controller has literally already thought of all them and has arguments against them which to him are convincing. Instead of painting the controller as another cog in the large machine they show that he (and assumedly his cohorts) have wrung their hands over these issues and decidedly, with regret over the loss of art, that the pain and suffering concomitant with art, heroism, and love are not worth the reward. He acknowledges that even though there may in fact exist a supreme being that in general they have little to ask of that being and so have let it fade away from consciousness.

I actually did have a problem with the epilogue and how it fit into the argument of the story. When the savage goes into hiding at the lighthouse and attempts to purify himself he exposes all of the nasty bits of religion which would have been great arguments against it in the first place. In London people never experience real pain and so their lives are of no consequence by default. When the controller explains that there can be no heroes because there is no tragedy and strife it's a good explanation of this.

So I don't begrudge the people of London who force the Savage to suicide because this is the first real piece of life that they've ever seen. He has upset their stability and because they have no understanding of the gravity of his actions, they have no remorse over upsetting them. They just want to see something new.

But I needed the Savage to transcend himself and he didn't. At the end of the story he was a young naïve boy, spurned by his lover, depressed over death, turning to religion in order to make himself better, and upset when it didn't work. He was literally the incarnation of all the reasons that London left his world behind. One choice I didn't agree with was the flagellation. Of all the nasty bits of religion that they could have included, self-denial as with fasting would have been fine, but flagellation is just the most obscene example of what's wrong with religion that I can think of. So instead of having some sort of existential moment and going home as a failure with new and wise understanding of the world, he beats himself with a whip until he can't stand living in that world anymore and hangs himself. It's not that it was believable, it's just what I would expect a young man to do, and this was a place for someone to be larger than life for the purpose of the narrative.