“Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Dec 22, 2011 9:53 am

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In the novel Justine, through the character Balthazar and his study of the Jewish mystical tradition known as Cabbala, the expatriate English author Lawrence Durrell articulates ideas similar to those I’m exploring here. A few signature passages:

He spoke, I remember, of the fons signatus [sealed fountain] of the psyche and of its ability to perceive an inherent order in the universe which underlay the apparent formlessness and arbitrariness of phenomena. Disciplines of the mind could enable people to penetrate behind the veil of reality and to discover harmonies in space and time which corresponded to the inner structure of their own psyches . . . We are enlisting everything in order to make man’s wholeness match the wholeness of the universe . . .. (100-1)

. . . the philosopher, patiently wishing the world into a special private state useless to anyone but himself—for at each stage of development each man resumes the whole universe and makes it suitable to his own inner nature: while each thinker, each thought fecundates the whole universe anew. (176; compare with the conclusion of Daniel Martin’s chapter “Beyond the Door”)

Somewhere in the heart of experience there is an order and a coherence which we might surprise if we were attentive enough, loving enough, or patient enough. Will there be time? (221)


--Kelly
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby drkellyindc on Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:33 pm

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“. . . THE WHOLE WORLD, AND THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, WITH THE HUMAN MIND AT ITS CENTER.”


I recently saw choreographer Mark Morris’s acclaimed two-hour work L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. Debuted in 1988, it incorporates 24 dancers, lighting, costume, and set-design elements, a libretto based mostly on two works by the English poet John Milton (1608-1674), and music by the English composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Here are a few brief excerpts—the first from a humorous “boys-will-be-boys” segment, the second from just before the work’s finale:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSZXeZu6xoc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27y4sKj0 ... re=related

In her biography Mark Morris (1993), Joan Acocella’s description of the cross-historical synthesis in L’Allegro put me immediately in mind of Daniel Martin and the theme I’m exploring here. It inspires me to experience artists and writers besides Fowles pursuing such magnificent scope and vision in their work.

Here is Acocella’s account of Milton’s penning of “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso”:
Milton was only in his twenties when he wrote these poems, but with typical Renaissance confidence he has packed into them psychology, cosmology, astronomy, meteorology—the whole world, and the history of the world, with the human mind at its center. (240)


Poetry, music, and dance are densely interwoven in Morris’s L’Allegro, with certain elements repeating or doubling as the work progresses. This is comparable to the effects Fowles achieves through recurring words, gestures, themes, and symbols in Daniel Martin. Both are internal echo-chambers, with new connections that can be grasped on each successive experience of the work. And just as Daniel Martin moves outward in expanding circles--from personal biography, to generational portrait, to 20th century portrait, to a portrait of history and civilization--so also does Morris’s work expand in its scope. Acocella summarizes this expansion in her account of how the two acts of L’Allegro end:

At the conclusion of Act I all twenty-four dancers are onstage, their hands joined, running in a circle, and then, as the chorus sings of nightfall, taking to the floor and going to sleep—the human family completing its daily round. At the end of Act II, we again see the entire company in a circle, but here the circle is multiplied: three concentric rings, spinning in alternating directions. This is not just the human family now but the cosmos.

So everything is there together, and bound together—the universe, the human race, and also the arts, for L’Allegro is a hymn to the unity of poetry, music, and dance: a story of how each, like L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, can follow its own laws and still harmonize with the others. The piece is also a hymn to the unity of history, for the poetry, music, and dance that are wedded in this piece are from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries. The nineteenth century is there, too. William Blake made a series of watercolor illustrations of “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” and Morris based a number of steps on those paintings. L’Allegro spans about 350 years—actually about 2,300 years, for this is a pastoral, that hallowed Greco-Roman form—and it says, basically, that things haven’t changed. (244-5)


Note the link between L’Allegro and Daniel Martin in terms of crossing a great historical span, an aspect I explore here and in the “What is ‘whole sight’?” thread. The artistry in these works involves forming a new synthesis across time-periods ordinarily seen as separate. Acocella continues:

A historical vision such as this was natural enough for Milton’s Renaissance mind. It was also natural for Handel and even for Blake, who, though he helped bring about the nineteenth century’s break with Renaissance humanism, still had one foot in the eighteenth century. The only odd participant in this celebration of the unity of the world is the one who organized it, Mark Morris. Coming long after romanticism’s break with classicism, indeed, long after modernism’s presumed break with romanticism, and also after postmodernism’s break with modernism—a line of succession carrying us further and further away from the idea that the mind can understand the world or the past or anything other than its own solitude—Morris aligns himself with the classical position, claiming that what Milton and Handel said is still true. . . . [Morris] believes in the existence of human wisdom: that there are a fixed number of stories about human life and that we all still know them and care about them. (245-6)


--Kelly
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Mar 16, 2012 1:51 pm

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“BLANK PAPER . . . AND THE BEGINNING OF BEAUTY AND EVERYTHING ELSE”

I read an essay on writer’s block by U.S.-expat author Russell Hoban (1925-2011) recently. It reinforced for me the link between the theme I’m exploring here and the “terror of the task” passage in Daniel Martin (590). I’m grateful to both Hoban and Fowles for bearing witness to a reality different from the one we ordinarily perceive, based on logic and everyday practicalities.

In these two excerpts, Hoban begins by asking whether the term “writer’s block” refers to something that’s experienced by non-writers as well:

. . . Is the blankness of the paper an individual blankness for every writer or is there one blankness that waits to swallow everybody? I think that mind is a consciousness not confined to the individual brain but shared by all of us; the brain is the organ that limits that consciousness so that we can carry on the business of every day in the consensual state we call reality. I think much, if not most, of the brain’s function is repressive, holding back the accumulated contents of the mind as a dam holds back water, and only allowing such flow as will power those practical systems that get us through the day. If the dam ever broke we should drown in the vast chaotic roar of a flood that would sweep away our limited-reality consensus like a chicken coop.

I know that the mind is ancient. We are descended from the dust of stars, and the mind is more ancient than the stars: the whole history of the universe is in it, and more. The limited-reality consensus ignored the strangeness of our being and the strangeness of the consciousness that lives in us; it maintains a pretence of reasonable thought and action for reasonable objectives.

- - -

You come to what waits in the blank paper: the ungraspable isness of what is. In trying to take hold of it the mind finds only the incomprehensibility of itself and the original terror of Creation, the bursting into being of something out of nothing. And yet the mind—this one mind that we all share—is hungry for that terror.

In the original terror is the vital energy that is the beginning of beauty and everything else—perhaps even a better understanding of the human situation.

--from Hoban’s 1989 essay “Blighter’s Rock,” in the collection The Moment under the Moment (London: Jonathan Cape, 1992)


The recurring “blank paper” image Hoban uses reminds me of the moment on the Palmyra journey when Dan describes one of the landscapes as “a huge emptiness like blank paper” (623). I think also of the enormity of what he and Jane face in Palmyra. Both Hoban and Fowles prime us to see the “original terror of Creation” as a portal onto an original experience of birth and vitality.

--Kelly
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:59 pm

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BRINGING TOGETHER “. . . THE POTENTIAL MEMORY OF MANKIND . . .”

I was startled recently to read this excerpt in Benoît Peeters’s biography of French philosopher Jacques Derrida:
. . . throughout his life, [Derrida] would consider [James Joyce’s] Ulysses and Finnegans Wake to be the most grandiose attempt ever to bring together in one oeuvre ‘the potential memory of mankind.’


This startled me because Derrida is the last person I expected to hold this view. He built his career on resisting and “deconstructing” such grand efforts, find a hidden lapse or menace in them. I would have assumed he’d see Joyce’s effort as problematic, as ethnocentric, as veering on totalitarian--all the concerns I raise in my initial posting on this thread. I still wonder why Derrida gave Joyce a pass in this regard, when he’s so merciless with other writers. (A different book, David Mikics’s Who Was Jacques Derrida?, is helping me solve that riddle.)

In Peeters’s account Derrida held this view of Joyce “throughout his life,” not just momentarily. That would include when he was busy playing academic rebel during the 1960s, gleefully toppling philosophical foundations and pouring metaphorical acid on the ideas of thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Husserl, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. I have to concede that even the inventor of deconstruction needed personal touchstones and anchoring forces, despite his attacking everyone else’s touchstones and anchors.

As I see it, bringing together “the potential memory of mankind” into one oeuvre expresses one of Fowles’s grandest goals in Daniel Martin. For reasons I’ve articulated on other threads (see esp. “Time for a reassessment” and “What is ‘whole sight’?”), I regard Fowles’s achievement in this regard as superior to Joyce’s. Yet my focus here is on how surprising and marvelous it is to have Derrida, of all people, affirming this as an artistic goal, and to regard Joyce and Fowles as fellow visionaries in this regard.

--Kelly
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby Tonycrane on Wed Jan 09, 2013 4:46 pm

New to this forum, so apologies while I catch up.

I have read Daniel Martin many times, with different reactions each time. Its 'tricks' are fewer, or more subtle, than those in The French Lieutenant's Woman, and in seems superficially less ambitious accordingly. But I accept that this is not necessarily the case. However, I am now struck (somewhat sadly) that it seems to have aged (as, no doubt, have I). The preoccupations of the character (and by implication, the author) irrelevant, somehow. Daniel's aristocratic 'friend' no longer rings true, almost a buffoon. Mallory himself seems to be an anglo-Catholic of a particularly effete and arcane variety and faintly ludicrous. All very pre-Thatcher.

It left me with the feeling that this was a hymn to a certain generation. Somehow TFLW seemed to transcend that. A story of Existence?

Certainly, any work must be in a time (period) and place, both fictionally and as they shape the author. And I shall no doubt read it many times again. It remains one of my favourite novels.

Tony
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jan 18, 2013 3:51 pm

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Tony, I appreciate hearing your frank take on Daniel Martin.

To be frank in return, I’ve learned I have to be cautious about making judgments about this book—even today, so often it seems that Fowles is a step ahead of me. In terms of what you say above--Anthony Mallory calls himself out of date (184, 187) in the “Catastasis” chapter, and the narrator says that Andrew Randall has turned his back on the future (328), and likens him to a “brontosaur” destined for extinction because of its cumbersome armor (328). Also, Andrew is clearly playing the role of buffoon while at Oxford—Dan and Jane discuss this--but Fowles shows him later on unable to escape the burden of his class and the duties connected with the family estate at Compton. I find an element of dignity in how he has to look after the place--to care for a sick lamb, for instance (326)--or in his choice to remain in England instead of moving to New Zealand as his friend Mark does (327).

However, a more compelling issue about characters and their “datedness” surfaces in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, chap. 38. The narrator casually refers to the hero Charles at one point as a “poor living fossil,” but then he turns around to defend him, tracing the Victorian gentleman as a type from the parfit knights of the Middle Ages through to the scientists of today. Following that logic of types, I’d argue that Anthony and Andrew from Daniel Martin are still with us today, though we might tend to call them geeks and snobs (respectively) instead.

Lately I’ve also been thinking about possible upsides to how art ages. For instance, I’m grateful that Fowles described Syria in Daniel Martin with such close attention to detail, since the political situation there has sharply worsened in recent years, and gives his depiction an element of historical preservation.

That said, I swear Fowles does seem clairvoyant at times. The town of Homs, Syria, has been the site of some of the worst violence in the past year, with massacres of women and children among the atrocities. Here is a sentence from the late chapter in Daniel Martin titled “The End of the World”: “But it began, as they came into Homs, to look more like the edge of a limbo nearest to a hell.” (621)

As for the story-of-existence theme I’m developing—as a skeptic, you are clearly in the numerical majority! I’m in that category myself much of the time, as I mentioned in my first posting. Still, I find the evidence supporting the case hard to ignore. I hope that at the least I’ve sparked your curiosity and got you thinking.

I’m interested in what has drawn you back to re-read the novel over the years. (On a housekeeping note, you might discuss that under the “Reassessment” thread—I’d prefer keeping this “Story of Existence” thread closer to the theme.) Thanks again.

--Kelly
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Re: “Daniel Martin” and the story of existence

Postby Craig Borten on Wed Nov 20, 2013 3:53 am

This book took me more than two months to finish. Daniel Martin's romantic life through Nell, Jamie and finally Jane is different. I must say that I found this book as the most satisfying work by Fowles. It made me think so much about my own story.
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