What is "whole sight"?

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Nov 12, 2009 4:01 pm


Why are some of the descriptions in Daniel Martin so elaborate? For instance, why does Fowles refer to “stopped lines of impotent quadrirotal man” (64) when he could just say traffic jam? Why does he say “that eternal nocturnal re-entry into the womb” (609) when he could just say the hero went to sleep?

Some early reviewers (e.g., Newsweek, National Review, New Statesman, and The New Yorker) pointed to such descriptions as evidence that the novel was long-winded or top-heavy. However, I see them as serving a special purpose in Fowles’s “whole sight” project. The project spurred him to find not only a new kind of fictional container but a new way of illuminating its contents.

Definitive descriptions.
The examples above show Fowles taking ordinary activities and imaginatively transforming them. His words convey more than mere descriptive texture; they aim for a definitive approach to the subject at hand. The coined term “quadritotal” (four-wheeled) is unusual enough to lodge in memory—or at least my memory. Even today when I’m waiting in traffic, Fowles’s description sometimes comes back to me, and puts me in mind of the odd relationship between humans and four-wheel vehicles. His words bring a smile of recognition, and make the experience a shade less unpleasant.

The other passage mentioned above, from the chapter “Flights,” also merits attention:

In darkness, bed, that eternal nocturnal re-entry into the womb, he lay for a minute or two staring at the ceiling . . . (609)

At the physical level, this passage shows Daniel getting into bed, and hesitating before falling asleep. However, seen in connection with what precedes it, the phrase “re-entry into the womb” adds a number of other levels:

    at the intellectual level, Daniel temporarily retreats from the knot of complexities listed in the previous paragraph (rejection, consolation, absurdity, desire, and so on);

    at the psychological level, Daniel takes a step back from various living females--Jane, Jenny, and Caro--and finds refuge in the prenatal link with the original female in his life, his mother, who died before he reached his fourth birthday;

    at the archetypal or mythic level, the passage offers a new perspective on what sleep represents not just for Dan but for all other humans.

This same sentence goes on to still further levels before it’s complete; what I want to emphasize here is that the description supports a definitive awareness of going to sleep.

It’s no coincidence that Fowles also provides a definitive account of waking up. This appears in the first paragraph of the chapter “The Bitch”:
Dan was deeply asleep when the knocks came on the door. He called, or groaned, from where he lay. . . For a few moments, still half asleep, he had completely forgotten where he was; he lay trying to conform the room to his bedroom at Thorncombe, in a familiar maze between sequence-despising dream and coherent reality . . . (644)

This passage gives us a crystal-clear account of Daniel waking up at a specific place and time (Palmyra, on the last full day of his travels to the Middle East); but it also imparts an awareness of the very nature and essence of waking up—i.e., what waking up is like for all humans, regardless of the time and place.

      * * *
Definitive characters.
Other candidates for this “definitive” approach include characters in the novel. Anthony Mallory is both a sharply drawn, specific individual, and also a definitive portrait of the Oxford don and intellectual Catholic; similarly, Barney Dillon is a tangible individual (married father of three, involved with Caro, etc.), and also a “type” (egotistical media man); the narrator explains in one passage that Barney is a “minor emblem” of Dan’s Oxford generation (105). Other examples of individuals and types:

    - Miles Fenwick (Tory Member of Parliament) (329-338)
    - Miles Fenwick’s wife (privileged socialite) (329)
    - Andrew Randall (the Anglo-Saxon heritage in England) (232)
    - Anthony and Jane (north Oxford marriage) (215)
    - Dan and Nancy in “Phillida” (summertime teenage romance) (370-404)

It’s worth adding: there’s considerable artistic risk involved in creating characters that work simultaneously as individuals and types. Imbalances can happen in either direction. For instance, Don and Betty Draper on the TV series Mad Men are clearly marked as a quintessential early-1960s U.S. couple, but many viewers find that they’re not sharply enough drawn as individuals; it’s as if they exist more as archetypes than as flesh-and-blood people. On the other hand, in movies like the Oceans Eleven series, the characters have no real archetypal roots, but exist only as the actors who happen to be playing them. Their presences are mostly a compendium of what you remember from their previous roles, or what you happen to project onto them.

Because Daniel Martin is also the self-conscious account of a novel being written, the narrator periodically takes us aside to discuss his craft, as in this "definitive" account of how minor characters function:

Minor characters in scripts are rather like knights in chess: limited in movement, but handy in their capacity for quick turns, for fixing situations. (255)

      * * *
What’s the cumulative effect of this definitive tendency in Daniel Martin? Once the separate elements coalesce in a reader's mind, they become more than the sum of various fictional parts; contemporary civilization itself is what one begins to see in an illuminated and definitive way.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Sun Dec 06, 2009 9:03 pm

Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.

What does “all the rest” mean here? All the rest of what?

The words themselves--“all,” “the,” “rest”—what could be simpler? But the more I look at them in this context, the more complex they become. There are reasonable things to say about them, but I think they draw less upon reason than upon other traits, such as intuition, sensitivity to language, and what might be called tolerance for enigma.

In my view, Daniel Martin’s opening sentence is less a logical proposition than a metaphysical puzzle. I believe it remained a puzzle for Fowles himself, which is why it served his purposes so well. In The Aristos he writes, “Mystery, or unknowing, is energy” (ch. 1, note 73). He describes “the ultimate tension” as being “between what we know and what we know we will never know . . . The more knowledge we have the more intense this mystery becomes” (ch. 6, notes 66-7).

In line with this, my aim in this discussion thread is not to “clear up” the novel’s opening sentence but to deepen and intensify its mystery.



The phrase “all the rest” recurs in two later passages, both of which offer clues about the opening sentence:

    At the end of “Beyond the Door,” as Daniel falls asleep, his subconscious seems to take over as the narrator, and gives voice to this line:
    I create, I am: all the rest is dream, though concrete and executed. (221)

    In “Tsankawi,” Daniel the narrator speaks in daringly idealized terms about the region’s beauty. For him, the region is not just ineffably beautiful but redemptive:
    [Tsankawi] validated, that was it; it was enough to explain all the rest, the blindness of evolution, its appalling wastage, indifference, cruelty, futility . . . Tsankawi defeated time, all deaths. Its deserted silence was like a sustained high note, unconquerable. (346)

In these passages Fowles sets up a tension between a favored term and “all the rest”:

    between whole sight and all the rest;

    between creative being and all the rest;

    between Tsankawi and all the rest.

“Whole sight,” “creative being,” and “Tsankawi” are three ways of describing what is sacred, or what is the ultimate good, in this novel. Other such terms include “the sacred combe,” “the orchard of the blessed,” “right feeling,” and “the river between.” Together they are among the novel’s uppermost virtues or pantheon.


If these terms represent the ultimate good, then what becomes of all the rest? Is everything else downgraded to second class? Banished to the children’s table? Treated as leftovers?

Considering the remote and rarefied nature of “whole sight,” we might imagine “all the rest” as constituting 99.9% of creation. If this vast entity were allowed to speak with a single voice, perhaps it would say “What am I, chopped liver?”

Fowles was alert to the risks involved in assigning ultimate value to any one concept or phrase. Such risks include:

  • everything else gets demoted to secondary or peripheral importance;
  • the favored term becomes doctrinaire, rigidly hierarchical, calcifies into dogma or cliché;
  • the favored term becomes an albatross—burdensome, solemn, holier than thou, remote from everyday concerns;
  • the favored term supports new forms of elitism and grandiosity on the part of those who are deemed “in the know.”

Fowles not only recognized these tendencies but took steps to counteract them. He found creative ways of laughing at, or otherwise defusing, his favored terms. Examples:

  • about “Tsankawi”: he also includes Abe’s wisecracks about the place (346-7);
  • about “creative being”: he also ponders whether all art is mere escapism and “superstitious tomb-making” (550-1);
  • about “whole sight”: he also talks about the “sheer silliness” of taking “theorists of total consciousness very seriously” (551), and he declares whole sight “impossible” in the novel’s final sentence (673).

The very fact that he pluralized his god-terms shows that he wanted to decentralize them, and to prevent any one of them from becoming monolithic or oppressive.

In a related effort, Fowles made sure to let no form of elitism in the novel go unexamined. Several passages explore the elitist side of Anthony and Jane, with their “priggishness,” “censorious insularity” (286), their habit of looking down their nose at Daniel’s lifestyle and career. Fowles posits the Oxford Movement’s theory of reserve as one of the original causes behind this trait (see 173, 289, 319-20, 419). In a kind of summation passage about the limitations of elitism, Daniel considers what’s missing from Jane’s way of seeing:
It had no lateral or horizontal scope, it was all verticality, obsessive narrow penetration to supposed inner cores and mysteries—souls and absolutes, not skins and common sense; as if such qualities could not be a part of the whole, of truth, because they were so frequent, universal and necessary . . . and had to be demoted to the mere misleading epiphenomena, like moments of animal closeness in the night, of a more elite reality. (649)

(The phrase “demoted to the mere misleading epiphenomena . . . of a more elite reality” is a more sophisticated way of saying “reduced to chopped liver.”)

This passage is about more than the narrator (Daniel) analyzing one of his central characters (Jane); it is also, by extension, about an artist (Fowles) doing a kind of spiritual cost-accountancy with respect to his own creative tools and artistic authority. In this and other such passages, Fowles intervenes against the formation of a new cartel composed of Daniel Martin's preferred terms and values. He does this by examining the terms, situating them, and alerting us to their shortcomings.

In a novel that affirms whole sight in a great many ways, Fowles nonetheless discourages readers from forming a Cult of Whole Sight.

Part of Fowles’s mastery, it seems to me, lies in his knowing when and how much to promote his favored terms, and when and how much to doubt or demote them.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jan 01, 2010 7:38 pm


Is there a more biodiverse book than Daniel Martin?

Earlier I listed the animal names found in the novel; here I’ve assembled a great many of its botanical terms and plant references—its green file, if you will.

Fowles said in interview that novels serve as a “nature reserve for language.” It seems clear that he also envisioned Daniel Martin as a “nature reserve for nature terms.” Perusing this list, I catch a glimpse of the “valley of abundance” Fowles explores in the “Sacred Combe” chapter. Some analogue of God naming the creatures obtains here.

Nature terms in this novel don't merely add color and texture; they help order the characters' lives and pursuits. Fowles often employs plants symbolically. For instance, in the chapter “Phillida,” Daniel and Nancy explore new erotic thresholds in a secret place entirely bounded by Thorncombe greenery. One could say the adult Daniel’s interest in Thorncombe and also Kitchener’s Island arises out of his continued longing to be enclosed and rejuvenated in a womb-like green space. A few other examples of the novel's symbolic or illuminating use of plants:

  • Orchids and orchid-hunting are pivotal in connecting Daniel and Anthony as friends, and also in revealing what divides them.
  • Apples and how they’re grown help to explain divisions between England and the U.S.
  • A good deal is revealed about Ben and Phoebe through their connection to plants and vegetables, respectively.
  • The term “reed” serves as a link between Nancy Reed and the woman discovered in the reeds by Daniel and Jane at Oxford; one scholar has observed that Nancy and Jane are both women that Daniel is unable to save.

However, though he incorporates a wealth of plant species in his novel, Fowles also cautions us against relying too much on botanical terms and knowhow. He points up Daniel’s teenage habit of overvaluing what he knows: “He clings to his knowledges; signs of birds, locations of plants, fragments of Latin and folklore, since he lacks so much else” (10). We also see how as an adult, Daniel’s knowing “all the names and the frightfully scientific words” at a site such as Tsankawi emerges as a barrier between him and Jenny (350).

Curiously, Jane is characterized as having “never been much of a country-woman” (323), and yet Daniel likens her in one passage to “nature itself” (441). The resemblance lies in the fact that nature is “catalytic, inherently and unconsciously dissolvent of time and all the naturalist tries to put between himself and his total reality” (441). Where Daniel’s knowledge serves to distance him from Jenny, what he perceives in Jane makes him aware of how his knowledge sells him short.

More about Fowles and biodiversity is found in these books:
John Fowles and Nature, edited by James R. Aubrey
The Recurrent Green Universe of John Fowles, by Thomas M. Wilson


9, 37, 71, 82, 180, 204, 246, 322, 365-6, 380-3, 461, 572, 593, bird of paradise 36, carnation 82, 515, heart’s-ease (wild pansy) 2, 363, lilac 86, poinsettia 11, 506, primrose 86, 434, 445-6, Quaker’s Bonnet primrose 135, primula 82, rose 3, 35, 351, rosebud 34, 93, vine-trellis rose 115, violet 434

    9-10, 69, 70-2, 112, 181, 191, 197, 312, 361, aestivalis 181, dactylorchis 361, Fly 71, insectifera 191, Monkey 71, purple 181, Spiranthes spiralis 10, 181, Summer Lady’s Tress 181

73, 276, 292, 298, 325, 345, 350, 353, 375, 379, 383, 397, 428, 434, 568, 572, 593, 645, 667-8, 672, ash 4-6, 8-9, 376, aspen 344, beech 10, 69, 91, 112, 385-6, 392, 420, 456, beechwood 71, 137, 433, cedar 420, cottonwood 343, date-palm 647, 668, elm 88, fruit-trees 83, medlar 78, oak 32, olive 48, 358, palm 11, 517, pine/piñón 225, 290-2, 343-4, 347, 348, sunt 564, sycamore 378, whitebeam 71, yew 88

4, 372, 383, 391, 420, Beauty of Bath 375, Blenheim 449, Catriona 449, Codling 83,
Cox 375, Fir-apple 449, King Edwards 448, Pippin 83, Russet 83

Glou Morceau 83, Good Christian 83, honey-pear 290, Jargonelle 83, Musk Bergamot 83, prickly pear 345, Warden 83

Individual species

Acacia 506
Aspidistra 608
Banana 609
Barsim (winter clover) 543
Bean 448, 535
Beet/beetroot 232
Bougainvillea 225, 572
Bracken 378-9, 382, 387-8, 392, 394-6, 433
Brambles 378
Broccoli 448
Bulrush 22
Bush 329, 332, 473, 623, rosebush 363, thornbush 378
Buttercup 29
Cabbage 434, cabbage palms 568
Caraway 382
Castor-oil plant 11
Celandine 434
Celery/celeriac 448
Centaury (a.k.a. earthgalls) 379-80, 393
Cinnamon 568
Clematis armandii (flowering vine) 82
Corn 7, 384
Cumin 635
Dropwort 22
Eyebright 379
Fern 387, 394
Frankincense 102
Frond 387
Geranium 587
Gerbera 587
Germander 381, 405
Grass 23, 86, 91, 379-81, 669, 671, grass-haulm 90, grass-stalk 91, grass-tussock 181
Hay 374, 397
Hemlock 189
Herb 635, medicine herbs 345
Hyssop 24
Ivy 385
Leek 448
Lettuce 250
Lichen 136
Mimosa 506
Mistletoe 403
Moschatel 9
Moss 307
Mushroom 570
Myrrh 102
Myrtle 135
Nettles 372, 374
Opium 595
Orange 635
Osmanthus (flowering shrub) 82, 135
Oxlip 135
Parsley cow-parsley 90, parsley stalk 90
Patchouli 575
Pistachio 499
Pot (marijuana) 474
Potato 448
Rabbit-brush 347
Raspberry 9, 58
Reed 25, chapter-title: “The Woman in the Reeds,” 327, 668
Rush 574
Shallot 448
Shrub 73, 82, shrubbery 371
Speedwell 381, 405
Straw 326, 372-3
Strawberry 382
Sugar-cane 535
Thistle 374, 652, thistledown 3, 334, 395
Thyme 102, 381-2
Thornplant (the origin of the place-name “Thorncombe”) 404
Tibouchina (Brazilian shrub) 224, 246, 461
Trichodendron (flowering plant) 82, 135
Tomato 250
Tunnel-arbor 670
Turnip 362
Violet 434
Water lily 22
Weed 71, dyeing weed 345, tumbleweed 504
Wheat 1-7, 10, 75, 232, 378
Willow 19, 21, 29, 23, 26
Yucca 345

- - -

Related botanical terms

Blossom 428
Botanical specimens 253
Bough 376, 382, 572
Bower 60, 329
Branch 48, 204, 358, 372, 376, 382
Combe 1, 9, 88, chapter-title: “The Sacred Combe,” 290, 378, 433
Copse 292
Countryside 71
Crop 349, 543
Exotic Foliage 599
Farm 346
Field 278, 339, 362-3, 374-5, 378, 384, 404, 408-9, 433, 535
Forest 225, 291, 293
Fruit 250, 317
Garden 82, 135, 148, 207, 225, 233, 237, 278, 290, 336, 345, 347, 363-5, 370-1, 379, 404, 414, 427, 455, 580, 599, 610, 637, botanical garden 572, gardening 82-3

Gorse 387
Greensward 379
Greenwood 288, 292
Grove 425, 517
Haulm 395
Heath 667, 670
Hedge 372, 378, 434
Houseplant 322
Irishman’s heels and seedlings 82
Labellum 72
Lawn 123, 656
Leaf 378, 382, 386, 594
Ley (pasture) 374
Log 420
Manna 569
Meadow 392, 433, 455, 542
Orchard 4, chapter-title: “The Orchard of the Blessed,” 372-3, 375, 425, 427-8, 448
Park 124, 325, “Parke” 329
Pasture 329
Plant 10, 82, 86, 181, 188, 304, 322, 345, 365-6, 543
Root 72, 379
Seed 63, 86, 126, 348, 352, 448, 450, 572
Slough 402
Spice 489
Stem 22, 24, 374, 387, 428
Stump 386
Succulent 322
Tendril 29
Thorncombe Woods 7
Trunk 572
Undergrowth 379, 384
Vegetable 82, 229, 250, 365-6, vegetation 572
Verdure 610
Valley 289-90, 326, 347, 349, 379, 402, 527, 656
Wicker 667, 671
Wilderness 293, 402-4, 627
Wood/woods 244, 292, 347, 369, 382, 386-7, 402, 420, 671
Yard 399, 404, courtyard 620

Named plants

Fruit trees at Thorncombe: “Aunt Millie’s Tree” 83, “the Yellow Devil” 83, “the Green Spice” 83

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Jul 15, 2010 8:41 am


What is musical about Daniel Martin?

Recently it occurred to me that it’s like a triple concerto, with its tonalities and atonalities, phrasings, tempos, syncopations, cross-harmonics, and melodic recurrences. Below is a quotation that likens Daniel Martin to a symphony orchestra.

Questions from a different angle: how does Daniel Martin incorporate music? What does it have to say about music? I put together the material below with such questions in mind.

Musical instruments:

Bell 86, 90-1, 394
Concertina 394
Drum 553, 561, 650
Flute 91, 650
Gong 400
Harp 580
Lute 142
Oboe 62
Piano 207, grand piano 206, 599
Posthorn 123
Rebec 553
Tambourine 553
Trumpet 507
Violin 225, 247

Composers and performers in history:

Ashkenazy, Vladimir 461
Bach, Johann Sebastian 600-1, 631
Chopin, Frederick 599-600, mazurka 599
Delius, Frederick 62
Goldberg, Johann 600-1, 631
Handel, George Frideric, composer of the oratorio The Messiah 91
Jennen, Charles, librettist for Handel’s The Messiah 91
Leoncavallo, Ruggiero, composer of the opera Pagliacci 130
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus 450, Symphony in G minor, 450, sonata 600
Richter, Sviatoslav 600

Miscellaneous musical references:

Andante 631
Ballad 85
Band with scarlet uniforms and silver instruments 123
Bass 5
Boating-chant 584
Cabaret 266, 552, cabaret-cum-music-hall act 494
Camelot, 1967 film version of Lerner and Loewe musical 14
Chorus 488
Composing 19, great composers 590
Concert 256, 461, 599, concert-hall 462
Conductor 85
Croon 256
ETC revue (at Oxford) 19
Evensong 316
Folk-song 369, folk-sound 618, a makeshift folk-band 553
Harmony 346
Hum 381
Hymns 34, 85, 86
Jukebox 524
Music 450, 590, 599-602, musics 346, musical 225, baroque music 600
Music-hall 266, music-hall characters 266
Musical key 358, 361, changing to a remote key, modulation 594, same key 600
Musical resolution 654
Muted 340
Orchestra 553
Pianist 599
Pop music: pop tune 434, American music 618
Psalm 86
Quartet 48
Radio 227, 618, radio music 216
Record 450
Round-dance 115
Singing 19, 34, 91, 266, 384, 584, famous singer 618
Sonata form, da capo 389
Sustained high note 346
Symphony 450
Tenor 90
Tune: in tune 266, out-of-tune 580
Unplayed instruments 600

Moments where music serves as a distraction, or prevents communication:

  • On Jane’s son Paul and his generation:
    For all his current interest, Paul was a town boy, and with all the new town-dominated media conforming his and his generation’s mind . . . even the ploughmen carried transistors in their tractor cabins now. There was a village joke about one who got so drowned in some pop tune that he forgot to lower his shares after a headland turn and was seen driving all the way down the return furrow with his tail cocked up ‘like an ol’ pheasant.’ (434)

  • The jukebox on the Nile ship serves as a distraction for the “Barge-borne Queen”’s young companion, and as a noise barrier to Jane: “I can’t really hear with that thing pounding away.” (524)

  • The amplified folk-band music on the Nile-cruise cabaret night turns away Daniel and Jane, as well as the Herr Professor. Daniel tells the Herr Professor, “The noise is too much for us.” (553)

Other noteworthy musical elements:

  • Daniel’s impression of the Pueblo site in New Mexico known as Tsankawi: “. . . Tsankawi defeated time, all deaths. Its deserted silence was like a sustained high note, unconquerable.” (346)

  • Daniel has an epiphany while listening to Mozart’s Symphony in G minor:
    The music behind him: he felt an abrupt wave of happiness, richness, fecundity, as if he was in advance of the actual season outside and transported two months on into full spring . . . Just as the green-gold music had, beneath the balance, the effortless development and onwardness, its shadows, so also was there a component of sadness in Dan’s happiness: he was happy because he was a solitary at heart, and that must always cripple him as a human being. (450)

  • As Labib drives Daniel and Jane to Palmyra, there’s a small conflict over what music will play in the car:
    He switched on the radio and the car was filled with folk-sound. He fiddled for ‘American music,’ but they made him return to the original wavelength: a woman’s voice, sinuous, alternately sobbing and languorous, against a plangent rhythm. (618)

  • Daniel, brooding about his artistic career: “He saw himself as being like someone with a deep feeling for an art, but no creative talent for it; what one felt occasionally before great composers and executants in music . . .” (590)

  • The night before their flight from Aswan, Egypt, back to Cairo, Daniel and Jane overhear an impromptu piano concert at the Old Cataract Hotel. From their seats on an outside terrace, they overhear a Russian pianist play J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations:
    They sat in the endless sound, the precise baroque complexity, so calculated, so European; in the African darkness. Dan’s mind drifted away after a while, into the night, the stars: saw the pair sitting down there, before a table, three feet apart, in what seemed to possess the lifelessness of sculpture, of waxworks, of unplayed instruments. And gradually there stole on him, both with the music and from outside it, a sense of release, a liberation from lies, including the one he had told himself before dinner. It was less that the music particularly moved him, he had never really enjoyed Bach, but it did carry a deep intimation of other languages, meaning-systems, besides that of words; and fused his belief that it was words, linguistic modes, that mainly stood between Jane and himself. Behind what they said lay on both sides an identity, a syncretism, a same key, a thousand things beyond verbalization. (600)

- - - - -
Here, again, is a quotation from Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia:
Intricacy, density, design--I'm not sure what to call it, but when I read Mary Lee Settle's Blood Tie, Anne Tyler's Celestial Navigation, or John Fowles's Daniel Martin, I hear a symphony orchestra.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Jul 22, 2010 4:22 pm


In an earlier posting I explored how Fowles expands the scope of Daniel Martin from England and Englishness to include other nationalities, cultures, and geographies. Although the references are not as frequent, Fowles does also position his earth-bound cast and locations in relation to the rest of the cosmos.

Here’s a rundown of many of the novel’s astronomical and cosmological references (noted in boldface):

    Thistledown floats southward across the field, in a light air from the north, mounting, a thermal, new stars for the Empyrean. (3)

    The sun in the extreme west, as he likes it best. (9)

    The [church] beside the Vicarage had a massive fluted and streamlined tower soaring . . . like a space rocket within its cone-capsule. (88)

    I had passed several light-years beyond her comprehension by then . . . but not her forgiveness. That outreached all time and space. (89)

    I saw the two girls wade in, then both turn and call to us. They stood hand in hand, like a pair of sea-nymphs, in the starlight. (115)

    Like Lucifer: I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . and set it among the stars of Hollywood. (174)

    [The early stages of an artistic project:] I might complain, but I also knew it was in many ways the most enjoyable time, and precisely because of this necessary aspect of retreat, of secrecy . . . as one might feel to be the first man ever to set foot on a desert island, a new planet. (289)

    “You don’t realize primroses seem like another planet.” (445)

    “Are you sure you aren’t on the moon?” (446)

    The sky was clearing to the south and west, and the setting winter sun had got through for the first time since his return. (455)

    You would like her, Dan, even though she’s a Californian-style poor little rich girl, ten planets away from Europe and its shabbiness and poverty and making-do. (460)

    She had caught a little color during the day, from the sun. (496)

    Here and there a dim-glowing point, as of an oil-lamp; the stars, the quiet rush of the water. (519)

    The night, the stars, the onwardness, were somehow depressing now; monotonous, meaningless. (524)

    And then there came what was almost an envy of the simplicities of life in this green and liquid, eternally fertile and blue-skied world; just as some denizen of an icier, grimmer planet, might look on, and envy, Earth. (527)

    He said, “You’ve caught the sun today. . . Gives you a nice gipsy air.”
    . . . She had caught the sun, and in fact looked much younger. (553)

    Limitless sands, broken by harsh black basaltic outcrops, scorched by millennia of unrelenting sun, stood and waited, or so it seemed, for the great river to run dry. (568)

    The flight south, over the moonscape and amoeba-shaped islands of Lake Nasser, the limitless rippling dunes of the Nubian desert, was spectacular enough; and at first sight, the resurrected temples also. (592)

    The night, the faint smell of the river, stars, the filtered lamps from inside reflected in the exotic foliage below the balustraded terrace; Jane appeared, a dark figure, and walked down toward him, in and out of the latticed light. (599)

    “That music. It made me feel the absurdity of this distance between us. When there’s all that frozen distance up there. I’m sorry, this is very trite, but . . .” (602)

    There seemed no children, no hope; a world the rest of the world had forgotten, as far from the glitter of Beirut as the landscapes of the moon. (619)

    “No man or woman ever fully understand what they’ve each become. If that condition has to be fulfilled, the two sexes ought to be living on different planets. (629)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Sat Aug 14, 2010 11:04 am


Intelligence is a hallmark of Daniel Martin, as it is in other Fowles writings. It’s worth asking, though, what kinds of intelligence are engaged? What does Fowles impart about the strengths and limitations of various intelligences?

This passage from The French Lieutenant’s Woman, chap. 9, suggests that Fowles was savvy about multiple intelligence long before the phrase became widely used:
Sarah was intelligent, but her real intelligence belonged to a rare kind; one that would certainly pass undetected in any of our modern tests of the faculty.

In 1983, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner divided intelligence into eight basic types: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. This eight-part system suggests still another way of perceiving “whole sight” as manifest in Daniel Martin. In what follows I look at the interplay between Gardner’s framework and Fowles’s novel.

1. Linguistic intelligence.

It’s clear throughout the novel that Daniel is highly gifted at putting words together. The explicit references to Daniel’s writing abilities often appear in incidental or indirect ways:
  • In the Oxford hospital scene, Anthony says that Daniel’s being there speaks louder than any words--“even from someone of your skill with them” (180).
  • At one point in the after-dinner political discussion at Compton, Conservative M.P. Miles Fenwick wonders aloud to Daniel, “Why should you be paid the same fees as a writer ten times your inferior?” (335).
  • During a fraught discussion with Jane at Palmyra’s Hotel Zenobia, Daniel says he has betrayed “the only two things for which I ever had any talent. Handling words, and loving one single other human being wholly” (631).

Daniel’s skill with words can also reveal his civilizing kindness, as seen in his behavior with the Cockney twins Miriam and Marjory:
They would often have talked all night, if I hadn’t stopped them. They had been starved all their lives of confession—had never met a professional word-man before, someone who could coax, listen, correct them without hurting them. (266)

However, if Daniel Martin affirms the positive uses of language, it also recognizes that language has limitations, and can work in negative ways. Sometimes language drives a wedge between people:
  • over an Italian dinner in Oxford, Jane gives Daniel just enough conversational rope to hang himself (198)
  • at Compton, Jane’s son Paul snobbishly insists that Ping-Pong be referred to as table tennis instead (316)
  • at Tsankawi, sensing Daniel’s dislike for period slang, Jenny half-apologizes about using the term “uptight” (350)
  • on the Nile cruise, Jane recoils against the pretenses of her French fellow-passengers, for whom “Even insects don’t truly exist until their presence has been announced in the only real language” (510)

As a professional secretary and the daughter of a professional word-man, Caro is defensive with her dad about her lack of university education, and her “dreadful English” (121). She feels “inarticulate” with him (225), and says “I don’t use words very accurately” (240). Daniel attempts to reassure her: “You mustn’t think everything can be said in language” (240).

Other examples of language and its limitations:
  • at an early age, Daniel pays a social price for using language as he does (“He is shy and ashamed of his own educated dialect of the tongue” [4]); and a personal price for having a father who preaches as he does (78-9) and who uses words like “encomium” in ordinary conversation (375). Despite Daniel’s education, he can still be baffled by Nancy Reed’s use of language (specifically French and Latin) (381).
  • Marjory openly mocks Daniel for being too bookish, explaining to Miriam why he’s never been to the dog-races: “It’s ’is books. ’E loves ’is books” (269).
  • In a joke told by the Herr Professor, excessive refinement with language becomes fatal for an Englishman in French Africa: he’s eaten by a crocodile because he is seemingly incapable of hearing anything but over-refined British syntax (558-9).
  • In a soulful moment during the terrace scene, while listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Daniel senses “a deep intimation of other languages, meaning-systems, besides that of words . . . a thousand things beyond verbalization” (600).

See also:
  • Daniel and Jane listen to Mitch and Marcia Hooper in conversation “as a professional pianist listens to an untalented amateur” (521).
  • Difference in language use between England and the U.S. (74-5)

2. Musical intelligence.

Although Daniel has “no practical knowledge of music” (599), and indeed “had never really enjoyed Bach” (600), he still senses that the composer’s “Goldberg Variations,” as played one evening at the Old Cataract Hotel, carries “a deep intimation of other languages, meaning-systems, besides that of words” (600). Daniel’s narration includes an array of musical references (see my July 15, 2010, posting on the thread “What is ‘whole sight’?”), and tributes to the classical composers Delius (62), Chopin (599-600), Handel (91), Leoncavallo (130), and Mozart (450, 600).

Popular music doesn’t fare as well in the novel:
  • At Thorncombe, the cautionary tale of a village ploughman “drowned in some pop tune” (434) reads like an advance critique of the Ipod generation.
  • The amplified folk-band at the Nile-cruise gala cabaret creates a “pounding din” that sends Dan and Jane (and the Herr Professor) rushing to the nearest exit (553).
  • On the road to Palmyra, Westerners Dan and Jane insist on hearing plangent Middle Eastern music over Easterner Labib’s preference for “American music” (618).

A deeper register of musical intelligence in the novel lies in its melodic undercurrents, motifs, cross-harmonics—the “symphony orchestra” that Katherine Paterson says she hears when she reads it.

3. Logical-mathematical intelligence.

  • This form of intelligence is embodied in Anthony, who remains at Oxford after graduation and becomes a philosophy teacher and don. Anthony and Jane’s first meeting at Oxford involves his explaining the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes to her (72). Years later, when he becomes a don, he avoids talking about philosophy to the lay world (71). His books find their way alongside the other “serried and silent regiments of philosophy and would-be human wisdom” on his bookshelves (208); Daniel admits he lacks the patience and the mental equipment to read them (71). Although Daniel is slow to recognize the defect of Anthony’s “singlemindedness” (72), Jane soon wises up about one of his blind spots: “He assumes things about people he’d never assume about a theory of logic or a syllogism” (57-8). It takes many years for Anthony himself to catch on to this blind spot, as he belatedly tells Daniel: “Mind has dominated our marriage . . . And all its toys” (185) . . . “When I think of the vain thousands of words I’ve wasted . . . on abstract propositions and philosophical angel-counting” (191).
  • Nevertheless, the opposite tendency also has its downside. If the “too much” in this department is manifest in Anthony, Nell represents the “too little” aspect, at least in Daniel’s estimation. As his marriage to her declines, he recoils against the trait of “illogicality” she seems to embody (149).
  • Late in the novel, Daniel reaches the limits of his own logical-mathematical intelligence. After his talk with Jane on the Old Cataract Hotel terrace, Daniel likens his conflict of feelings to “some equation too involved for his knowledge of emotional mathematics to solve” (608-9).

4. Spatial intelligence.

  • During his taxi-ride to the L.A. airport, Daniel likens himself to “an I in the hands of fate, Isherwood’s camera” (63). Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) was an English-born writer who emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 and settled in Hollywood, CA. In Goodbye to Berlin he wrote,
    I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.
    The camera’s-eye-view recurs in Daniel Martin as a way of signaling either physical or metaphorical forms of orientation:
    • During their tour of Cairo, Assad occasionally makes “a director’s frame-finder with his hands, to be sure Dan saw the visual possibilities” (495)
    • On the Nile cruise, Daniel criticizes the excessive use of photography among the tourists, and Jane mocks him for being a “traitor” to his medium (528)
    • During the Kobbet el Hawa cliff excursion, Daniel experiences a profoundly disturbing sense of spatial and temporal dislocation, “as if he were a camera, merely recording, at a remove from present reality” (570-1; see also 579)
  • Daniel describes Abe Nathan as “not a foot-oriented American.” At Tsankawi, Abe’s sense of spatial anxiety or agoraphobia manifests in a stream of defensive jokes about the place (346-7)
  • In “Westward,” Jane’s son Paul makes somewhat comic attempts to orient himself with maps while exploring an ancient field system (358, 360)

5. Bodily (kinesthetic) intelligence.

  • On Daniel’s experience of the Thorncombe harvest:
    The insides of his forearms are sore already, his fingers not being strong enough to carry the sheaves far by grasp. . . . But he likes the pain--harvest pain, a part of the ritual; like the stiff muscles the next morning, like sleep that night, so drowning, deep and swift to come. (3)
  • On Daniel’s response to Anthony’s invitation to come to Oxford:
    The decision is on him, almost before he knows it is there, and he feels—the image is from seeing, not experience—like a surfer, suddenly caught on the crest, and hurled forward. (47)
  • On “body language” and not talking during sex:
    Limbs are nouns and action verbs, and there is nothing more profoundly destroying of all but skin pleasure than the need to assess and analyze what is really a perfectly sufficient language in itself; and like music, to be enjoyed best in silence. (169)
  • The French au pair Gisèle’s perception of how two middle-class English people respond to a death in the family: “Anglo-Saxon sangfroid . . . these English with their phlegm, their stone-cold blood.” (209-11)
  • Paul’s accusing body language on the drive to Compton: “He sat . . . strangely thrust back, like someone who doesn’t trust the driver.” (313)
  • On the link between physical movement and self-knowledge, during Daniel’s late-night walk in his Thorncombe orchard: “Even as Dan walked, he knew himself, partly in the very act of walking and knowing . . .” (428)
  • On rediscovering the joys of sexual connection:
    He had an acute and poignant memory, re-experience, of what it had been like, once, before so many other undressings and goings to bed had numbed it, to drop like this out of the intellectual, the public, into the physical and private . . . the strange simplicity of it, the delicious shock, the wonder that human beings bothered with any other kind of knowledge or relationship. (639)
  • In a bleak moment at Palmyra, Daniel privately nurses his judgment that Jane represents “souls and absolutes, not skins and common sense.” (649)
See also: Daniel likened to a bird that can’t stop migrating (293, 504, 630)

6. Interpersonal (social) intelligence.

This aspect is epitomized by scholar Robert Alter in the essay “Daniel Martin and the Mimetic Task” (1981):
. . . the long effort [Daniel] needs to make in order to see who Jane is resembles . . . what most reasonably reflective people have to undergo in trying honestly to know someone else.

In other words, this novel provides not just an example of such an interpersonal process, but a model for it.

Other touchstones for interpersonal intelligence:
  • Daniel describes Jane as “Very . . . meticulous over personal relationships. Very scrupulous” (48). (Astute readers will note how much this also describes John Fowles as a novelist.)
  • In returning to England at Anthony’s request, Daniel is reintegrated with his extended family—“this loose, warm web of clan” (235)--and becomes a “prodigal uncle returned to the fold” (409). Rejoining the clan does have it downsides, as Daniel reflects after a day spent fully immersed in family goings-on. He says he felt “unreal” to himself, “too full of polite lies, unnatural smiles and urbanities, conventional middle-class behaviors” (244).
  • Daniel’s main objective as an Oxford student is “to mix, to prink and prance” among people drawn together “by a common love of the exhibitionistic” (70). However, in middle age he describes himself as not a “people person” (352). Given this, it takes him a long time and effort to realize and act on his capacity for “loving one single other person wholly” (631).
  • While Daniel Martin examines the historical transition into the age of self, it also alerts us to how “the selfish present is somehow selling us all short” (167). The conflict between selfishness and selflessness is played out as a tension between the pleasure-seeking Daniel and the pleasure-withholding Jane. One evening during their Nile cruise they argue about problems of the age of self; Jane’s conclusion, as related by Daniel, is that “worship of self channeled all feeling inward, and that was suicidal in an age where the world clearly needed outwardness” (530).
  • Daniel’s declining marriage to Nell is marked by what he calls “agapicide” (140); however, in middle age, in his interaction with Jane, he discovers, “for the first time in his life, the true difference between Eros and Agape” (600).
  • After her encounter with the ruins and the puppies at Palmyra, Jane shows a healthy ability to stop brooding about her problems, and a new capacity for reaching outside herself instead. Responding to Daniel’s invitation to go into still more analysis of her behavior, she says, “Talk about anything, Dan. But not about me” (655).

7. Intrapersonal (psychological) intelligence.

Psychological studies have characterized Daniel’s growth in the novel as a model for the process of individuation (Carol Barnum, 1988), and as a model for the self successfully overcoming narcissism (Gray Kochhar-Lindgren, 1993). The scholar Robert Arlett details Daniel’s progression from being a “mirror obsessed narcissist at Oxford” to his achieving “a humanistic maturity where will is tempered or coupled with compassion” (Epic Voices, “In Penelope’s Arms,” 1996). A few other examples of the novel’s intrapersonal or psychological intelligence:
  • Anthony’s view of his own shortcoming: “I have looked at myself. All my adult life. But as I am. Not as I might have been, or ought to have been.” (191)
  • After a day of being re-connected with his extended family in Oxford and London, Daniel encounters “the reality of solitude” in the street outside Caro’s apartment. He perceives a tramp rummaging through castoff items as “his lost real self . . . a thing living on the edge of existence in a night street of his psyche.” (244)
  • At Tsankawi, Jenny says she’s a “people person,” and Daniel notes how little this applies to him:
    “. . . I was fundamentally an observer and storer of correspondences—like some iceberg, with nine tenths of what really pleased and moved me sunk well below the understanding of the people I moved among, and however intimately.” (352)
  • The chapter “In the Orchard of the Blessed” is an extended meditation emanating from deep within Daniel’s psyche. To account for his life’s focus being inward rather than outward, he borrows a term from chemistry: “. . . his ens, in the old alchemists’ sense of the word, ‘the most efficacious part of any mixed body,’ triumphed over his outward biography.” (430)
  • Listening to Mozart’s G minor symphony prompts Daniel to recognize “he was happy because he was a solitary at heart, and that must always cripple him as a human being.” (450)
  • Preferring to do his inward work in solitude, Daniel objects to “all this psychoanalysis at breakfast” in his discussion with Caro. (283)
  • Some of the benefits Jane and Daniel note about traveling to the Nile “later in life” have to do with age and subjectivity: “one knew more, saw more, felt more.” (510)
  • One recurring theme of the novel is the trait of hiding, and what it both conceals and reveals about Daniel, and about the English psyche (10, 71, 140, 231, 288, 353). At one point Daniel states outright, “I have always needed secrets” (68). He also sees this trait writ large among his fellow countrymen; on a train to Oxford Daniel takes note of a general trait among his travel companions: “fear of exposure, this onanistic fondling of privacy” (140).
  • Late in the novel, there’s a caution about the dangers of moving too far into an inwardly defined world: while visiting rock tombs at the Kobbet el Hawa cliff near Kitchener’s Island, Daniel has a few moments of profound disorientation, and experiences premonitions of “something pathological, a madness, a declared schizophrenia.” Jane doesn’t say or do anything noteworthy during this episode, but Fowles still provides clues about how much her presence restores Daniel’s mental equilibrium. (At this moment, it’s as if she plays Orpheus leading Dan’s Eurydice out of the underworld.) The episode concludes with Daniel following Jane down a steep slope near the tombs; when the ground levels out he comes beside her, “damning death and introspection.” (572)

8. Naturalist intelligence.

  • Daniel’s boyhood connection to nature is not just a hobby or pastime but an answer to his deepest psychological needs:
    My solitary boyhood had forced me to take refuge in nature as a poem, a myth, a catalysis, the only theater I was allowed to know; it was nine parts emotion and sublimation, but it acquired an aura, a mystery, a magic in the anthropological sense. (71)
  • His intense connection to nature manifests in certain early traits. As a small boy he rushes into breakfast shouting the Greek and Latin names of the family plants as if they were beloved pets (82). In adolescence he “clings to his knowledges” about birds and plants (10), and thinks of himself as “clever-clever” for knowing their names (91). His attraction to Nancy Reed, his first teenage love, owes a good deal to what he senses about her family: both their earthiness and their spirituality feel more authentic to him than what he finds back home at the Vicarage (78-80, 368-70). No wonder he ends up purchasing the property the Reeds used to live on!
  • Nature for Daniel is a “buried continent” (69), and continues being so into middle age. As an adult he writes,
    It still takes very little, a weed in flower at the foot of a concrete wall, the flight of a bird across a city window, to re-immerse me; and when I am released from deprivation, I can’t stop that old self from emerging. (71)
  • At Oxford as a young adult, Daniel solidifies his friendship with Anthony during their botanizing expeditions. Anthony is a “crack field botanist” (71), for whom nature is like a “crossword puzzle, a relief in concrete objects from abstract ideas” (72). Anthony unwittingly resurrects Daniel’s complicated boyhood relation to nature—an internalized reality suffused with poetry and mystery, and permanently marked by repression, trauma, and loss (70-2).
  • Daniel makes no claim to being a “serious naturalist” (71)—indeed, he confesses that he's someone who “walked wet fields once a year, between cities; and loved it only because he so largely escaped it” (434). However, his specialized knowledge about nature still gets him into trouble with Jenny. In terms of Gardner’s multiple-intelligence system, his naturalist side conflicts with her preference for the interpersonal. During their visit to Tsankawi, Jenny says, “. . . I don’t want to know all the names and the frightfully scientific words . . . I’m a people person” (350). When Daniel says she “shouldn’t justify contempt from ignorance,” she says that’s what he’s doing with respect to her feelings (350).
  • A paradox: on one hand, Daniel says that Jane “had never been much of a country-woman” (323); on the other, he likens her to “nature itself . . . inherently and unconsciously dissolvent of time and all the naturalist tries to put between himself and his total reality” (441).
  • The last part of this quotation leads to another paradox: although nature is for Daniel a “buried continent,” he’s also aware of what’s missing from the strictly scientific naturalist’s outlook. The novel provides several ways of grasping this paradox. For instance, the scholar K. A. Chittick (“The Laboratory of Narrative and John Fowles’s Daniel Martin,” 1985) has pointed out that “The River Between” chapter begins with Daniel’s pedantic observations--classifying birds according to type, sounding like an amateur bird-lover (542-3)--and moves into the Herr Professor’s more fully knowledgeable and engaged viewpoint, speaking about bird symbolism, about his own hardest life decisions, and about his enigmatic awareness of an entity he calls “the river between” (560-1). In broad terms, the chapter moves from Daniel’s limited rationalism into the Herr Professor’s expansive perception beyond rationalism. That Daniel the novelist presents the chapter this way suggests that he has absorbed the Herr Professor’s lesson. This is a link between Daniel Martin and other Fowles heros, Nicholas Urfe, Maurice Conchis (The Magus) and Charles Smithson (The French Lieutenant’s Woman): all of them are intelligent and sensitive men who need to be provoked out of their complacent overreliance on scientific rationalism.

On naturalist intelligence see also:
  • at Thorncombe, gardener Ben’s relation to plants (366)
  • the character Andrew Randall: as the inheritor of a baronetcy and of Compton estate, he pretends as if the “earth, trees his grandsires planted, meant nothing to him” (325); and yet this attitude is belied by his expertise in handling physical aspects of the estate and its livestock (326, 335)
  • the scholarly books John Fowles and Nature (edited by James R. Aubrey) and Thomas M. Wilson’s The Recurrent Green Universe of John Fowles.

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There’s no scientific consensus about the validity of Howard Gardner’s model, but I still find it useful. Gardner also entertained questions about artistic intelligence and the imagination; about moral and existential intelligence; and about aspects such as intensity, complexity, drive, and advanced development. (See Wikipedia entries for “Howard Gardner” and “multiple intelligences.”)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Sep 27, 2010 3:14 pm


What are the components of “whole sight,” and why bring them together into a single book?

In pursuit of these questions I’ve posted various lists on this thread and others—fields of knowledge, figures from history and literature, geographies and cultures, religion and spirituality, animals and plants, sports and leisure pursuits, and so on. I hope these lists give at least a hint of how inspired Fowles was by his opening philosophical premise in Daniel Martin. A section from a recent book by Rita Felski, Uses of Literature, gives further evidence of why the quest for inclusivity matters.

Felski’s book, in the Blackwell Manifesto series, feels to me like an oasis after an intellectual desert. She mounts a counteroffensive against the “negative aesthetic” that has dominated literary analysis in the past 30 years. She reclaims aspects of literary-intellectual practice that fell into critical disfavor during what she calls an “inglorious . . . moment of intellectual history” (82). These aspects, grouped under the broad categories “recognition,” “enchantment,” “knowledge,” and “shock,” take on a new vigor and clarity in her discussion, infused as they are by her broad grasp of contemporary theory.

In the excerpt below, the phrase “phenomenological inventory of the world” will have special relevance to anyone who has been following this discussion thread. For some readers, Felski’s discussion of “things” and “stuff” will perhaps evoke my Aug. 27, 2008 posting on “leisure pursuits and ordinary life.” However, the inventory-like enterprise that Felski describes applies no less to other forms of inclusiveness that Fowles engages in Daniel Martin. It’s as if Fowles took the inventory idea and decided to apply it not just to “things” but to the entire gamut of human experience.

In this section from the "Knowledge" chapter, Felski uses nineteenth-century novels, and the work of twentieth-century Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, as her examples:

Phenomenology is often perceived as a philosophy of things, as a patient and purposeful turning toward the object. What might literary texts teach us about the social resonance of stuff? How do works of art reorient us toward the material world? In the not too distant past . . . Literary theorists poured scorn on anyone rash enough to profess that words referred to material entities, a view of language widely felt to be backward and benighted. At present, though, objects are basking in the light of a newfound attention . . .

The nineteenth-century novel springs to mind as the quintessential archive of objects, a genre that obsessively lists, catalogues, itemizes, describes, and piles up stuff. In his recent reappraisal of the realist novel, Peter Brooks suggests that one of its main tasks is to fashion a phenomenological inventory of the world. What is irreducible in the realist project, he writes, is its ambition to register the importance of the things—objects, inhabitations, accessories—amid which people live. To open a novel by Balzac, Dickens, or Zola is to encounter a cornucopia of objects, a plenipotentiary of wares, enumerated and elaborated in all their historical distinctiveness and material density. . .

Entangled in human lives, companionable if calmly indifferent, such daily things [in Neruda’s poetry] serve as precious repositories of associations and memories, marked with the traces and smells of their users, bearing witness to an infinity of accumulated acts and untold histories. . . . A mundane object turns out, on closer inspection, to be monumental in its sheer ubiquity, as indispensable as eyes or teeth, an astonishing prosthesis caught up in the endless symbolic and practical work of culture . . . .

Such a phenomenological slant allows poetic description to circumvent the schism of subject and object that fuels traditional epistemologies, to elicit and to expand on our involvement in the world. We rediscover things as we know them to be, yet reordered and redescribed, shimmering in a transformed light. (Uses of Literature, Blackwell Publishing, 2008, pp. 98-102)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:16 pm


Have you ever fallen under a book’s spell?

I think many of us read hoping this will happen—and when it does, we read as much as we can by the same author, trying to relive the experience. Judging from postings on this site, Fowles often elicits this response. Fowles himself had such a response with the French novel Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, which inspired and haunted him over many years.

However, has a book ever crossed a border into obsession; perhaps even, for a period, taken over your life? This would be akin to hypnotism or brainwashing. A book followed too closely can become a monomania, a cult obsession, something that limits vision instead of expanding it.

Novelist Brock Clarke said recently on NPR,
Sometimes the power of literature is beyond us . . . we want it to change our lives for the better . . . but sometimes reading literature affects us in ways which we had not planned. And sometimes it makes us more obsessed as readers and as human beings, and that does not make us better human beings. We can’t control what literature does to us, and this is part of why we read it, is that it’s unpredictable.

What interests me most in this regard is how some writers—specifically, for me, Fowles in Daniel Martin—can create a spellbinding or overwhelming reading experience while also guarding against its potentially negative consequences. A reader alert to what such a writer is doing will be both engaged, and cautioned against engaging too much.

In most of my other postings on this forum I explore reasons to start reading Daniel Martin, or to continue reading it. In this posting I explore reasons to stop reading the novel, or to stop reading it in a certain way.

* * *

How to engage readers/How to caution them.
For clarity, it helps to consider these two functions separately before considering them together.

I. How to engage readers.

To begin with, here are some of the ways that a book can be fully engaging, often with unpredictable or overwhelming results:

  • As the epic treatment of a period or place, a book can be physically and intellectually all-encompassing (for instance, Tolstoy’s War and Peace).

  • A book can speak deeply to a reader’s psyche, or encapsulate an emotional dynamic that applies directly to a reader’s experience (Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights have had this effect on many readers).

  • A reading experience can inspire awe or terror by accessing truths at a level beyond what is usually permitted by social convention (e.g., Greek and Shakespearean tragedy, certain sections of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, some of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s dark sonnets).

  • A book can set off a chain of associative connections, or open new pathways into cognition and memory (e.g., Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook).

  • A book’s formal complexity can prompt multiple readings (e.g., Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury).

  • A book or poem may have puzzling or hermetic elements that tantalize a reader’s sense-making capacities (e.g., T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake).

However, as mentioned above, certain forms of reader engagement may raise behavioral or ethical concerns. When Charles Dickens gave public readings, he tended to focus on the more melodramatic or sentimental passages of his fiction; audiences often had fanatical responses, as if relinquishing their wills to the author. Being impressionable or gullible is not exactly a crime, though, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how people at Dickens’s readings may have been harmed by them. Taken to an extreme, however, “overwhelmed” readers can resemble citizens under totalitarian rule—passive, inert, almost robotic—or, at another extreme, can become manic or frenzied, caught up in sensationalism, like the mob in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. The political and psychological dangers of reading fanatically came to the fore in the 20th century, particularly with the rise of mass media. Some examples that come to mind:

  • Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds” caused hysteria about Martian invasion among some listeners.

  • Pro-Nazi documentarist Leni Riefenstahl’s film montages retain their hypnotic allure even today, despite our knowledge of how Hitler used work such as this to entrance a nation.

  • Ayn Rand’s fiction is frequently invoked as an example of literature whose political and philosophical commitments outweigh its aesthetic merit, and support a fanatical response from readers.

  • The reputed power of subliminal suggestion in film advertising stoked new concerns in the late 1950s.

  • Fowles’s own novel, The Magus, led to unintended consequences when impressionable readers in the psychedelic sixties tried out some of its occult rituals at home; his revised version of the book was at least in part an attempt to correct such misperceptions.

  • John Hinckley, Jr. claimed that the film Taxi Driver inspired his attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981.

- - -

II. How to caution readers.

How can an author alert readers or viewers not to succumb to the illusion, not to become too emotionally, intellectually, or politically susceptible to it?

The dramatist Bertolt Brecht developed “alienation effects” intended to lift audiences out of complacent identification with an unfolding drama and its characters. This form of self-reflexive effect has become a defining trait in postmodern literature. In some works this reader alert or warning system becomes the main point. In Julio Cortázar’s brief story “A Continuity of Parks,” for instance, the central figure is the reader of a suspense novel. He sits contentedly in his favorite armchair, surrounded by creature comforts and physical beauty, unaware that an intruder—a man who apparently is the hero of the novel he’s reading--will soon break into his house and approach him clutching a knife. The characters are mere wisps, without dimension or sympathy; all is subordinate to the story’s parable-like lesson: that the very act of reading can be blinding, will-depleting, even lethal.

Certain works, such as Riefenstahl’s movies, promote subjective engagement at the expense of critical alertness; others, such as Cortázar’s story, promote critical alertness at the expense of subjective engagement. Can an author bring both traits into the same work?

- - -

III. How to both engage and caution readers.

In his book How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton argues that in In Search of Lost Time the novelist Marcel Proust manages both to engage readers and to caution them against engaging excessively. In early chapters de Botton explores various life lessons from Proust—“how to express your emotions,” “how to be a good friend,” “how to be happy in love,” and so on. He concludes with a chapter titled “How to Put Books Down.” This chapter focuses on the dangers of taking books too seriously, treating them with uncritical reverence, or otherwise getting carried away with them. He argues that Proust himself was alert to such dangers, and shows how the author incorporated a sophisticated alert system into his novel.

Does Fowles do this also? I’m convinced that he does. In what follows I take the main points of de Botton’s final chapter on Proust and apply them to Daniel Martin.


  • Oracles tend to be remote and shrouded in secrecy; by contrast, the novelist Dan (and by extension, the novelist Fowles) allows readers to get to know him, and reveals clues about how his worldview developed. We see his physical and social development as a preacher’s son, husband, father, and so on; we also see his development as a writer and artist. At several points he speaks directly about his artistic lineage (e.g., Thomas Bewick, John Clare, Samuel Palmer, John Herrick, 83-5; Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, 294). Dan makes his growth as a person, thinker and creative writer accessible, and gives readers a model for how they might follow in his footsteps, or chart their own independent path (see 84-5, et al).

  • Are philosophy and creative writing pinnacles of human wisdom, and its practitioners modern-day oracles? Perhaps. But the chapter “Catastasis” (among others) may help readers overcome unnecessarily inflated views about them. In the hospital meeting between Anthony and Dan, it’s as if both men were trying to outdo the other at debunking his own profession. Dan, the creative writer, talks about his “Oscar in the loo” (192), and deflects Anthony’s praise for his films by saying there are “One or two I don’t blush for” (181). For his part, Anthony, the philosopher and academic, describes a career spent in pursuit of sophistries, useless abstraction, and intellectual minutiae (184-6, 191). The two men also playfully banter about their chosen fields, as when Anthony says a student of his should drop philosophy and take up Dan’s profession, or when a comment about using tools turns into a joke about masturbation (193). Much of this self-deprecation and irony stems from social convention: the courtesies that two long-estranged friends from Oxford extend to each other as they re-establish rapport. However, the chapter still gives Fowles a chance to take these two revered and “oracular” professions and hang them out to dry.

  • Dan demystifies his authority as a writer in other ways as well. He tells his daughter Caro that he doesn’t truly know a lot but only “a little about a lot” (284); he tells her about the sacrifices involved in being a writer, and tells her frankly why writers are “bad at relationships” (284-5). Talking with Jane, Dan admits to having cram-studied a subject for a script—“Enough to kid the public, anyway” (413). He enlists Jane’s sympathy in noticing that being an arts graduate can put one at a social disadvantage among people like economists (413) and politicians (332-6). As a narrator Dan also recurrently casts doubt on his motives for writing scripts (14, 288-93, 550).

  • From a different angle, Dan shows us how irritating it is when someone behaves like an oracle in public. This is seen especially in passages about Jane’s tendency toward aloofness: her using a withdrawn “Madonna face” in public (112); her playing the role of Fanny Price, the self-impressed heroine in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (173); and her making “secret oracular judgments” as “the infallible Pythia of Wytham” (319-20, 360, 419).

  • See also Fowles’s efforts to reframe artistic elitism or exceptionalism in The Aristos (1970 Revised Ed.)—for example, in his description of climbing Mt. Parnassus (157); in his skewering the notion of a “Grand Genius Stakes” (202); and in his basic premise that the divide between the “Few” and the “Many” runs within individuals, not between them.


When I first read Daniel Martin at age 23, it greatly fueled my aspirations as a young writer; it also made me despair of ever achieving anything as impressive. Looking at the novel more closely, I see that it’s committed to instructing and empowering writers, not bewildering or intimidating them. Some examples:

  • Dan actively promotes the writer’s craft by revealing trade secrets, such as how minor characters function (255), how “all narrative art” is structured (616), or what the developmental stages of a writing project look like (590-1).

  • Fowles provides the opposite of intimidation tactics as he reveals causes of writer’s block (285), or shows Dan at moments of anxious doubt about his own writing abilities. In one passage he shows Dan feeling like “mediocrity in his dressing-gown,” overwhelmed by “the terror of the task” of making art (590). Dan owns up to feeling untalented and incompetent—and furthermore, asserts that no truly gifted writer can wholly avoid such moments (590).

  • Dan shows that far more than professional intimidation, what really attacks writers is that they’re individually exposed to all manner of anxiety and discontent about life and existence, and they cannot take refuge (as Dan’s father had) in church dogma, organizational consensus, or other forms of groupthink and spiritual comfort food. As Dan says, there is no one with whom writers can share “the guilt of the futility, the tedium of the treadmill, the horror of existence passed so, like caged animals” (615). Paradoxically, Dan’s very description of this profoundly isolated condition will still come as sustenance of a kind to similarly isolated fellow-writers.

  • What are the social costs of arrogance and intimidation? Fowles explores these no less than the cost of playing oracle. In his hospital discussion with Dan, Anthony berates himself for an academic career devoted to the “vain thousands of words I’ve wasted, both orally and in print.” Dan objects, saying that Anthony has taught young people to think; Anthony responds, “I thank heaven for the stupid ones. At least they escaped contamination” (191). In an indirect way I think Fowles here acknowledges an underside to the teaching profession (and by extension, Dan’s profession as well): an ingrained tendency toward one-upmanship. He reinforces this point by showing condescension as a dominant trait in Anthony’s son Paul, who is well on his way to becoming a “formidably arrogant” scholar someday (358). Other examples of arrogance at the social level: Bill Hannacott, Dan’s teenage rival for Nancy Reed’s affections; Parliament member Miles Fenwick and his wife; and the “Barge-Borne Queen” on the Nile cruise. At the political level, we also see examples of fallout from the arrogance and intimidation displayed by imperialist “barbarian” civilizations from ancient Egypt and Rome to the present.

  • On this same theme, see also Jane’s caution about how literary melancholy has often preceded fascism in history (198); and her comment about Nell’s behavior at Compton: “She got far worse since she became mistress of Compton. Little worlds where you must control everything, or you feel threatened” (217).

  • Jenny occasionally mocks Dan as a person and a writer (248-9, et al), tacitly encouraging us to do so as well. Among other things, she points out his perfectionism (16) and his “faults of perception” (248), and treats his proposed novel--“the great secret” of his life--“as a subject for unseemly levity” (668).


  • The novel includes scores of references to other works of literature, other ways of knowing, which serve as a reminder of the world outside the novel, and as a supplemental reading list. This will help deter anyone who is tempted to read Daniel Martin exclusively, as a replacement for engaging with other forms of literature and knowledge.

  • One play that Dan writes, “The Victors,” is a disguised poison-pen attack on his former Oxford friends. It combines his worst traits as a person and as an artist, and becomes a painful life lesson for him. The play elicits a blistering letter from Anthony, who tells Dan that he questions whether “Genius forgives all,” and whether Dan even belongs in that category (176). As readers we are tacitly invited to ask such questions as well, about Dan and the novel he writes. (See also Jenny’s response of “Oy veh. So we aren’t Shakespeare,” 13.)

  • In a moment of sophisticated self-mockery, Fowles invites us to consider whether Dan’s proposed novel—the book we are reading--really did turn out to be as he describes it to Jane, “Just a ragbag of ideas that never got into my other work. Potentially very tedious” (415). True? False? Fowles indicates that he anticipates readers’ responses, and he offers everyone—admirers and detractors alike--a moment of conspiratorial laughter about his project.

  • In “Interlude,” Dan explores his abiding love of the Cockney sisters Miriam and Marjory, and then says that writing about them turns out to be “a vain and empty thing” (268). It did not bring a catharsis, as writing about past romances is conventionally thought to do. Dan’s statement suggests that he’s found a way to stop idolizing his novel, and suggests a way for readers to stop doing this as well.

  • In the novel’s final sentence, Jane laughs good-naturedly at Dan and his quest for the perfect “last sentence,” and encourages us to laugh at his endeavor as well (673). If there’s been an element of obsession in Dan’s quest for a last sentence, or in his concern about whether he’ll ever actually write the rest of the novel, Jane’s response provides the best antidote to obsession--laughter. The same laughter can extend to any obsessives among the novel’s admirers.


  • With the last section of Daniel Martin as your traveling companion, take an extended tour of the Nile! This prospect may sound enticing, and Fowles includes many scenes that could help tourists organize their day-trips. Sightseers beware, though--the novel’s Egypt section is filtered through Daniel’s lacerating perspective as an anti-tourist. He lambastes the pretenses of ancient Egyptian art (507-8) as well as the failings of contemporary Egyptian décor (585), and he takes a dim view of many of his fellow-passengers. He also inveighs against various mechanical or longwinded tour-guides (507-8, 546), and, more fundamentally, against “all the babooneries, the wrong motives, of package travel” (551).

    Admittedly, guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet series also allow a place for cultural critique, and encourage independent travel over package-style tourism. Nonetheless, Daniel Martin’s Egypt section includes many layers that extend beyond the purview of travelogue. Think of the international intrigue among the Nile cruise assemblage; the cross-cultural analysis; the gradually rising pressure between Dan and Jane; reflections about time, aging, history, war, literature, sociology, and personal destiny. Think of the interwoven filaments of ideas, arts, and sensibility extending back through the rest of the novel and, via commentary, metaphor, and symbolism, through human history as well. In other words, Dan’s version of a trip down the Nile is artistically heightened, and includes aspects that cannot be duplicated on a site-by-site re-creation of Jane and Dan’s travel itinerary.

    Years ago I visited the site of Tsankawi, New Mexico, and discovered much the same thing. I found the place lovely and the visit memorable, but it didn’t have all the intricate layers and resonances of Dan’s written version. Dan himself preps the reader for this kind of disappointment. Although he rhapsodizes about Tsankawi, he warns those who may visit the site that his response is personal to him, and is unlikely to be shared by a first-time visitor (347).

  • A gourmand who wanted to recreate Daniel Martin as a Babette’s Feast-like series of meals, or a do-it-yourself recipe book, would have to contend with various characters’ complaints about food or the expense or ambience of a restaurant (164, 274, 568, 585). One of the last meals witnessed in the book (the evening meal at Palmyra) has the austerity of a Last Supper (635)—hardly a climax in the gastronomic sense, although it must be one of the novel’s most gratefully received meals.

* * *

I think these aspects of the novel contribute to other facets of “whole sight,” expressible as a balance of forces:
  • a balance between reading Daniel Martin and setting it aside;
  • a balance between engaging the novel with the conscious mind and letting it play upon the unconscious;
  • a balance between the meaning found in the lines and the meaning packed “between the lines” (14);
  • a balance between messages found in the spoken lines and those found “in the silence of other voices” (583).

* * *

You may be thinking, “People can stop reading a book on their own; they don’t need an author telling them to do so.” Nonetheless, books hold fascination of different kinds, and are written with varying degrees of artistic responsibility. Numerous passages suggest that Daniel Martin rates highly in this regard. Beyond the instances mentioned above, see Dan’s considerations of “authorial responsibility” in the discourse about Georg Lukács (533-4, 551), and comments throughout the novel about Dan’s quest to find an authentic autobiographical form. Truly, as he suggests in “The Sacred Combe,” this novel, for Dan and for Fowles, is “a fiction whose inner private symbolisms he must face” (431).

Personally, I’ve found it to be a fiction whose inner private symbolisms I must face as well. It embodies wisdom that I can’t afford to ignore. At times I feel about Fowles what Jane felt about Rabelais: “There are passages, you . . . you suddenly feel he’s the only sane human being who ever lived” (58). Thus, for me at least, comes the problem of how to stop reading it.

However, while reading Daniel Martin I also encounter elements such as those I’ve explored in this posting. In later passages Jane has to contend with fallout from her studenthood infatuation with Rabelais (198, 425, 565). A parallel message filters through to me: stop regarding Fowles as Jane once regarded Rabelais. Stop engaging in hero worship; stop making this novel, great as it is, into an artistic fetish item. In an early passage Dan admits that in his student days he and Jane, adopting existentialist ideas then in vogue, didn’t yet realize “the nonexchangeability of art and life” (95). Fowles speaks in similar terms early on in The Magus, about Nick and his Oxford friends assuming that the heroes (or anti-heroes) in French existentialist novels were realistic depictions:
We tried to imitate them, mistaking metaphorical descriptions of complex modes of feeling for straightforward prescriptions of behavior.

The message in both cases is clear: don’t regard art and life as interchangeable.

In the larger scheme of things, is the “stop reading” issue a big deal? For most readers, perhaps not. But to me it represents a level of responsibility I don’t find in modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, or William Faulkner. They all created written labyrinths that can be entered and puzzled over at great length. However, as I see it, they’re much less forthcoming about the path out of the labyrinth, and about what readers might lose by spending too much time in the labyrinth. A book that doesn’t own up to its assumptions, that doesn’t support readers in noticing the effects it has upon them, is less responsible than a book that does do these things.

* * *

Another way of putting the main idea behind this posting: If you’re fully engaged in something, you’re prevented from seeing it wholly.

Even if what you're engaged in is a book that's about "whole sight."

So step outside of it. Break the spell. Stop reading Daniel Martin.

And see what becomes of it when you return.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Nov 25, 2010 7:20 am

In his essay “Daniel Martin and the Mimetic Task” (1981), Robert Alter offers this rationale for why Fowles chose to make “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation” the opening line of the novel instead of its closing line:

Actually to have produced that sentence at the end would have given the book too much formal closure: it is a brave ideal to which everything in the novel aspires, but which Fowles does not want to claim resoundingly as an accomplished fact, and so the sentence is an “impossible” one, imposing an imperative of complete vision that may not be realizable.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Jan 18, 2011 9:35 am

Here are themes and excerpts from Barbara Whitehead’s doctoral research on Daniel Martin at Purdue University, which is available online. William Palmer, author of the first critical volume on John Fowles, served on her committee. (In this posting, page numbers refer to Whitehead’s text, not Fowles’s.)


Barbara Whitehead
2007 dissertation, “A Rhetorical Analysis of John Fowles’s Daniel Martin

Paired opposites:

  • the real versus the metafictional (62-3)
  • truth versus deception (63), reality versus the unreal (78)
  • Jenny’s response to Tsankawi versus Jane’s response to Palmyra (78)
  • the few versus the many (81-2)
  • Dan’s impact on Jane’s transformation is causally interlinked with Dan’s own transformation (89)
  • Dan’s attack of his father’s faith versus his complicity with that faith (125-6)
  • Thorncombe versus Compton: Dan and Andrew’s contrasting abodes and ways of life (138-9)
  • Hollywood versus Oxford (140-3)
  • Dan’s dissatisfactions with others (esp. those in his Oxford generation) versus his dissatisfactions with himself (143-4)
  • Dan’s sense of generational hollowness versus his awakening sense of social and familial happiness (143-9)
  • Dan both rebels against, and replicates, his father’s values: Parson Martin passes on his love of nature, reading, and writing to his son Dan; but the parson's distance and lack of emotion with Dan also carry over into how Dan treats his daughter Caro (147-8)
  • Fowles sets up an interplay between the values that Dan adheres to, and those that others adhere to (163)
  • Conflicting tendencies in Dan’s emerging identity: between masking and self-absorption, on one hand, and his compassion and authenticity, on the other (166)
  • Dan’s varied roles as rhetor, seducer, teacher, and preacher (202-3)
  • Hollowness and barrenness versus authenticity and “whole sight” (209)
  • The long arc of Jane’s relation to the French author Rabelais: from permissiveness and narcissism to love and consideration (214-5)
  • The interests, motives, and rituals of rural people versus urban ones.
  • The oppositions found in England’s class structure: middle to upper class (Dan’s ascent), educated yeoman (the Reeds), working-class aspiring (Nancy Reed and her husband), and landed gentry (Andrew Randall) (222-3)
  • Dan’s Devon roots versus his alienation from his roots (235)

Sample quotations:
An irony facing the reader is the structure of Daniel Martin. At the same time the novel affirms the importance of the real and the true, it does so within a meta-fictional framework etched with deception and masking. Readers discover that the novel Dan speaks of planning to write is the one that they have just read. Encountering this sense of the hidden in Daniel Martin, Peter Wolfe in John Fowles, Magus and Moralist says Fowles “spreads his cards on the table in such a way that he sometimes hides the table itself.” (62-3)

The complexity of the novel lends itself to the ambiguity resulting from the juxtaposition of truth as a value against the reoccurrences of deception (pretense, masks, illusion, acting, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and betrayal). (63)

In many ways the binary opposition of reality (honesty, truth, genuineness) and the unreal (deception, role playing, illusion) is the major theme treated in Daniel Martin. (78)

Daniel Martin is able to become a more honest person when he can distinguish between the superficial and the real, which is another way of describing his ability to move towards whole sight. Yet another dimension of the importance of the deception-truth theme relates to the creative process of Daniel Martin and John Fowles. (78-9)

[On Fowles’s theme of the few versus the many:] Ironically, while Daniel Martin and his generation are intellectually superior, they abdicate their responsibility to the masses by focusing upon materialism and the glamour of images. (81)

Fowles also asserts in The Aristos that “most of the achievements, most of the great steps forward have come from individuals--whether they be scientific or artistic geniuses, saints, revolutionaries, what you will” (9). In essence, it is those individuals who stand apart from the group who qualify as unique. Individuals as diverse as St. Paul, Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Albert Einstein, George Washington Carver, Pablo Picasso, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the array of names appearing in Daniel Martin’s taxonomy of allusions belong in the category of uniqueness. Uniqueness, explains Perelman, enjoys prestige and that which enjoys prestige has the potential to gain adherence. (81-2)

To become Jane’s friend is to lead her into a meaningful life. The reality, of course, is that Dan cannot help Jane find herself without being transformed himself. (89)

As Dianne Vipond reveals in an interview with Fowles in “An Unholy Inquisition,” whole sight is a matter of “process and product.” Fowles concurs by noting it is to know oneself. (90)

. . . a paradox within the development of the novel: Dan embraces the virtues of believers while feeling the need to attack the system which provides structure for their beliefs just as he attacks his father’s faith but memorized and sang various hymns of his father’s faith. (125-6)

It is through the writing of Daniel Martin about Miriam and Marjory that Dan is able to see that he had received “a lasting lesson on the limitations of my class, my education, and my kind.” As Dan progresses towards whole sight, he lessens the negative influence of the middle class upon him by becoming more honest, a value for which the novel seeks adherence. (200)

As an artist, Daniel Martin is rhetor, seducer, teacher, and preacher, and all roles are interrelated in the development of Daniel Martin. (202)

. . . That is, he uses the opening sentence as a claim that he intends to support during the development of Daniel Martin. Included among the issues treated either explicitly or implicitly are the following: (a) the relationship between inauthenticity and outcomes; (b) the relationship of the novel to life; and (c) the relationship between methodology and meaning. (203)

In addition to addressing the matter of the past, the Gramsci selections highlight Dan’s concern with freedom. Individuals may gain freedom within the confines of society by choosing not to be passive. Even when the individual and society are defined by contradictions, the decision to act is a freeing agent. Because Dan chooses to act, he can be transformed from inauthenticity to genuineness and from narcissism to altruism. Freedom as a consequence of Dan’s decision to confront his past is likewise evident in his movement from scriptwriting to novel writing and severing his romantic relationship with Jenny and renewing his ties with Jane. As artist-preacher-rhetor, Dan wants the reader to value action. (208)

. . . the first person point of view captures what Dan does and has done. In contrast, the third person point of view represents Dan’s desire to be objective about his life. The third person gives Dan the distance to function as a more discerning reader of his own life. (210)

Self-knowledge gained through self-examination becomes Dan’s means to escape the prison of his generation defined by glitter, unreality, and masking. (210)

Thus, Dan’s willingness to write a novel in which he critiques his contemporaries and societal norms is a positive commentary in contrast to the Anthonys and Dillons of his generation who succumb to physical and/or some degree of spiritual death. (210)

[On the novel’s system of cultural allusions:] The presence of the allusions has at least three functions. For one, their diversity and number call attention to the targeted audience Fowles is writing to influence. Daniel Martin is not for “huge crowds;” it is mainly for the university educated. Daniel Martin is also for the reader willing to share Fowles’s valuing of the unanswered and the ambiguous. He writes for those who are willing to participate, for those who are willing to use their imagination. (211)

Dan uses allusions to contribute to the meaning of his text whether it is Minnesota Fats from popular culture or Laius from Greek tragedy. At the same time . . . they also offer myriad opportunities for what Bakhtin defines as the dialogic. Each allusion has its own voice and each allusion has the potential to motivate readers to generate their own meaning. (212)

[A quotation from Thomas Foster, Understanding John Fowles:] “To be sure, Daniel Martin represents a greater involvement with realism than Fowles’s earlier work. Yet one must never forget that it is also a work of metafiction” (Foster, 124-5). (213)

As narrator, protagonist, and writer, Daniel Martin has certainly used his metafictional novel to alter the voices of others to fulfill the design of his creative process. Even though Dan may have altered voices in his text, how these voices shape dialectic within the novel and how readers interpret the voices reveal what Dan “might not have anticipated or acknowledged.” Ultimately, the tension resulting from the
dialectic of Dan’s voice with those of other voices help shape the value system for which the novel seeks adherence. (220)

. . . The opening pastoral scene also records Dan’s recognition of mutability as an element of reality. Analyzing the opening chapter establishes Daniel Martin, who, in spite of his ties to the folk, is in the early stage of becoming alienated from his roots. While the cause for isolation in chapter one is linguistic, other causes emerge in the development of the novel as they relate to making bad decisions and settling for a life of illusion. (235)

- - - - - - - - - -

Whitehead suggests that some polarities aren’t as well integrated in Daniel Martin. She is among several feminist critics who find an imbalance in the novel’s gender dynamics (170-85). She notes the discrepancy in treatment among the novel’s various actresses (Jenny, Miriam and Marjory, the "British Open"); she finds the characterization of some single women "unflattering"; and she sees unfair advantage given to Dan over Jane, and to Abe over Mildred. On this last point she writes,
Ironically, Jane’s serving as Dan’s muse empowers Dan as an artist and subjugates her voice to his. Similarly the characterization of Mildred depicts her willingness to sacrifice self in order to preserve her marriage with Abe as well as her efforts to enable her husband to maintain his public persona as charmer and entertaining conversationalist. (174-5)

Whitehead also has qualms about the pattern of discontent among the novel’s childless women: Andrea, Dan’s Polish mistress; Phoebe, Dan’s housekeeper at Thorncombe; and Marcia Hooper, the American wife on the Nile cruise. (170-2)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Jan 20, 2011 7:40 pm


Karen Sitton
1982 San Diego State University dissertation, John Fowles: Novelist and Naturalist
Chapter V: “Daniel Martin as Nature Novel”
(Page numbers refer to Sitton’s text, not Fowles’s)

Paired opposites:
  • Darwinian theme of determinism versus free will, also found in Thomas Hardy’s novels (77-8)
  • aristoi versus hoi polloi, “based upon the existence of an irrefutable biological inequality over which we have no control” (78)
  • Hardy’s pessimism and determinism versus Fowles’s humanism and evolutionary meliorism (78)
  • Dan’s middle-aged tendencies toward self-negation and self-avoidance versus his evolution toward self-intelligence, “whole sight,” and responsibility (78-9)
  • The inadequacies versus the potentialities of twentieth-century man (79)
  • Jane’s tendency toward self-sacrifice versus Dan’s toward narcissism and selfishness (80)
  • In the first chapter, “The Harvest”: the third-person narrative view of a rural picture of harvest time versus the abrupt entrance of a first-person voice at the end to acquaint us more personally with Dan (83)
  • In the second chapter, “Games”: Dan in a Los Angeles apartment discussing his ill-wrought present with Jenny versus the phone call from Oxford summoning him out of this present and back to his past in England (83-4)
  • The ethologist (animal observation) stance that Dan’s narration takes reveals a kinship between human nature and natural history (85)
  • In the first chapter, “The Harvest”: Dan’s initial immersion in labor and the Devon community versus his self-conscious, retrospective solitude at the end of the chapter (88)
  • Nature as found in Tsankawi, Tarquinia, and Thorncombe versus the lack of nature and of naturalness found in Hollywood (92)
  • The tension between Dan and Tsankawi: Dan strives to achieve in his life and art the “perfect balance . . . poised between heaven and earth” that he attributes to Tsankawi (93)
  • Palmyra as both endpoint and beginning point, both desolation and restoration (96)
  • Jane’s dark intuitive feminine side versus Dan’s stasis, nostalgia, and reason (98-9)
  • Nancy Reed in adolescence versus Nancy Reed in adulthood—a contrast witnessed in her changing attitude toward nature (102)
  • Dan’s interest in nature versus Anthony’s interest in nature (103-5)
  • In the chapter “Aftermath,” on the day of the Woman in the Reeds, Jane’s determination to force scales from Dan’s eyes versus her emotional nakedness with him (113)

Sample quotations:

. . . Fowles’s humanism, while it upholds a strong hope for the future of man, requires that man take action and exercise responsibility. His protagonists resemble Hardy’s only until they begin to challenge and take action against some of the personal and societal restraints over which they can assert some control. (78)

Because of Jane’s socialist concerns, Dan begins to grow more socially conscious, while Dan’s selfishness, in a sense, triggers Jane’s own realization of self. In addition, Jane’s intuition, which [D. H.] Lawrence would call the “dark forces of the inner self,” is brought to a harmonious relation with the rational intellect of Dan. In essence, Dan and Jane create a balance with each other—without a strong sense of Self, one cannot achieve a strong sense of Other. (80)

Thematically, Hardy, Lawrence, and Fowles are all concerned with the achievement of balance—whether it be between man and nature, between man and woman, between generations, between instinct and intellect, or between past, present, and future. All of these polarities form the basic tensions of Daniel Martin, and of life itself, according to Fowles. It is important to note, though, that a total balance can never be achieved . . . (81)

Even though the structure is disjointed and moves back and forth in time, it is a unified and circular whole. In the last sentence of the novel, Dan implies that the last sentence of the novel he says he will never write is the same one that begins Daniel Martin: “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.” The central theme of the novel has been the evolution toward “whole sight,” and the structure emphasizes that Dan himself has been a disjointed being. It is only after he sees that wholeness is possible and a matter of choice that his life can finally flow continuously, as the narrative flows in the last eleven chapters. (84-5)

From the Conclusion:
Nature’s role in Fowles’s plot structures is also apparent as the often loosely constructed, digressionary plots and open endings reflect the fluctuating qualities of nature’s own patterns. Similarly, Fowles’s points of view are often those of a naturalist as he awakens all of our senses with his own keen vision and open ears. The bird’s eye view, for which Hardy was known, is an integrating vision for wholeness in Fowles as well. It is also the variety and constant oscillations of point of view in several of Fowles’s works that serve as a reflection of nature’s own variety and oscillations. (116-7)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Apr 04, 2011 4:57 pm


In this posting I offer a synopsis of scholarship by Peter Casagrande, Irene Gersten, James Gindin, and David Leon Higdon.

Peter Casagrande
Hardy’s Influence on the Modern Novel (1987)
Chapter 5: “‘The Immortal Puzzle’: Hardy and John Fowles”
(Page numbers refer to Casagrande’s text.)

Paired opposites:
  • Daniel’s philandering versus his return to Jane
  • Dan’s involvement in expediencies of commercial filmwriting versus his turn toward the serious human concerns of novel writing
  • Fowles’s acceptance of Thomas Hardy’s influence versus his rejection of Hardy’s tragic sense of things
  • Dan’s departure from, versus his attempt to return to, his rural beginnings
  • As narrator, Dan’s “retrospective and detached third-person voice” versus his “confiding first-person voice”
  • Dan before he hears Anthony’s dying plea versus Dan after he hears Anthony’s plea

Selected quotations:

Daniel Martin is the story of the return of a native, the story of Daniel’s return from Hollywood and the film world to Devon and the world of his rural past; to Jane, his first love; and to his true calling as a writer. (162)

. . . Dan moves from Hollywood and London . . . toward Thorncombe, reconciliation with his past, a new beginning with Jane, and a renewed commitment to art. Dan’s movement is toward renewal as surely as [Hardy’s heroine] Tess’s is toward obliteration and death. Fowles imitates Hardy only up to a point; then he swerves decisively from the tragic view of things presented by his precursor. (167)

In its international setting (England, America, Egypt, Syria), in its concern with international politics, in its complex narrative method (the interwoven narratives of Dan and Jenny; the sudden shifts, sometimes in the same sentence, between first and third-person narration), and especially in its final optimism about Daniel’s ability to return, restore and make amends, Daniel Martin is a distinct departure from Hardy and his local settings, third-person narrators, and gloomy insistence that there is no going home again, no restoring things past, no making amends for old errors or offences. Fowles is as wedded, one might say, to a belief in the regenerative nature of things as Hardy was to a belief in deteriorism. (169)

On the novel’s concluding encounter between Dan and a late self-portrait by Rembrandt:
This strategically placed glance at Rembrandt, in its emphasis on the artist’s self-knowledge, on free will and the possibility of remedy, seems a dismissal of the Thomas Hardy who casts so long a shadow over Fowles’s narrative and an act of homage to a rival master. (170)

. . . Fowels’s autobiographical hero’s turn at the end of Daniel Martin to the heartening Rembrandt self-portrait and to his own self-portrait-in-progress is implicitly a turn-away from the element of self-defeat in [Hardy’s novel] The Well-Beloved. It signals a vital new beginning in a humanism growing out of belief in an artist’s ability to descend within himself and find there ever-fresh terms of expression and appeal. For reasons of temperament, education and experience, Fowles refused to follow Hardy in the latter’s pessimism. But he is not less in Hardy’s debt for this, for Fowles has been led by Hardy into writing in the autobiographical Daniel Martin his most ambitious work of fiction to date . . .. (172)

Irene Gersten
1980 SUNY Binghamton dissertation, Captivity and Freedom in Four Novels by John Fowles
Chapter V: “Daniel Martin”
(Page numbers refer to Gersten’s text.)

Paired opposites:

  • Philosophical constraint versus “the redeeming power of a perspective based on knowledge of whole self”
  • An imagined “bonne vaux” or ideal world versus a world defined by encroachment from the reality principle
  • Jane’s utter surrender to self (as when she sleeps with Dan) versus her utter denial of self (as when she marries Anthony and converts to Catholicism)

Selected quotations:

Regarding World War II and the burden of history it represents for Dan and his generation:
Dan, the most mature, aware and perceptive of all Fowles’s protagonists, has full cognizance of the weight these historical imperatives carry, of their seeming inevitable encroachments on human liberty and the absurd context they impose on man’s strivings for dignity and meaning. Thus, the social, psychological and moral questions which Fowles raises indirectly in his first three novels [The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman] coalesce dramatically in Daniel Martin and become interweaving strands of the novel’s central dilemma. (186)

As the novel he writes grows, out of the fullness of his self and from a striving for a totality of consciousness that integrates past implication with present reality and future potentiality, Daniel Martin thoroughly reverses Dan’s original assumption about the role which loss plays in the creative process and suggests, instead, that the artistic and personal sense of unity he seeks lies more in the real world than in any—no matter how inventively or ingeniously contrived—island of entranced time. (196-7) . . . But while Fowles’ first three protagonists find the consciousness they need to assert their independence through a movement which takes them from the real world into imagined worlds and initiates them into the mysterious potency of imagination, Dan, who feels similarly as if he “had been taken over by someone else. Years ago.” (DM, 14) discovers the perspective he needs to achieve authenticity by moving away from his imagined world and back into the real world where, “unbelievably, as in a fiction, the door in the wall opens” to show him the lush abundance of life itself (DM, 18). (197)

. . . Dan’s encounters with his past life confronts him with those aspects of his character which constrain his perspective and prevent him from realizing the potential of his freedom: the underlying fear of judgment which leads him to evade personal responsibility by constructing elaborate philosophical and artistic defenses. (198-99)

Dan’s encounters [after his return to Oxford] also trigger countless other memories: his unhappy marriage to Nell, his regrettably shabby treatment of his Aunt Millie, his passionate trysts with Nancy, his mixed feelings for his father, the union he once felt with Anthony and Jane, his early success in the theater, his sexual misconduct—in essence, the whole of his buried life. As these memories awaken and mingle with his present experiences, they refocus and broaden Dan’s perspective and allow him to reevaluate and redress his habitual philosophical and aesthetic assumptions. (200)

. . . Fowles’s fourth and most complex study of captivity and freedom suggests that the highest form of freedom lies, not in rejecting the significance which history imposes on us, but in embracing the interior power of all that has brought us to where we are, and building from it, out of a whole knowledge of who we are and the world we live in. (207)

James Gindin
“Three British Novels and an American Response,” Michigan Quarterly Review 17 (1978): 223-46.
(Page numbers refer to Gindin’s text.)

Gindin’s essay considers Daniel Martin among other “intelligent and ambitious novels” by English writers, including Rosamond Lehmann’s A Sea-Grape Tree (1976) and Margaret Drabble’s The Ice Age (1977). “All are novels of overflow,” Gindin writes, “novels that break their own structures in one way or another . . .” (246). In Gindin’s view, Fowles’s flaws as an author include pretense, insularity, and excessive fondness for his characters; still, he welcomes Daniel Martin and the Lehmann and Drabble novels as being “a fiction of personal and social particularities, a fiction within which one can live, relate, and react . . ..” (246).

Paired opposites:

  • Daniel’s telling his own story versus Fowles’s telling Daniel’s story; first-person versus third-person narration; narrative immediacy versus narrative distance
  • Anthony (who embodies “looking at”) versus Dan (who embodies “looking for”)
  • True compassion and will versus the easy evasions of guilt and loss characterizing much of Daniel and his world

Selected quotations:

For the most part, Fowles’s narrative method shifts effectively between the first person and the third, between Daniel telling his own story and the author telling Daniel’s, a means of enabling the author to treat his character with both immediacy and distance, to slide the focus close-in and move it back. (240)

. . . time and generation are not the only co-ordinates of a recoverable past; class and other experience are important as well.

When Daniel and Jane are in Egypt . . . their version of the historical past expands. Instructed by a German professor, learning about concepts of “soul” and of “time” that are different from those that have permeated Western thought since the time of the Greeks, they realize how limited their own versions of historical past have been, how much more and how much other they need to understand what the world is and what they are. History is always both a projection of the self, as the only way to know and feel anything, and a recognition of otherness, of difference. Fowles demonstrated the same process of understanding history in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, but, there, the area was much more limited in both space and time, almost all confined to England (a few minor leaps to France and America) and all held to a single century. In Daniel Martin, in contrast, the need to understand and assimilate covers much more of the world over a considerably longer time. And, to present its similarities and differences, its identities and its otherness, to write of the history that is part of us and not part of us with conviction and particularity, Fowles requires a great many words. His words, for the most part, are justified, achieve history, and avoid the sense of generalization as gesture or as abstract exaggeration that characterizes some of Margaret Drabble’s metaphors in The Ice Age. (242-3)

David Leon Higdon
Shadows of the Past in Contemporary British Fiction, 1985
Chapter 11: “John Fowles: Daniel Martin, ‘this re-entry into the past’”

Paired opposites:

  • Personality continuity versus discontinuity
  • Dan’s professional choice: film versus novel
  • The past versus the present
  • The novel’s contrast between Tarquinia, New Mexico, and Karnak, Egypt
  • Technological advances today versus continued dependence on our environment
  • The extraordinary beauty of Tsankawi versus the monomania, egotism, and barbarism behind the ancient Egyptian sites along the Nile
  • Parallel physical and psychological journeys in the novel
  • Bernard Dillon (jaundiced media man) and Andrew Randall (turning his back on the future) as twin foils to Dan
  • The Nile as a journey both up (physically) and backward (in time)
  • The relationship between a bound man and a free woman in Fowles’s novels

Selected quotations:

. . . the Antonio Gramsci epigraph to the novel pinpoints the concept of crisis and needful transition in the best tradition of abstracting or generalizing epigraphs: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.’ The first half of the novel concentrates on the ‘morbid symptoms,’ detailing fully, within the boundaries of a host of juxtaposed opposites (rural—urban, mythic—personal, whole—fragmented, English--American, age—youth, male—female, past—present, freedom—determinism, ka—ba, critic—creator, film—novel, summer—winter, etc.), Dan’s growing awareness of failure, his dissatisfaction with the life he has created for himself, and his emerging discontent with his profession. Charles Smithson, the protagonist of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, faced a similar moment of crisis played out in terms of conflicting dualities, but in Daniel Martin, the context has become denser and more complex in that the crisis has become personal and cultural and the novel explores, with considerable amplitude, whether the juxtaposed forces may or may not be reconciled. (170)

Higdon’s central question:
Is personality continuous or discontinuous? (171)

Higdon discusses these two opposing tendencies in twentieth century fiction, as suggested by Friedrich Nietzsche and John Locke (arguing for personality continuity), and Jean-Paul Sartre and David Hume (arguing for personality discontinuity). (171-2)

John Fowles’ novel stands at the cross roads, dispassionately looking both ways before deciding to accept or to reject either principle. (173)

Higdon devotes much of the essay to analyzing how Fowles develops this continuity/discontinuity tension in both psychological and artistic ways.

With the ground thus cleared, both by rejection of the present self and excavation and re-evaluation of the past self, Dan is ready to begin to shape his future self. At this point, the novel flags for many readers. All of Fowles’ novels to date involve a relationship between a bound man and a free woman, electric in its intensity, crackling with implications, sparking complex ideas and mysteries. . . . Rescuing Jane becomes symbolic of rescuing that essential self or part of self eclipsed in Dan in his present life and restoring this self to wholeness, once again an echo of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. (185)

Although one may entertain doubts as to the total success of Daniel Martin, one must admire Fowles for the risks he takes. He holds nothing back, but rather offers his entire talent in technical, structural, and thematic risks which, if successful, invigorate his novel and echo outwards into life. Indeed, Fowles’ willingness to confront the complexities of a man and a culture mediating the uses of their past grants Daniel Martin a daring profundity and establishes it as a key work in any consideration of the English novel’s engagement with the past. (186)

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:57 pm


Which is the higher function of art--to engage people or to challenge them? To absorb them in an account of “life as it is,” or to provoke them to see life differently?

In the first form, often called “naturalism” or “realism,” the story takes precedence over how it’s told. Writers such as Fielding, Balzac, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and George Eliot epitomize this form. In the second form, termed “reflexive,” how the story is told has more significance. This is epitomized in Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy, John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, John Fowles’s Mantissa, and works by Donald Barthelme. In the naturalist mode it’s easier to “lose oneself” in the story as it unfolds; in the reflexive mode the reader needs to be more actively involved—figuring things out, making assessments, “decoding” the story.

Before asking whether these two forms can be integrated, it’s worth exploring them separately. To do this I look at Daniel Martin in relation to two writers: Fowles critic Robert Huffaker, advocate of the naturalist or realist approach; and avant-garde novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, advocate of the reflexive approach.


1. Huffaker and naturalism.

In John Fowles: Naturalist of Lyme Regis (2010), the scholar Robert Huffaker argues that
John Fowles is a naturalist, in both his life and his writings. . . . To say that Fowles loves “nature” and the “outdoors” is accurate but not quite sufficient; biology concerns life as it is, and such realistic consciousness animates both Fowles and his art, both intellectually and emotionally.

The term “naturalist” has several meanings; Huffaker uses the term to denote Fowles’s passion for nature and his literary investment in realism. You might ask, how can an author who disrupts his own fictional illusions (as in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, chap. 13, and elsewhere), or leaves his endings open (as in The Magus, FLW, and “The Cloud” in The Ebony Tower), qualify as a realist? Scholars such as Huffaker, Günther Klotz, and Carol Richer have argued that such open-ended, disruptive, and self-reflexive elements actually widen the frame of realism in which Fowles works. They contend that he has expanded realism, not discarded it. A key passage to support their case appears in chapter 13 of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the narrator, having revealed that the story he’s telling is “all imagination,” asks whether he has “disgracefully broken the illusion.” He answers: “No. My characters still exist, and in a reality no less, or no more, real than the one I have just broken . . . I find this new reality (or unreality) more valid . . ..”

However, Huffaker sees a different dynamic at work in Daniel Martin--a shift away from the disruptive and open-ended tendencies Fowles displayed in his earlier novels. Huffaker describes the result as “a more natural, less artificial kind of fiction” (19). In this passage, Huffaker selects several elements of Daniel Martin that he sees as reminiscent of an “all-inclusive” form of French naturalism employed by Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola:

The narrator takes all the time he needs to tell his life’s story, but more discussing than acting takes place in the novel. The book’s only murder is unsolved, the corpse unidentified; upstairs footsteps never descend; stones are thrown by the unseen; a car outside is heard to hesitate, then drive away. Much that might have happened, does not. Fowles has kept nearly all of the little violence offstage, and his characters react to its aftermath undemonstratively. Fowles is far too conscious of his craft to have written such a long, slow book without having intended to do precisely that. Throughout his writing career, critics had praised his mastery as teller of stories, manipulator of readers; chucking that advantage for a no-tricks, naturalistic novel was a choice which demanded courage, like fighting with one hand tied.

I concur with Huffaker that writing Daniel Martin demanded courage, and that it reflects a high degree of its author’s will and intention; however, I differ with him on other points. I think more is at stake in the elements listed above than Huffaker’s analysis allows.


2. “Unsolved” and “unidentified” elements in Daniel Martin.

To show what’s missing from Huffaker’s analysis, I first want to clarify which elements he alludes to in the above quotation:

  • The unidentified corpse is from the Woman in the Reeds episode, referred to in chapters 3, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 37. The woman’s identity is never revealed, and the mystery about her is dispatched in a mere five-word parenthetical phrase while the narrator is focused on other matters (109).

  • The “upstairs footsteps that don’t descend” occur twice: first they belong to Barney Dillon, Dan’s upstairs housemate at Oxford. He comes home while Dan and Jane are engaged in lovemaking; hearing him, they’re terrified that he’ll barge in and catch them together (96). Daniel recalls this moment nearly 25 years later, when another pair of upstairs footsteps, belonging to Jane’s French au pair Gisèle, are heard on the night that Jane and Dan learn of Anthony’s suicide (213).

  • The “stones thrown by the unseen” are aimed at a teenaged Dan, in the Nancy Reed chapter “Phillida”; the person throwing them is probably Bill Hannacott, Dan’s rival for Nancy’s affections (396-7).

  • A hesitating outside car is first heard during the same night that Jane and Dan learn of Anthony’s suicide (215). The narrator recalls this moment when another outside car is heard a week or so later, this time in the lane outside Dan’s Thorncombe house, while he and Jane have an evening fireside discussion (416).

Huffaker affirms that Fowles is too skilled for these elements merely to be haphazard. Still, his rationale for their inclusion is that the narrator “takes all the time he needs to tell his life’s story.” This rationale seems thin to me: not compelling enough to sustain the novel’s length, nor to justify the recurring elements like the upstairs footsteps and the hesitating car outside. As I see it, a deeper principle is at work.


3. Untraditional causality: links between Fowles, Proust, and Robbe-Grillet.

In Daniel Martin, seeming “non-events” like the recurring footsteps and hesitating cars suggest Fowles is exploring new links between memory and the subconscious. Like Marcel Proust before him, Fowles knew that mental impressions, and links across time, often are forged through such apparently incidental events. (See my “Forays into the unconscious” topic thread, and the Proust file I developed in the “Emotional equivalent of ‘whole sight’” topic thread.)

This tendency is found not only in Proust and Fowles but also in the French novelist and theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet. In fact, the very list of “non-events” that Huffaker finds in Daniel Martin reads almost like a plot summary of a Robbe-Grillet novel. Robbe-Grillet’s novels take free-floating elements--unidentified corpses, unsolved crimes, footsteps leading nowhere—and surrounds them in an aura of the unknown and the enigmatic. In critic Ilona Leki’s summary, the plots of Robbe-Grillet’s first several novels involve “a detective story with no crime, a sex/murder story with no sex or murder, a love story with no narrator/lover, then the story of the writing of a story.” Here’s a thumbnail account of three of Robbe-Grillet’s novels:

  • In Le Voyeur, a young girl’s body is found, but the actual crime is never depicted, and it’s unclear whether the main character is a killer or only contemplating homicide.
  • La Jalousie involves a love triangle narrated by a man whose report of events involving his wife and a neighbor blur the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity.
  • In Dans le Labyrinthe, the various narrators and perspectives produce an unsettling, never-fully-stable reading experience analogous to the title.
Amid such ambiguities in Robbe-Grillet’s fiction, readers need to make their own assessments as to what’s critical and what’s peripheral, and what’s real and what’s illusory.

Textual evidence shows that Fowles not only read Robbe-Grillet’s work but took his literary experiments seriously. (See the reference to Robbe-Grillet and “aleatory novelists” in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, chap. 13; see also my exploration of Robbe-Grillet in the May 2, 2011, entry on the “Story of Existence” discussion thread.) Indeed, when Fowles ends the chapter “Petard” with the single-word paragraph “Cut” (132), he appears to be consciously borrowing the idea from Robbe-Grillet, who had ended each of the concluding paragraphs of his novel “Pour une révolution à New York” with the single-word sentence “Cut.”

Both Fowles and Robbe-Grillet promoted a reflexive style designed to bring readers more actively into the story-making process than naturalism permitted on its own. A key difference between them is that Robbe-Grillet omitted the pleasures of naturalism, at least in his early novels, whereas Fowles included them in abundance.


4. Fowles’s synthesis.

In Daniel Martin Fowles synthesizes Huffaker-style naturalism and Robbe-Grillet-style reflexivity. This is notable in the first quarter of the novel, for instance, where individual chapters are anchored in naturalism, but the shifts of narrator, period, and style made between chapters requires reflexive input from readers.

As Huffaker and others point out, Fowles uses fewer reflexive elements in the final quarter of the novel, as the story turns to Egypt and Syria. Susana Onega notes that Dan’s reflections in “In the Orchard of the Blessed” (432), and his artistic decision to commit to “the real,” marks a transition into the stabilized authorial stance of the last 11 chapters.

Even so, one could argue that reflexivity continues in a different key in these chapters: Dan and Jane engage in heightened reflection on their lives, and the narrative deepens in its reflections on time and civilization.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Fri May 25, 2012 3:23 pm


Fowles depicts time in subtle and innovative ways, as scholars such as H. W. Fawkner, Sue Park, David Higdon, Patricia Beatty, and Simon Loveday have shown. Higdon calls Fowles’s fiction “polytemporal,” marking a movement “through layers of time, sensing in terms of depth, not sequence.” In his book-length work The Timescapes of John Fowles, Fawkner speaks of a “confluence of temporalities” in Daniel Martin, among which he includes

the present progressive of the film versus the present eternal of the novel; the temporal escape of America into a fictive future versus the temporal escape of England into a fictive past; Dan’s consciousness of self through contemplation of the past versus Jane’s consciousness of society through contemplation of the future. (47)

These aspects can be added to the list of integrated opposites I’ve gathered while exploring Daniel Martin’s quest for whole sight. I’m especially interested in the tension between time and timelessness--or what might be called “in the moment” versus “beyond the moment.” I’ll focus on this dynamic in the next few postings. I begin by looking at Dan’s encounter with the Rembrandt painting in the novel’s final scene.

I. The timeless vs. the split second.

Dan encountering Rembrandt.

In the novel’s closing scene, Dan describes visiting the museum at Kenwood House, in Hampstead, London, and seeing the collection’s Rembrandt self-portrait, dated 1661.

(Here’s a link to the painting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_van_rijn-self_portrait.jpg)

He describes the painting as “timeless,” and yet he records his reactions to it in a surprisingly time-specific, in-the-moment, even split-second way:

Dan felt dwarfed, in his century, his personal being, his own art. The great picture seemed to denounce, almost to repel. Yet it lived, it was timeless, it spoke very directly, said all he had never managed to say and would never manage to say—even though, with the abruptness of that dash, he had hardly thought this before he saw himself saying the thought to the woman who would be waiting for him on the platform at Oxford that evening . . . (672).

As depicted here, Rembrandt and his painting are beyond the moment, having stood the test of time in the standards applied to artists and their work. Dan’s response, however, is depicted in the moment. The narration gives an account of the complex sequence of impressions occurring in his mind, like various facets vying for ascendancy:

  • what Dan knows about Rembrandt
  • what Rembrandt’s artistry means for Dan (as one among many living in the 20th century, as an individual, and as an itinerant novelist)
  • Dan’s sense of being denounced, even repelled, by the Rembrandt painting
  • Dan’s sense of belatedness before the painting, of having nothing more to say as an artist, since Rembrandt has already said it better than he could have said it, or ever will be able to say it
  • Dan’s consoling sense that at least he can tell Jane about all of this later, on his return to Oxford

At a basic level, this passage merges the widest and narrowest ways of perceiving time: the Rembrandt is time-liberated; Dan is time-bound. And yet it is not a simple pairing of opposites: looking more closely at the Kenwood scene, we notice time-bound aspects of Rembrandt and his portrait (the physical and emotional frailty of the old man, and the “uncomfortable” historical fate of his painting); we also see an extended-timeline glimpse of Dan’s life as a writer (“all he had never managed to say and would never manage to say”). This may seem to deflate Dan’s life as a writer by casting it negatively, in terms of what it doesn’t achieve. However, this belies the more catalytic function of the Kenwood sequence: it serves as an artistic infusion bringing Dan a critical step closer to what he is about to achieve in his proposed novel.

If that’s true—and I think most readers would agree that it is—why does Fowles use the word “never” four times in the book’s last four paragraphs, each usage seeming to cancel out the possibility of Dan’s novel being written or read?

II. Paradoxical use of the term “never.”

Fowles is asking us to transform our sense of the word “never.”

The Rembrandt encounter heightens Dan’s intuition about what he will “never” write (672). It’s as if his unrealized aspirations are demolished, his sense of artistic authority canceled out, before the achieved aspiration and authority of the painting. That is Dan’s subjective response to the painting in the moments he stands in front of it.

However, in an earlier passage Dan says to Caro, “You create out of what you lack. Not what you have” (285). Later, one night at Aswan, Egypt, he also records the feeling of “having a deep feeling for an art, but no creative talent for it; what one felt occasionally before great composers and executants in music, great painters . . .” (590). At that moment he has a sharp sense of the “terror of the task”; despite his hopes of writing a novel, he judges that “He could never do it” (590). Then he shifts perspectives, and suggests that anyone who lacks this “can never do it” feeling has no business being an artist. This apparent paradox will make sense to anyone who has ever felt the impossibility of a great undertaking, and then gone ahead and done it anyway.

One could say that Daniel Martin flows out of the heartbreak and desolation Dan feels while encountering the great painter Rembrandt.

In the novel’s final sentence, we as readers may get an inkling of what Dan feels in front of the Rembrandt. Having reached the end of the novel, we may measure the distance between our own half-conceived aspirations and this completed work of art, and feel intimidated or discouraged. We may feel the equivalent of what Dan feels about his novel--that he’s “never going to write” it, that it “may never be read, lies eternally in the future” (673). Yet I’d argue that the passage is less about how to feel intimidation and discouragement than about how to recover from it.

Robert Huffaker has a different take on the “never-written novel” question. In his 1980 monograph John Fowles, Huffaker interprets this phrase as a three-part paradox concerning past, present, and future:

The greatest irony lies in that ‘never,’ because in one sense he wrote this one; in another he is writing it; in another he will write it. (43)

The sentence as Fowles wrote and contextualized it is evocative enough to support both Huffaker’s reading and the one I’m pursuing here. In my reading, “never” is both a terrifying void and a reservoir of creativity; both a forbidding sentry and a magical portal of entry.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:07 pm


III. Discerning what is timeless from what is not.

How do we distinguish what is durable or lasting, even timeless, from what is passing or ephemeral? In Daniel Martin Fowles looks at this issue from several angles.

Dan clearly regards the Rembrandt self-portrait he encounters in the novel’s final scene as timeless, and readers are cued to share his opinion, just as they are cued to accept certain of his earlier judgments about durability:
  • that Gustave Flaubert’s “masterpiece” Un Coeur Simple defines a certain kind of sanctity “for all time” (89);
  • that Aunt Millie’s forgiveness “outreached all time and space” (89);
  • and that Tsankawi “defeated time, all deaths. Its deserted silence was like a sustained high note, unconquerable” (346).
These are presented as summary judgments, moments when Dan uses his narrative authority to go out on a limb for a person, artifact, or place.

However, he also uses more exploratory ways of determining whether something is durable or timeless. Here are three examples involving Jane, Anthony, and Dan:

  • Jane and Rabelais.
    As an Oxford student in 1950, Jane is enamored of the French author François Rabelais. She says, “There are passages . . . you suddenly feel he’s the only sane human being who ever lived” (58). She latches on to the phrase, “Fais ce que voudras” (“Do what you would”) (27), and uses it to sanction her choice to make love with Dan despite her intention to marry Anthony (58). This literary touchstone lacks staying power, however, and later becomes linked in her mind with folly. In middle age she dismisses her undergraduate fondness for Rabelais as “a misunderstanding” (198). Witnessing the self-denying side of Jane in middle age, Dan asks, “Where on earth did poor old Rabelais go?” She replies, “I’m afraid he long ago lost patience with me” (425). Dan comes to regard this as “her one-time whim for the Rabelaisian dreamland where everything goes” (325). Despite the promise of “ever” in her initial judgment (“the only sane human being who ever lived”), the Rabelaisian outlook turns out to merely a “one-time whim”; for Jane, at least, it’s a kernel of would-be timeless wisdom that fails.

  • Anthony and the “eternal” verities.
    Jane’s husband Anthony also has a blind spot regarding what is timeless. With Dan, Jane describes Anthony’s “philosophical” attitude toward cancer; she uses a dismissive grimace to say that her husband is dealing with cancer by dwelling on “The eternal verities or something” (162).

    After his conversation with Anthony, Dan reports back to Jane that her husband feels “eternally grateful” (215) to her for having been able to share his life with her--given that she might so easily have chosen to share it with Dan instead. She bridles against this supposed “eternal” gratitude, calling it “kissing the cross,” and then she lashes out: “It’s all very well for him to lie on his deathbed and say he’s eternally grateful to me. It was something that didn’t get said very often in this house” (216). Thus the “eternal” aspect of Anthony’s gratitude rings hollow when judged by the standards of day-to-day reality.

    Despite his ennobling death-bed sentiments, Anthony is linked with the “eternally adolescent” aspect of academic life (188); in terms of self-awareness he’s described as “innocent as a new-born child, all his life” (214). Dan wonders whether Anthony’s values “had remained bizarrely petrified” since their student days (197). Although Anthony espouses “eternal” verities, in many regards he fails to evolve. He remains stuck at a certain point in time.

  • Dan and the “enduring accolade of history.”
    Dan regards his Oxbridge generation as “unlucky”: on the one hand, they are trained “to admire and covet the enduring accolade of history, aere perennius [more lasting than bronze] as the supreme good”; yet, on the other hand, they are “pitched willy-nilly into a world with a ubiquitous and insatiable greed for the ephemeral,” and thus they are driven to take “any transient success as a placebo” (277). As one member of this “unlucky” generation, Dan forsakes his serious theater writing for cinema, where he “makes far more money than self-esteem” (181), and produces literate scripts that are seen by millions of people . . . “And forgotten by them. The next day” (597). He judges himself as having failed to create art that lasts.

    However, we also see Dan as an artist slowly recovering from this predicament, as he reflects on his career in middle age and moves toward attempting his first novel. This recovery is accompanied by Dan’s developing sense of artistic gravitas. A few examples:

    • He reports that Tsankawi gives him “a longing for a medium that would tally better with the real structure of my racial being and mind” (352).
    • Dealing with Bernard makes Dan consider his own entanglement in the communications industry, and makes him want to put this aspect of his own life, and of the era’s as well, in historical perspective (“When the history of the period came to be written . . .,” 276).
    • Reading the Hungarian critic Georg Lukács enlarges Dan’s worldview, and fortifies his sense of “the force, the thought, the seriousness” to which great fiction aspires (534).
    To me these examples all show Dan reviving his earlier admiration for the “enduring accolade of history.”

    Corresponding to this revived concern for enduring art is Dan’s re-emerging interest in enduring relationship. Initially, Dan’s relationships seem no more enduring than the films he works on. He admits to Anthony that he has “an irredeemable liking for the impermanent” (187); his daughter Caro calls him “This mysterious person who flits in and out of my life” (283); and he comes across to Jenny as “Something in transit, hardly ever altogether with you” (32). However, in the course of the novel he comes to recognize the impact of his flightiness, and he takes steps toward a remedy. For instance, at Palmyra, Dan reveals that Caro told him what Jane had said to her, that he was “in permanent flight from his past,” and had a tendency toward leaving people behind (630). (See also 282, 285, 292, 300, 420, 504, 567.) By saying this to Jane, Dan both owns up to what he’s lost in this regard, and builds a bridge toward what might still be gained.

Daniel Martin is far from simplistic in its stance toward the durable/ephemeral opposition. At Tsankawi Dan reflects, “. . . impermanence adds a zest to experience no fixed marriage can ever achieve” (351)--yet he is unable to credit this feeling in the moment, since it is probably his last visit to the site with Jenny, and he feels sour and bitter about it. There are even moments when the durable and ephemeral seem to achieve a balance or truce. The Oxford quartet’s midnight bathe at Tarquinia, for instance:
It was a moment that had both an infinity and an evanescence—an intense closeness, yet no more durable than the tiny shimmering organisms in the water around us. (116)

Another instance occurs as Dan mentally records the image of Jane kneeling in the sand at Palmyra:
It was like a supremely bizarre cinema still, of the kind that evoke far more than the film they transiently appeared in. (654)

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