Saturday, December 27, 2008


I like the way William Golding went about writing novels, to the extent I know by inference how he went about writing novels. It seems as if he invented premises or situations that would allow him to investigate and represent human behavior in isolation and in relatively extreme situations. Indeed, he didn't limit himself exclusively to human behavior. In The Inheritors, he imagined the world of Neanderthal people more or less at the "moment" when they encountered (and just before they seem to have been overwhelmed by) humans of our particular species. This novel is The Inheritors. (Incidentally, some scientists in Europe are supposedly attempting to rebuild the genome of Neanderthal "man.")

Of course, his most famous novel, and one of the most-assigned novels in American high schools, is Lord of the Flies, the isolation-maneuver in this one being the use of an island on which adolescent males are stranded. Then there's The Spire, which is the Golding novel I happen to like the best; it describes the building of a Medieval cathedral, with all the attendant and conflicting forces of ambition, faith, greed, mystery, engineering, labor, and so on.

Pincher Martin is not my favorite, but it's still a good book, in my opinion. Golding takes extremity to its extreme. Mr. Martin is stranded on a rock, just a rock, in the ocean, and there is also some question in Pincher's mind whether Pincher exists. And what a great (first) name--reducing all of humanity to a crab-like form (if we take pincher to equal pincer). I read that novel when I was 17. It was a bit much for me at the time. --A good mind-stretcher, however.

If his novels are any guide, Golding was ambivalent, to say almost the least, about what constituted essential humanity and the extent to which something good was a part of that essence. His was a guarded view of humanity, I'd say, so I thought of him after I'd written this small, pincer-like poem.


So, to recap, we staggered out of Time,
became aware of our awareness. We
found, used, and made tools. We got
big ideas, learned to draw and build.
We refined storage, trade, war, art,
and sex. Now we are too many for
the space allotted. Our killing-tools
have outgrown war itself. We've
progressed so much that we've
regressed to the predicament of
a self-threatening species. I wonder
what's going to happen. Shall love
and sense somehow prevail? That
would be lovely, but as the "somehow"
nervously suggests, I feel obligated by
all those practical jokes I fell for early
in life to have my doubts. At the same
time, who cares about my doubts,
when the percentage of us I constitute
is too small to calculate? Carry on.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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