Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The one great drama

I've blogged before about the novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. At the time I was wrapped up in the deep empathy that was aroused for the heroes; characters of extraordinary richness. But a much grander significance has since crystallized for me.

Having re-read the book with a young book club at the Princess of Schools, I learned a couple valuable things. One is that for young people (and probably a lot of less-sophisticated adults) there is a reason that teen lit works and why great literary novels (like this) don't. Less experienced readers apparently do not automatically appreciate the normally-superior show-don't-tell style. It apparently takes time and practice to acquire the instinct to absorb clues and decipher a story. Kids books tell the story straight out. An evolution is required of the reader in order to appreciate the best literature.

Second thing I discovered (spoiler alert!):

I made the unforgivable mistake of glancing at an internet comment (the bane of human existence) on some book site, which stated "The ending of The Road sucked" or some such brilliant utterance, and I thought about the arguably lame and profoundly unlikely coincidence where the boy is almost immediately found by an adoptive family right after his father dies.

I thought about my own lessons to the young writer's group. A story ends precisely how it must end. The ending IS the story. All else is preparation.

Did The Road have to end that way?

There was only two possible ways for The Road to end in essence: One: the way it did end; mankind will survive. Two: Mankind will perish (not at all what McCormack envisioned).

In the ultimate dystopian environment; a planet earth entirely scorched; no longer capable of supporting human life, where the last tiny scattered population is ultimately cannibalistic (figuratively when not literally) there can only be this dual hope for mankind: that the terminally crippled biosphere will somehow rebound, and that at least two children (of opposing gender) will survive who are currently young enough to remain of child-bearing age when the planet is finally capable of providing new life (food) again. McCormack says none of this of course but all the clues are subtly present.

The problem that cripples humankind's slim chance of survival is human nature itself. Survival instinct arouses greed and hunger to the max. There is no formal society to divert scant remaining resources toward the above efforts. Humanity's future is sacrificed for the current needs of the individual (sound familiar?) Instinct prevails over consciousness.

The boy hero is quite likely the only potential new "Adam" - or one of very few potentials. The father is hell-bent - by love - to keep his son alive by any means necessary. He has no trust whatsoever for any other human. The boy, however, wants to trust; wants to connect to others. He was born following the holocaust - at a time when most survivors were opting for group familial suicide - as preference to being enslaved or eaten probably. The boy has never met another child in his life.

The man is instinct (though ultimately the hero). The boy is consciousness. How can the mankind-survival scenario possibly come to be? The ill father must succeed in keeping the boy alive long enough to deliver him to the new "Eden" but then must finally allow the boy to trust. The new Eden is not apparent. It is only another small family - with a young-enough girl. The father must die in order to free the trusting boy.

I feel that The Road is McCarthy's vision of how unlikely it is for the human race to survive its own killer instinct. Thus it is a happy ending and necessarily improbable.

Here's the kicker: As a society-of-two upon which mankind's survival depends, the only solution is for the hero/heroes to operate under the rule of instinct in order to survive - and then - at the precise opportunity - VERY SUDDENLY (papa's death) - begin instead to operate under the rule of consciousness.    

I feel that this is precisely our reality. The Road's nuclear holocaust scenario is the kind of condensed scenario that the art of writing requires in order to enlighten the reader. Whether that or environmental collapse (well under way obviously) or whatever else, it doesn't matter to me when I try to predict our future. The nature of life itself presents a very simple - almost mathematical problem: Killer instinct is required in every species of life in order to survive natural selection, yet killer instinct is precisely what will make the winning organism (humans) completely suicidal on a societal, not personal, scale.

The tragically slim chance for humankind to survive beyond this evolutionary adolescence is for us to VERY SUDDENLY switch to the rule of consciousness - precisely as per The Road condensation. And the opportunity is indeed now.

The amazing thing for me is that I have seen one way - and per very recent observations - possibly two ways - that a very sudden evolution of this nature is indeed possible. This is the one great drama of our star system and probably the universe. There are simple mathematical realities that preclude the existence of human-like-but-enlightened aliens elsewhere in the universe unless another form of life exists in the universe that is immune to natural selection - and I can't imagine how, when all evidence points to the recycling of energies being the essence of the universe itself.

1 comment:

nutschell said...

Sounds like an intriguing premise. I've always been curious about the movie. Maybe I'll finally watch it!