Belief, Seeking, Seeking, Finding

Mystery

“I was here and this house was here, you and I and this evening were here, and they had always been here.”

— John Fowles, The Magus

I am halfway through my second try at The Magus. Assume that until I tell you otherwise I’m still in media res, and do not spoil the end. I’m halfway through The Magus; I’m technically nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita; but I’m at the beginning of what feels like a spiritual journey — but a journey I’ve started before, with little success. One worries one starts too late in the evening to return home before dark; but maybe one isn’t supposed to return home, and maybe one shouldn’t mind the night.

The Magus cover

I read The Collector by Fowles first. If you’ve not, I’m definitely going to spoil things and your journey is your journey and maybe you don’t care about endings but maybe just this once, for this, give yourself the gift of Mystery. Anyway, any book worth reading is worth reading twice.

Magus tarot cardFowles is…I’m not sure what he is w/r/t religion. We’ll say he’s atheist until someone tells us different but please never tell me things because I am far too handsome at this point to learn. And yet, he’s deeply interested in concepts of free will and fate, of determination and destiny. Can they be reconciled? Should they? What if I finished this post in nothing but rhetoricals?

In The Collector, a man named Frederick abducts a woman named Miranda so if you were saving The Collector because it sounded like a cozy Charing Cross Road-type novel it is almost entirely the opposite except the room Miranda is kept in actually sounds pretty nice. She is ineffably beautiful to Frederick, whom she calls Ferdinand, because Fowles has read Shakespeare and wants you to know it. (He wrote it when he was 37, which is a little long in the tooth to be preening for praise with your allusions and et cetera but also notice how seamlessly I worked in a reference to Dante yes I am 46.) (Having made my jab at Fowles I want to go on record as saying the book is upsettingly perfect and you should read it and if you haven’t and you’re reading this then how dare you ignore my Very Good Advice.) While Miranda certainly despises Ferdinand for the kidnapping — as well she should — she also despises collectors in general. She sees art, in all its forms, whether manufactured or the art of nature, as communal, no more yours to do with as you want as it would be hers. Collectors keep things hidden away, or grandly allow what should be humbly proffered.

The-Collector

The main character of The Magus (I have no idea how to pronounce the title of the book, by they way, and neither do you, so don’t get those typing fingers ready to tell me. My friend Steve says it’s may-gus, which I hate. Someone else said it’s may-jus. I say maa-jus both because it doesn’t sound like maggot at all and because if it’s the plural of magi, then it should sound like magi and don’t you dare tell me how to pronounce magi either. Really: I am simply too attractive to know one more thing that I didn’t already start with) is a man named Nick and you can come to your own conclusions about him as a human being, because you were granted the gift of discernment by Hashem Himself, but if it is at all positive then I’ll need to rescind your gift because that’s my purpose on Mother Gaia. He’s entitled, much like Ferdinand in The Collector in the way both want to own women’s bodies. Though Nick is less kidnappy, that’s honestly damning him with faint praise. Nick falls under the spell of a man named Maurice (pronounced the French way, moor-reese) Conchis (with a soft, rather than hard, ch so it sounds like conscious which is clever but I only figured it out when I was saying his name aloud to my friend Steve on the 25th day of August in the Year of Our Lord, 20 and 18). Conchis lays out elaborate mind games for Nick, and Nick, when not being physically abusive to women, spends his time trying to peek behind the curtain.

It may be that, reading the books this close together highlights things that aren’t really highlightable, that I’m seeing connections where there maybe wouldn’t generally be.

I’m struck by the similarities between Miranda in The Collector and Nicholas in The Magus: both are in environments tightly controlled by someone else — Frederick and Conchis respectively. Both resist the opportunity to participate in the mystery before them. Both suffer. Miranda dies in the end, and Nicholas’s fate is still unknown to me and a man at Bible Study this morning was well on his way to spoiling the whole thing for me until I shushed him, but politely, because we’re Baptists, and shushing is next to holiness.

There’s an element of Flannery O’Connor* to this reading — the idea that there is something important and transformative in Miranda’s captivity — but I think it’s there. She is on the way to understanding herself and her relationships, with her family and the older artist with whom she had had an unsatisfying affair, and it’s the situation — her abduction and confinement — that is encouraging her self-reflection, which is something she had not done much of before. I mean, was she going to be magically let go if she had stayed and found herself fully actualized? Dude’s a kidnapper, so probably not. But then, maybe the answer key to this philosophical test says that if she truly understood herself and her decisions and her past, she would stay with Frederick regardless. But that also means that we’d have to see him, at the end, looking for another acolyte rather than another victim. Tomayto/tomahto.

[* I am going to write two Flannery O’Connor-based short stories. The first will be called “Flannery O’Connor’s Grand Day Out” and it will star my husband, Zach, who will take O’Connor on a pilgrimage of hedonism. The other will be called “Flannery O’Connor as Calvinist” and it will be short vignettes of domestic life where the protagonist dies in the end after either having a wonderful time at the party, or murdered while not thinking about how unworthy he is of God.]

20171115_212123
Zach, drinking fondue chocolate through a makeshift straw. I love him so goddamned much you guys.

Nicholas also fights against the mystery, and wants to be in control. Fowles is working back and forth between arguments for free will and arguments for destiny. This is encapsulated in that marvelous passage delivered by Conchis about 100 pages into the novel, and which I quoted above:

“I was here and this house was here, you and I and this evening were here, and they had always been here.”

This is echoed in other places throughout the book — most recently in the section I just finished where Nick and Alison are hiking the mountain. Nick feels, for a moment, as if he was always supposed to be on that particular mountain with this particular woman. He’s also hella horny and they fuck after swimming in a small lake and the thing about that is: it’s really none of my business.

Flannery O’Connor says, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” Miranda is transformed, in the end, in her death. Will Nick be as gracious to the mystery?

Don’t tell me.

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