Monday, December 31, 2007

Fantasy limited by imagination (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle)

I was surprised by my own reaction on rereading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I enjoyed the domestic scenes so much - they are warm and inviting - and I recognized a lot of Meg in myself - the obstinance and quick reactions - and while I admire L'Engle's imagination of distant worlds, new modes of travel, and languages and creatures that are unlike humans, I found the book very limited by its insistence on a christian basis for its message. That love is a great power has been experienced by more than those people who worship in that one faith and could be communicated without reference to the stories that the people of that faith share. Obviously that is not L'Engle's interest but as a result I felt the story very obviously was not written for me. It made it narrower rather than more universal. Having just spent some time in middle America, I was reminded how I feel there (although not among the ragazzo's immediate family). Particularly when I visit smaller towns, I experience the smugness that comes from societies that practice rituals to create an experience of homogeneity. I supposed we all do this to some extent within our social networks, whatever they are, but I find the blithe assumption that I couldn't possibly live without a church, or that I must be married (or whatever) obnoxious. Unfortunately, that is also how I experienced those parts of this otherwise lovely story that insists only symbols relating to faith, and in this case one particular faith, will do when it comes to stories of love and redemption.

40. The Spoilt City - Olivia Manning
41. Friends and Heroes - Olivia Manning
42. Nerve Damage - Peter Abrahams
43. The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
44. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick
45. Tell me Everything - Sarah Salway
46. Experiment in Love - Hillary Mantel
47. The Pilgrim Hawk Glenway Wescott
48. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

49. So Long, See You Tomorrow - William Maxwell
50. Abhorsen - Garth Nix


Sheila O'Malley said...

It's interesting (and not all that surprising) that Christian groups are the ones who challenge her books the most. They can't stand that she isn't lockstep with their orthodoxy - she has been bombarded with hate mail from Christians from the very start of her career.

The homogenous attitude you describe is similar to how I have felt living in our community of artists in new York where my opinions are, shall we say, a bit right to the center of everyone else. You cannot believe the rigidity of the conversation - and how impossible it makes it for me to contribute anything without deranged responses when I try to share my (also well-considered, also well-thought-out) viewpoint. I give a contradictory view to the lockstep attitude and it is as THOUGH I have said, "Yum yum, I love to fry up little babies." It's amazing how intolerant the so-called "tolerant" folks can be.

Sheila O'Malley said...

One additional thing: it's not so bad one on one ... where you can actually have a conversation, or at least try to - because I'm good at listening, and I am not at all intolerant of those who have different viewpoints than myself ... but in a group setting, where agreement is ASSUMED ... it is very difficult to interject my own thoughts, without all hell breaking loose.

Ted said...

S - that's interesting re the reaction to her from christian groups - I guess that's the thing about ideologies - people make assumptions, using them as short hand. We use them to bond as groups but everyone - especially a creator with an imagination like L'Engle - is going to have an individual take. It's one of the things that has always interested/annoyed me about organized religion, these rituals of sameness are not an indication that everyone's relationship to god or infinity is the same - that must stay utterly private and in some ways is unshareable, even if we all sway the same way, or kneel at the same time or whatever..

I can totally imagine that has been your experience in the knee-jerk liberal artists' community. Even if I'm sometimes more closely allied w/ those ideas than you have been on certain issues (my socialist roots), I frequently hear a statement starting with "we" in one of those gatherings and think of you and have said "well, not all of us." The ideology of any group can become oppressive to those not carrying a card.

I don't know what it is specifically that made me react this way on this reading. I hadn't before and I'd read it at least two or three times. I didn't feel a lack of respect for her beliefs (at least I don't think I did, I know her religion was very important to her) but the experience didn't welcome me anymore. I felt as though a door shut on my ability to joyously join with the imaginative world.

Sheila O'Malley said...

I totally can see why you would have that response to her book ... I don't so much get it from her fiction (well, not her YA fiction - much of her adult fiction borders on preachy - it can be really gross) ... but she's written a lot of religious books, many of which I ADORE - Her "Genesis Trilogy" has actually deepened my own faith (which, of course, is a totally personal thing) - but she wrote this one book on "Christian art" that made me, at one point, throw it across the room. Literally! I threw it across the room!! She was so ... disturbed, almost ... that artists who were NOT Christians made art that she responded to, as a Christian ... and so she goes thru all this convoluted reasoning as to why that would be. As opposed to just being like: whatever, he was a Muslim, it's a great painting. Or: whatever, she was a Wiccan, that's a great poem.

Like she couldn't just leave it at that - and it is THAT attitude that I have contempt for.

It was so annoying - a really limited side to her that I hadn't seen before.

And yeah, don't even get me started on talking about politics with actors in NYC. I no longer even engage. Someone will say something, and everyone nods in ferocious agreement - and David will glance at me, I'll look back, and we both burst into laughter. Like: I am not even gonna go there!!

It's truly totalitarian, it really is.

Sheila O'Malley said...

If I'm drunk, though, I can't promise that I won't lob some politically "incorrect" bomb into the middle of a group of nodding agreement - just to see what will happen. It's hilarious, and also extremely anti-social behavior, and only comes on when I've had a couple. (See, even the term politically "incorrect" gets my back up, but we'll save that for another day.)

Ted said...

S - I'll enjoy seeing you lob that bomb one day! I love those conversations. You and I have had some good disagreements about what we think government should do. Hasn't gotten in the way of our friendship. Disagreement and deviating from the pack is necessary for development. If deviance is good for the gene pool, then it has got to be good for us.

Sheila O'Malley said...

If it was good enough for John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it's good enough for us!!

Happy new year, dear friend!

Ted said...

S - And to you, dear friend. We missed you at the party!