Freitag, 9. März 2012

Change

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'."
     — Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin'" –1963

"Charles," said Cordelia, "Modern Art is all bosh, isn't it?"
"Great bosh."
"Oh, I'm so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn't try and criticize what we didn't understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her."
   — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, ch. 6  –1944

The times in which the novel is set were certainly changing, but then they always are. The question is whether one understands the change well enough to criticize it, or just to deal well with it. A book which constantly returns to the question of faith and religion invites us to consider change sub specie æternitatis. I've only finished six of the thirteen chapters of the book, 177 of its 349 pages, but I am reminded — did I actually read the book years ago or only see this excerpt quoted somewhere? — of the final page, in the Epilogue, where Charles speaks of the red flame which the knights saw and which now burns again for other soldiers.

What does this "eternal flame" tell us about the changes of time, whether of time in general or of the time of the novel? Does it say that the changes are good? That they are bad? That they are indifferent? Of course there is no single answer. We can view the time from 1914 to 1945 as a time during which the world descended into chaos. But there is hope in the smaller scale of personal lives. I am currently reading two other books as well: What It Is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes, who has likened his time in the infantry in the jungles of Viet Nam the Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival; and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which tells of people living in a suburb of Munich during World War II. Both books, along with Marlantes' earlier novel of Viet Nam, Matterhorn, proclaim the possibility of real heroism on the part of seemingly very ordinary people in the midst of horrible circumstances.


This brings us to that very ordinary person in Brideshead Revisited, Hooper. To Waugh, he is symbolic of the change that has taken place in the officer corps and, by extension, in England, and he regards him with gentle amusement, a much more benign regard than his attitude toward the failing aristocracy represented by the Marchmains. They are figures of tragedy, he of comedy. It appears that to Waugh, change may produce a sense of nostalgia, but it is not simply evil. Hooper finds it amazing that one family could need or even use Brideshead Castle. Perhaps he speaks for Waugh.