Thursday, January 26, 2017

Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.18)

Not a whole lot happens in this chapter. Unfortunately. Or, more accurately, it is to say that not a lot interesting happens; stuff does happen, since it is a longer chapter then previously, but length does not equal quality.

So, Wart is finally transformed into an owl; he eats a magical rodent which Archy gave him to transform into his animal self. He eat it while in a dream like stupor, so he was not really conscious of what he eat. This is good, because I think that even the most rambunctious of little boys would balk at eating a dead rat.

Archy takes Wart on an adventure through the night. Though it takes a while to take used to his wings, Wart eventually gets the hang of how this flying thing works.

The Wart, facing into this wind, felt that he was uncreated. Except that for the wet solidarity under his webbed feet, he was living in nothing—a solid nothing, like chaos” (165).

By my count, this is the second time that White has included these trippy pseudo-psychedelic descriptions of living a freer existence as an animal.

I suppose that this makes sense: as an animal one would, of course, be liberated from normal human existence and culture, so it would seem like a drug-trip, especially if you are a child, like Wart, and subject to harsh authoritarian structure. But, on the other hand, when the only time a character can feel free is when they are in the guise of some primordial, non-cultured creature, issues arise.
But Archy takes him to a gathering place of birds—perhaps a parliament? At first Wart does not know how to react to this bird-a-poolza.

Perhaps their family groups, he thought, would resent his intrusion. Yet he wanted not to be lonely. He wanted to join in, and to enjoy the exercise of morning flight, which was evidently a pleasure. They had a comradeship…” (166).

This is actually a sad depiction of what is obviously White’s struggle with Depression (or, since I am unsure of the specifics of his life, a battle with his self-doubt). Here, Wart is struggling to integrate into a whole but could very easily be any human—shy, depressed, Othered and ostracized—as they long to be part of the normally functioning world.

Such a streak continues when Wart tries to integrate himself into the bird community: when acting as a sentry, for instance, he does not know the normal duration for such a shift, and overstays his welcome which earns him a rebuke from another bird.

’You think I am stupid,’ he said shyly, confessing the secret of his real species for the first time to an animal,” (169).

And so we hit the issue I was hinting at earlier: when hanging alongside that odd Other, it is easy to feel free and liberated, like you are on some grand adventure, like a White woman doing charity work in the Congo. But the reality isn’t negated— the fact that it is superbly racist, or in this case, specieist, to go among the dominated groups of the world, live amongst them, and then act all offended when you make mistakes. Wart’s anger here is little different than a White college student acting all offended when a Person of Color confronts him about their exploitation of his culture.

Yes, I went there.

At any rate, after a quick jab at Irish nationalism, White moves on to writing more dysfunction for Wart.

The gist of it is this: Wart is trying to understand why there are sentries posted guarding the community. He probes the bird he was chastised by for more information and asks if the sentries are because the geese community is at war with another community. The bird he talks with is slow on the pick-up and only realizes what Wart means after some consideration; once she does, she is horrified to think of it and berates Wart for having such a mind.

’Will you stop it at once! What a horrible mind you must have! You have no right to say such things. And of course there are sentries. There are the jer-falcons and the peregrines, aren’t there: the foxes and the ermines and the humans with their nets? These are natural enemies. But what creature could be so low as to go about in bands, to murder others of its own blood?’” (170).

On one hand, it is pretty cool to hear Wart get the smack down for his culture’s violence, on the other hand, it is a kind of nihilism on White’s part to do this because to reduce everything to an abstract moralism—that people are violent because… [Reasons]. It negates the reality of violence and capitalism and imperialism’s role in how that violence emerges. It ultimately reduces people to a ‘war is inevitable because people are naturally violent, it’s human nature,’ argument, instead of it being attributed to human behavior, behavior which is specified under certain conditions. Plus, the final clause there, ‘of its own blood,’ though possible being read in a Leftist stance as in ‘we, humanity, are all one people,’ the ‘blood’ inclusion makes it possibly quite reactionary.

But Wart and the bird go on like this for a little while. Wart says that ants fight, then the bird counters with that if Wart’s ants and humanity took to the skies, they too would have to stop fighting due to the nature of said sky.

’I like fighting,’ said the Wart. ‘It is knightly.’
Because you are a baby” (170).

Cool beans, ya’ll: this is genuinely a nice sentiment to hear. Mildly Ageist, but it gets the point across: because Wart is a little boy raised in a cis-hetero patriarchal culture, he likes fighting. He is immature and doesn’t understand the reality of carnage.

Deep wisdom, from a bird.