Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Canticle for Leibowitz, 5/100

"You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

You would think that a novel which concludes with monks flying through space to avoid a nuclear holocaust would be more interesting.

And I know I'm in the minority here for not caring for this novel. I realize it's beloved, and even has dissertations and college classes dedicated to it. But I have little patience for a lack of subtlety in literature.

Yes, yes, with the nuclear war, the theme of cyclical history, the Biblical fall of man...I think there were fewer garden of Eden allusions in Paradise Lost. By the end I wanted to scream "Yes. YES. For the love of God, I GET IT."

Hey! Look, it's another snake. Oh, and more buzzards. And here's that hobo dressed in a rucksack that's been wandering in and out of the plot for 1200 years (literally). I wonder if his appearance means anything? YES. YES IT DOES. But don't hit me over the head with it. A Darren Aronofsky film is more subtle than this book.

Also, I understand the irony/symbolism in the end when the monk kicks dirt off his sandals to board the starship he's apparently going to pilot to Alpha Centauri. But it's also fucking ridiculous. If I knew how to fly a starship I wouldn't be wearing sandals.

I keep picturing Friar Tuck flying the Millennium Falcon.

But I digress. It still had some interesting quotes. Although perhaps you'll catch my drift when you read them.

So it was that, after the Deluge, the Fallout, the plagues, the madness, the confusion of tongues, the rage, there began the bloodletting of the Simplification, when remnants of mankind had torn other remnants limb from limb, killing rulers, scientists, leaders, technicians, teachers, and whatever persons the leaders of the maddened mobs said deserved death for having helped to make the Earth what it had become. Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join in the bloodletting and tried to oppose the mobs, calling the crowds "bloodthirsty simpletons."

Joyfully the mobs accepted the name, took up the cry: Simpletons! Yes, yes! I'm a simpleton! Are you a simpleton? We'll build a town and we'll name it Simple Town, because by then all the smart bastards that caused all this, they'll be Dead! Simpletons! Let's go! This ought to show'em! Anybody here not a simpleton? Get the bastards, if there is!


I dunno. I thought calculis was pretty tough. And I finished my taxes in 15 minutes. It's totally possaible.

When you tire of living, change itself seems evil, does it not? for then any change at all disturbs the deathlike peace of the life-weary.

What did the world weigh? It weighs, but it is not weighed. Sometimes its scales are crooked. It weighs life and labor in the balance against silver and gold. That'll never balance. But fast and ruthless, it keeps on weighing. It spills a lot of life that way, and sometimes a little gold.

For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof; your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods. The old father of lies was clever at telling half-truths: How shall you "know" good and evil, until you have sampled a little? Taste and be as Gods. But neither infinite power nor infinite wisdom could bestow godhood upon men. For that there would have to be infinite love as well.

Generation, regeneration, again, again, as in a ritual, with blood-stained vestments and nail-torn hands, children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever building Edens--and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn't the same. (AGH! AGH! AGH!--an idiot screams his mindless anguish amid the rubble. But quickly! let it be inundated by the choir, chanting Alleluias at ninety decibels.)

AGH! AGH! AGH!--a book blogger screams her mindless anguish amid a pile of unread books. But quickly! Conan is coming on! Turn that shit up to ninety decibels!


  1. "I keep picturing Friar Tuck flying the Millennium Falcon."

    That's a very funny image, but I see what you mean. I think we get it. Seriously.

  2. I've never heard of this book, but you're not selling me on it! The Wikipedia entry causes me to be ever-so-slightly intrigued, but I doubt I'll read it anytime soon/at all.

    Skip to the Kurt Vonnegut novels. They're excellent, if you ask me. He quickly became one of my favourites, even though I wasn't introduced to him until 2009 or so.

  3. Perhaps I was too hard on it. It had excellent writing, after all. The themes were just overkill for me.

    The only Vonnegut I've read is Cat's Cradle, which was wonderful, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from him. Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions are waiting on my bookshelf...

  4. Slaughterhouse-Five was the first one that I'd read, and I was a bit confused with the amount of jumping around in time he did, but then... Well, I think I understood.

    I eventually read about Vonnegut's thoughts on time and found out that I had a similar issue. Unfortunately, it happened to me while I was writing an essay on Haiti... And anyone who asked me what I was writing about had the opportunity to hear me lecture about Haitian history for 5-hours.

    But where can you honestly begin? 1492, if you ask me -- even if you are talking about the late 20th century.


  5. I'm reminded of Kingsley Amis, who defended the movie "Alien" from a movie critic who said: "It's Science Fiction plot B". Amis's reply: "It's Science Fiction Plot A".

    Canticle for Liebowitz is not SF, though it uses SF tropes. It was written at the height of the Cold War, a time when the events portrayed in the novel came perilously close to occuring in reality.

    If the extermination of all life on the planet isn't subject matteer for literature, damned if I know what is.

    And frankly, subtlety be damned. Post modern irony is for the shallow.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I was hoping someone would come to its defense. It really was an amazing book, despite my ranting/raving. I put it down over a year ago but I haven't stopped thinking about it.

      Also, "And frankly, subtlety be damned" is now my favorite sentence ever. :)