Sunday, June 26, 2005

Love vs. History, as seen by the novelist Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes is saying that the two forces of history and love are directly antagonistic, that the only weapon that we have against what history has become in our society is love. He says, "I can tell you why to love. Because the history of the world, which only stops at the half-house of love to bulldoze it into rubble, is ridiculous without it. The history of the world becomes brutally self-important without love" (238). It is true that love is a vague and perhaps over-used word, and that calling it a "half-house" is as elusive as anything found in history books. This is Barnes's point exactly though. Both history and love are the agents that stories are created from, and Barnes is chopping history down to the unreliable level of love's fairy-tales. As Bruce Sesto showed us above, meaning is only achieved by historians through their devices and ability with language. Love is whimsical, fanciful, romantic, and above all, unreliable. If nothing else, Barnes has shown that history too is unreliable, so he is saying we should pit one against the other, choose what will promote appreciation and spontaneity -- over guilt, obedience, and misguided patriotism. "Love won't change the history of the world," he says, " but it will do something much more important: teach us to stand up to history, to ignore its chin-out strut" (238). In Understanding Julian Barnes, he is quoted as saying, “The three main answers are religion, art and love. I think that religion isn’t true, and art doesn’t work for everyone. Love is the final fallback position” (Moseley, 120). Salmon Rushdie concurs; in his review of A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, he claims, “Barnes’s view of history (voices echoing in the dark, etc.; near meaninglessness upon which we try to impose meanings) is, finally… too thin to support the whole fabric; but his view of love almost saves the day” (123). By calling Barnes’s perspective on history “too thin,” Rushdie has not diminished the profundity of it; he is acknowledging the presence of other themes in Barnes’s work – which is necessary to sustain an entire novel. To rail against what historians wish us to believe is one thing, but Barnes supplies outside support for both his readers and his work. In England, England, when Martha finds that she does not believe in the Project or her relationship with Paul, she finds herself asking Dr. Johnson, “What about love, sir?” To which he replies, “If all would happen that a lover fancies, I know not what other terrestrial happiness would deserve pursuit” (217). The authorities on history can argue all they want, but it is tough to argue with those words.


Blogger fred burgess! said...

This is the last paragraph of a paper I wrote for an English class last fall.

If I remember correctly, I forgot to put a title on the paper. So at the head of the paper read: "TITLE: subtitle."

7:40 AM  

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