Sunday, January 27, 2008

"An orthodoxy of attention"

Henry dismisses his daughter’s ways of thinking as “the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real” (66). However, as displayed by the argument he has with Daisy over the Iraq war, his focus on “the actual” affords him little advantage in their debate over the war. It also reveals that his own daughter is just as much a slave to fear as he is, rattling off dozens of near-disaster scenarios that she finds likely to occur if the invasion takes place. Should we back down from our principles in order to avoid what are in reality possibilities, but not certainties? That question could be posed to both sides. Both Daisy, who relies on her poetry and literature in general to find solace, and Henry, the consummate realist, are slaves to the “buzz-words” and the talking points as laid out in the debate on the international stage. This evidences the idea that no one, no mater what way one goes about finding solace, can escape the threatening and suffocating threats to humanity. McEwan himself recognizes this when he states that obsession with the debate over the war and the validity of either side’s argument “amounts to a consensus of a kind, an orthodoxy of attention, a mild subjugation in itself” (185). Neither path allows Henry or Daisy to escape this “orthodoxy,” but the end of the novel seems to suggest that people should choose whichever path best suits them. Baxter, having lived within the constraints of hard reality on the street his entire life, is swayed to euphoria with Daisy’s reading of a single poem. Daisy also escapes to her own world when reading this poem. Henry, in operating on Baxter and saving his life, validates himself and is able to go about his life without regret. The novel, to me, concludes with the notion that no one can face the real dangers that exist in this world without some degree of ignorance or distraction. And that even when these realities are faced, that they are skewed by the amount of rancor and emotion that has been injected into them by international attention. I can’t figure out what McEwan sees as the solution to all of this. From what I can tell, he offers no solution, other than to advise us to look turn our attention away from a debate whose issues are so momentous and unmanageable as to be insoluble.

1 comment:

Erin Sells said...

I think you're right to recognize that McEwan is not offering a solution here. A solution would be altogether too neat and simple, and I think McEwan might be likely to point you in the direction of the Darwinian/evolution elements of this story if you asked him about his novel's lack of solutions. Solutions, I think, are the product of evolution--they come together slowly, picking up the attempts that have worked, setting down the things that haven't, slowly testing new ideas and theories and fitting them into what we already know to be true. As his readers we already know that the war being debated didn't work out the way anyone really expected it to, no matter whether you were for or against it--but such knowledge came with time and experience, and not in the course of a day.