New Endings and Old Beginnings
I think it’s amusing that the final blog post I will make for this class will be on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I am again writing something, but my repetition is an ending, which is a beginning for another reader. As Frobisher, my favorite character in Cloud Atlas, writes, “Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortes’ll lay Tenochtitlan to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again.” Frobisher, the affected artist and supposedly self-aware artist, unfolds these lines for his former lover in his final letter before a melodramatic suicide. But despite his confessional letters, and his constant mockery of both himself and others, Fobisher is more serious than he himself knows, more likable in his calculated suicide than I would have thought possible. His words are words I’ve heard before, but repeated in this context, spoken in this work or art within works of art, they gain a new pathos, a new pain, a new resonance. In repetition, they become new. This is not only the message of exphratic works like Cloud Atlas, or art in general, but it’s also one of the many messages I take from a biolgical model of the genetic code.
I don’t want to be maudlin, overly sentimental, or overgeneralize, but in the pursuit of knowledge one of the problems I perceived as an outsider to the formalized apparatus of knowing was a propensity to lose sight of a wider scope, a seductive arrogance that seems to accompany any kind of power. One of the pleasures of attempting to view literature from a non-humanities perspective is that it humbles me, makes me feel small and insignificant in a grander scheme. But it some ways, the same experience is achieved when reading a truly well-wrought work of fiction like Cloud Atlas. The last words Frobisher writes before his name is a quotation from another piece of literature, “Sunt lacrimae rerum.” Aeneas shouts these words in The Aeneid, after seeing a tapestry depicting the fall of Troy, and before weeping. They translate as “the tears for things.” Aeneas, like Frobisher, is caught in a repetition, a cycle. He goes to Italy to crush a city as his city was crushed, and on its ruins to create an empire, an Empire which will reproduce the same cycle in different registers. Both Aeneas and Frobisher shout their cries in an attempt to arrest the cycles of violence and redemption, to decry the shift. But from Darwin to Dupre, everything in biology and literature points to life as flux as well as repetition, and arresting the repetition and minute changes its iteration carries is equivalent to death. Even death, and the cease of motion, however, cannot escape the “great chain of being” as absence often leaves an environmental impact akin to memory in art, an nothing imaginable, existant, or dead can escape a serious attempt to understand anything.
Speaking of repetition, I suddenly feel as though I’ve rewritten the last lyrics of Dark Side of the Moon.