Sunday, 22 May 2011

facing death, facing life

His father had always been a stranger, an irritable stranger with exceptional powers of intervention and comment, and an air of being disappointed about his offspring. It was shocking to lose him, it was like an unexpected hole in the universe, and the writing of “Death” upon the sky, but it did not tear Mr. Polly’s heartstrings at first so much as rouse him to a pitch of vivid attention.

(The History of Mr. Polly by H.G.Wells)


That amusing and warm hearted novel has a lot of wisdom in it. We face death by facing life otherwise it’s just a distracting mystery encompassed by either table turning or nihilism. As an old English labourer explained to me as I hacked ineffectually with my pick axe at the obdurate ground of Hertfordshire - ‘Pat, you’ve got to put a face on the work’. I won’t reduce that piece of instruction to its complete architectonic significance but the practical import of it is that you must first create a decent hole with a face that you can prise away into the void that you have created.

4 comments:

elisa freschi said...

Why should table-turning be a bad thing? Because it is distracting?

skholiast said...

Wow. I mean, no one reads Wells anymore, except the early sci-fi stuff. How very refreshing.

"We face death by facing life" -- yes, but one can also not face death (nor life, neither) by "facing life", if you see what I mean.

Have also been enjoying your posts on Maugham.

ombhurbhuva said...

Elisa:
Table-turning is that mode of communication with the great beyond used in spiritualism. It’s surprising how many fine minds have involved themselves in that activity which even if it were genuine is a trivial pursuit. ‘Is there anybody there ?’ ought to be turned round to ‘Is there anybody here ?’ by atma vichara. What sort of entity is a person such that it could survive death is a useful inquiry. You may be aware that it was Ramana Maharshi’s experience of death as a youth that set him on the path.

For some this seance business might be an empirical investigation that took the existence of life after death as an open question.

ombhurbhuva said...

Skholiast:
Thanks, Maugham is great popular novelist. No less that George Orwell said that he was his greatest influence amongst the writers of his day.

Mr. Kipps is also a deft comedy of manners where he writes about the the life which he knew so well, that of the lower middle classes, shop assistants and the precarious gentility of small shopkeepers. It’s a classic.

I mean by facing life that ‘face’ we hew continuously, not a Mount Rushmore face but our own.