Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

of a larger life form pulsating. Trucks become great lumbering "mindless" animals that moan and whine and "watch" the road with their dish antennae. Apparently robotic, they guide themselves along with magnetic feelers that take direction from guiding strips built into the roadbed. The road itself is a "pink, fluorescent river" of oiled concrete, and the trucks remind the monks of "economic corpuscles" in the arteries of humanity. 27

But to carry the thought one step further, there is evidence within Canticle that the cycles of destruction are necessary precisely because we insist on trying to make for ourselves a heaven on earth. It is because of our constant striving to attain utopia that we reach a point of despair and then of destruction. Brother Joshua, agonizing in the monastery garden over the cup which Zerchi would hand to him--to leave earth forever for the stars--has this moment of insight: "Too much hope for Earth had led men to try to make it Eden, and of that they might well despair until the time toward the consumption of the world" 28 The picture is pessimistic only in secular, agnostic terms. Joshua correctly foresees that building Eden will be impossible in the struggling off-earth colonies: "Fortunately for them, perhaps," Joshua thinks, "the closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well."29 Only when the world is in darkness, Joshua realizes, can people yearn for the light; when the light finally is restored, or nearly so, by reason, discontent sets in.

Joshua sees full well that humankind will again tear the earth apart, "this garden Earth," so that "Man might hope again in wretched darkness." 30 Viewed as such, the process is no more hopeless than is the individual life merely because it must end inevitably in death. The end of a society or even the end of a world is no more tragic than the end of each individual life. If nuclear catastrophe-- even annihilation--is a horrifying inevitability, is it worse than a world in which the "Simplifiers" are forever victorious? Is it not better to have learned and lost than never to have learned at all?

At the very end of G. B. Shaw Saint Joan, Joan asks a question of God: "O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?"31 If this study has read Miller correctly, the world may never be ready to receive its saints, but in its very ugliness it makes a fine environment for their development. Eden is never again to be mortal man's home, but for man's perfection, one by slow painful one, the struggle to reach it must go on, per omnia secula seculorum. Deo Gratias!


NOTES
1.
Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz ( London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1960). Portions of the novel appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and in various anthologies from 1955 to 1957.
2.
Ursula K. Le Guin's chilling tale of martyrdom in the service of truth, "TheMasters,"

-113-

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