After Innocence: Visions of the Fall in Modern Literature

After Innocence: Visions of the Fall in Modern Literature

After Innocence: Visions of the Fall in Modern Literature

After Innocence: Visions of the Fall in Modern Literature

Excerpt

The story of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed. For it was truly man who, walking memoryless through bars of sunlight and shade in the morning of the world, sat down and passed a wondering hand across his heavy forehead. Time and darkness, knowledge of good and evil, have walked with him ever since. --Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

It is of course the oldest myth of all. No culture, no individual, can long claim innocence. On the jailhouse walls, Faulkner has said, are written the true histories of man "in unbroken . . . continuity." Symbol indeed, the jail remains "one towering frantic edifice poised like a cardhouse over the abyss of the mortgaged generation." We know that all generations are mortgaged. If someone claims to be innocent, Camus once quipped, ask him whether or not he has been born. Somehow, it seems, we must account for this basic truth: man is fallen, is estranged from whatever cosmic order may exist--be it god or fate or nature or whatever. No one, finally, can escape his fallen condition. "But what is the most innocent place in any country?" asks Arthur Miller. "Is it not the insane asylum? There people drift through life truly innocent, unable to see into themselves at all." It matters little whether the Fall occurs by choice or by act of destiny, whether it comes at adolescence or birth or even old age, whether it takes place quietly within the self or dramatically and in public view. Everywhere testimony of the Fall surrounds us. However, whenever, wherever--it is.

Like all enduring myths, the Fall offers truth but not dogma; it defines for us the nature of human experience, but it offers little to satisfy the rational mind in search of certainty. Whether we look back to the multiple sources of the myth in Western thought or venture into the mazes of contemporary theology, we can expect to find contradiction and ambiguity. Irreducible in its richness, the story of the Fall demands formulation while it defies it. The amalgamation of sources which underlie the biblical version of the legend and the variations of the myth in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Sumero-Babylonian and Persian versions, not to mention the conflicting biblical accounts, make any . . .

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