From: "Nigel Price"
Subject: (urth) Being and pretending Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 14:05:07 +0100 Thanks to Matt DeLuca for raising the question of favourite quotations. It's a good idea, though not one I find easy to respond to. This is partly because of my poor memory for this sort of thing, and partly because the general standard of Wolfe's writing is so consistently high. Some writers come up with the occasional memorable phrase, and it stands out from the surrounding text. With Wolfe, a passage has to be really exceptional to stand out in that way. I was interested, though, by the lines which Steve Case cited from "On Blue's Waters" as being among his favourite Lupine quotations: "If I need more courage than I have to live, I will pretend to have it and live anyway. I did that on the battlefield . . . I acted the part of a hero. That is to say, I acted as it seemed to me I would have if I had actually possessed dauntless courage." I have been rereading TIoDD&OS&OS recently and was interested in the similarity betweent the above quotation and the following speech from "The Death of Dr. Island". Nicholas is talking to Diane about the pros and cons of taking medication for their respective psychological problems and stating his preference for carrying out disruptive behaviour whether or not is given any therapeutic drugs: "Not doing it doesn't do any good either-I mean, we're both here. My way, I know I've made them jump; they shoot that stuff in me and I'm not mad any more, but I know what it is and I just think what I would do if I _were_ mad, and I do it, and when it wears off I'm glad I did." (p97 of the Arrow pbk edn of TIoDD&OS&OS) The use of the word "mad" is interesting here, because in this context it seems to combine both the traditional sense of "insane" and the contemporary American usage where it means "angry". Just as the narrator in Steve's quotation is brave because he acts the part of a brave man, so Nicholas is mad because he acts the part of a madman. What can we deduce from this about Wolfe's understanding of psychology and virtue? That it is the will that is paramount, that we can choose to be virtuous or wicked? Or that the nature of our will, whether virtuous or corrupt, will be shown by the choices that we make? In either story, there doesn't seem to be any practical difference between the person who does things, whether good or bad, instinctively, and the person who does them as an act of choice and will. Or is there? Is the person who chooses in this way actually braver (or madder) than the person who acts from simple instinct? Perhaps there is no difference from the point of view of the observer, but all the difference in the world for the person themselves, and, therefore, for God too. Nigel --