Netherland (8)

It’s a tricky thing being a person. We occupy a portion of space-time like ordinary objects. But unlike ordinary objects, we experience the world from a first-person point of view. We’re conscious, in other words; we have subjective experiences. A cricket field of freshly mown grass evokes nostalgia, dreams, feelings, hopes, emotions, longings, and memories. These experiences happen in interior spaces, away from the probing lights of other minds. Because we’re both object and subject, we unavoidably cast long shadows. We bear about us a taint of mystery and obscurity. “…[O]ur daily motions always cast a secondary shadow,” says Hans. But as we’re all singular sites of willing and striving, of perceiving, thinking, and feeling, it’s precisely this secondary shadow that’s so damn important to us. Hans calls it a profound homesickness, “one having to do with unsettlements that cannot be located in spaces of geography or history .., [with] unspeakable individual longings … concerned with horizons and potentials sighted or hallucinated.” What gives shape and direction to a person’s life are just these horizons and potentials. Hans, because he doesn’t “look beneath the surface” of things, doesn’t see people, including himself, for who they are. Enter: spiritual Babelization without allegory. O’Neill’s solution to this problem is improved vision, one that recognizes depth and obscurity, an awareness of shadows, of dreams, hopes, longings, and above all else attitudes and values. Not long before his epiphany, Hans is strolling through a park whose “shadows were otherworldly in their clearness.” This is a major turning point in the novel. For the first time, he sees Chuck not only as a brilliant orator and cricket-intoxicated man but as a ruthless gangster, to boot.  On the heels of this experience, Hans goes on a business trip to Arizona and, in between meetings, steals away to the desert where he, soon afterwards, finally sees his shadow, too. He sees himself for who he is, as a man with definite hopes and dreams, with an unspeakable longing for his family, especially his son Jake. “…I underwent a swerve in orientation—as though I’d been affected by the abrupt consensus of movement that redirects flocking birds. I decided to move back to London.” In that moment, a man and his shadow touch. A unity of purpose is achieved. And Hans
escapes passivity.

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2 Responses to Netherland (8)

  1. Colleen says:

    Poetic criticism – my friend, what you’re doing on Interpolations lately is a dying art. Your response to this book must be no less literary than it is; I admire it greatly and have no idea how to respond to it! I’m entirely lacking in the creative instinct myself and this isn’t what I was trained for. Obviously, this is my loss and not yours.

  2. Kevin Neilson says:

    Hi Colleen, in choosing you as a muse, I see I chose wisely! Bravo to me. I’ll be ambling back over to Bookphilia later today to read your Eagleton bit. Cheers, Kevin

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