this beautifully addresses a huge conflict in being a person – how can you love anyone when everyone is terrible in their own way? and the importance of functioning as an artist, recognizing your own terribleness and finding compassion in others’.
“Against the beautiful and the clever and the successful,” he reasons, “one can wage a pitiless war, but not against the unattractive: then the millstone weighs on the breast.”
What John Le Carré referred to as Greene’s “transcendent universal compassion,” Iyer has described as “the fellow feeling that one wounded, lonely, scared mortal feels for another, and the way that sometimes, especially in a moment of crisis, when we ‘forget ourselves’ (which is to say, escape our thoughts and reflexes), a single extended hand makes nonsense of all the curlicues in our head.” But never in Greene’s work is this hand extended by a saint. His characters are tormented souls and sinners all, cut from his own cloth.
In Greene’s view, even God is fallible, with a nature as divided and uncertain as our own. “We are part of the evolution of God,” he said, “and Hitler obviously aids the dark side of God, whilst Gandhi, John XXIII and [Cesar] Chavez aid the day side […] If God is torn as we are between the dark and the bright — and therefore suffers a certain division and anguish as we do — it makes Him a more sympathetic figure.” Through Scobie, Greene expressed an abiding distrust of any God who could cause the suffering of innocents, “who was not human enough to love what he had created.” Unfortunately, he found abundant evidence of this inhumane God in his lifetime, which encompassed the horrors of two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. In Greene’s experience, Hazzard writes, “pleasure could not be an assumption and was not a goal; whereas suffering was a constant, and almost a code of honour. Suffering was the attestable key to imaginative existence.” Why? Because, in Greene’s experience, suffering was the gateway to compassion.
emphasis mine. I was just speaking with another friend who considers himself an artist about what depression/ suffering does in terms of artistic development. it’s an easy and cliched trap in which to fall, the pursuit of unhappiness because it assists you in plumbing deeper depths and makes you a more “interesting” or “profound” person.
but suffering only makes you greater as an artist if it makes you greater as a person. if it extends your capacity for compassion. and as such, it must be genuine, perhaps unexpected, rather than the masturbatory self-sabotage that we’ve seen artists – and people – fall into as a yearning to find a shortcut to living.
“Writing is a form of therapy. Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.”
“There are so many things that bother one about the world,” he told Shenker. “Injustice, intolerance. And that it all comes to an end.”
and compassion in some way demands action, i think. whether donating or volunteering or taking the moment to look at someone else as a person. the responsibility we have to each other. and any artist that neglects to give and create beyond one’s own ego, one’s desire for admiration and praise…
we have a responsibility that we are nonetheless unable to fulfill in its impossible entirety:
Greene thus suggests that to be alive in this world is to have responsibilities, not just to oneself or for those closest, but in relationship to the complicated truth of all humankind. What’s tucked between the lines is the enormity of the suffering that Scobie perceives yet cannot comprehend, let alone assuage.
“The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn’t known, just as the stars on this clear night also gave an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? If one reached what they called the heart of the matter.”
Remember that this novel is set in West Africa in the middle of World War II. Submarines are patrolling the Atlantic and sinking civilian ships, and far to the north European Jews are forced to wear yellow stars pinned to their coats. No direct mention is ever made in these pages of Kristallnacht, Auschwitz, or Bergen-Belsen, and yet, even in this fictional outpost, peace is an illusion. In actual fact, those stars represent the exact opposite of security and freedom. “How I hate this war,” Scobie thinks. No matter how far away human strife and suffering may be, “one still has one’s eyes…one’s ears…the restlessness, the haunting images, the terrible impotent feeling of responsibility and pity.”
peace is an illusion within my lifetime. there’s the saying that colleges especially like to spout, that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. which i don’t think is untrue.
but how can human beings be legitimately just?
spoken with humorous mistakes, yet sometimes strikingly true – a summary of european history from the lines of history essays from snot-nosed freshmen papers.
History, as we know, is always bias, [sic] because human beings have to be studied by other human beings, not by independent observers of another species.