Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Nebish In The Garden Of The Gods and Philosophers

The joy in reading Revelations is that it is an uniquely differentiated, old-fashion fiction. Unlike the multitude of formalistic and derivative styled novels; Revelations is a refreshing type of literature written with: Multidimensional characters rooted in a multilayer story, told in a wonderfully-rich prose.  The author gives us on one level an compelling journey full of humor, action and bawdiness.  All the elements of an entertaining read.  On a other level, the author suggests a Greek Tragedy, wrapped in a farce, told from the point-of-view of a genuine-nebbish.  Still on another level, we are presented with a volume of philosophical arguments all woven in a rich and vivid tapestry.

At the center of the story we have a diminished-hero, Manny Markovitz, who is a grief-stricken, widower in search of 'a place of light, to Greece, to find some equilibrium in his life'.  The reader is cautioned from the very start that 'this is not a memoir, but a memory, a sort-of myth.' From this cue the reader finds himself in an almost dream-scape, or allegory. All the characters we encounter through Manny's eyes have multiple-persona’s.  Especially Manny's guide, and sort-of spiritual leader and 'Life force', Abis.

Abis is a wonderful trickster.  He constantly deceives, lies and basically tortures Manny on many levels both physical and mental.  He also is Manny-man's (as Abis dub him) spiritual-guide and mentor.  Abis is the friend that you wish you never met, but once you become a victim of his charismatic-charm you find you also can't survive without him.  It is through Abis that Manny is exposed to the natural-world.  The world of nature, of living off-of-the-land and exploring your own abilities as a free-soul.  Exploring the world of nature far from Manny-man's pristine and protected academia.  Abis is constantly placing Manny-man in harms way. Poisonous snakes, bad-fruit and poison ivy to list just a few.   In each case Abis presents Manny with his home-spun philosophy as when Manny-man is suffering with poison ivy:

                        Try to ignore it, Manny-man. This is what Abis is doing, trying to ignore
                         your pain. Now it does not bother me hardly at all. Do not worry. The
                         itch will vanish, never to return, just like the national debt.  It will be gone
                         in a few hours.

Abis is portrayed as a prevaricator, womanizer, a fool, a thief, a clown and interestingly also a mentor.  Through all his deceptions and manipulations of Manny-man he is always looking out for Manny-man's best interest.  He inadvertently leads by example and always is surprised by his own foolishness.  As Manny observes:

I guess the strangest thing is that he [Abis] doesn't only play his tricks on me, but on himself as well. That's why he's always been able to trick me. One never expects a fool to be a fool in his own mouth. His foolishness is a mask he wears, like a dancer in a ritual. It keeps him from getting stuck with the fool before the mask.

 A central theme of the story deals directly with a humanistic approach to life and nature. It was David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and scientist that posit: that desire rather than reason governed human behavior.  It is from this premise we are introduced to the hero's journey.  Abis wants to take Manny-man to his boss's, William Love, mansion.  This becomes the focal point of the second half of the novel.  It is the great quest motif; only in this context the quest is for knowledge. Why Abis was sent by William Love, his mysterious boss, for Manny and why Manny was chosen?

In the traditional quest narrative our hero must endure many trials and overcome the great forces of nature.  All the elements of the heroic novel are put into place as Abis takes Manny on an often hilarious and sometimes treacherous journey through the woods and backwaters of Greece and later through the backwaters and forests of South Georgia.  Here the narrative also becomes very much a richly-textured, initiation-story for Manny.  Through each pitfall, accident and meanderings Abis is forever testing and nurturing Manny-man into a world he has absolutely no knowledge of or ability to cope. It is through the initiation that Abis is portrayed at his finest in both as a trickster and a mentor.

Besides, sometimes you cannot eliminate all the dangers from life. Sometimes you must take chances in order to enjoy the full, rich melody of living and not just hear the same stale notes over and over. Do not worry so much. Maybe we will get lucky this time...

Manny and Abis go in search of Abis' boss, William Love, an eccentric and mysterious man of incredible wealth and knowledge.  So from his initiations in Greece and the backwoods of S. Georgia they venture off to the barrier islands of S. Georgia to William Love’s estate (one of many). It is in the setting of opulent-wealth and antiquity that Manny finds himself.  He is a guest of the demi-gods and their he finds all the trappings of paradise including his ultimate love, Diana.

Diana becomes Manny's mysterious mistress and tutor in both understanding his grief (the death of his first wife from cancer) and his ignorance of life.  She shares her love of life with Manny and tries to open his mind to just living life to it fullest.  Not questioning everything or trying to find great truths. 

This concept of living life and accepting that we live through our passions rather than our reasoning is probably the most central theme of the narrative.  Through Hume, Love's butler and valet, we hear the voice of the philosopher, David Hume.  Hume is always seems to be present.  He is the constant voice of reason; forever positing his observations about life.  As Hume the philosopher, who concluded that “...desire rather than reason govern human behavior. Reason is and ought only be a slave of passions.”

Hume wears a mask to hide his awful deformities caused by an unexplained fire.  The masks serves him both as a means to hide his grotesqueness and his persona.  He is a complete character who possess a strange intelligence and serves as a voice for his employer, William Love and the author as well.  Abis and Hume are both teachers of the humanities to Manny.  Abis is often seen as a fool, but he also possess a define philosophy of life very similar to Hume's.  Each, in their own manner, try to instill into Manny a sense of life that he just doesn't seem to comprehend.  As Abis said: “The heart knows what the brain cannot fathom.”

When Manny-man finally has his meeting with William Love he is in a drunken stupor.  The meeting takes on a very surreal texture.  William Love's intellect is so powerful it stupefies Manny and he cannot formulate a coherent dialog with the man he has quested for.  “I have longed for all this time to ask the eternal questions. Now that I can, I can't. I've been betrayed by my own paltry intellect.”

He the author suggests, that in the presence of greatness we become ignorant and powerless to understand enough to even ask an intelligent question.  What would we really ask of God given the opportunity?

In the end the great revelation of Revelations is that we are born and we die and the time between those events are our eternity.

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