Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Darkness at Noon | Arthur Koestler

At first glance, “Darkness at Noon” would not be considered a literary masterpiece. It’s a seemingly simplistic story revolving around a man, shackled by his ideals, who is thrust into a jail cell. However, as the story unwinds, so too does the mind of Rubashov, the former Russian political head of the Communist Party.

The book’s dialogue is truly poetic (something that I was surprised to find – given the book is loosely based on real life), and the message foreshadows the state of the world we now live in. Themes can be compared to the commercial machine, and how others will always pick up the pieces after their brothers or co-workers fall - forging ahead, sometimes with little knowledge of where they are going and why.

The book gives you a different understanding than futuristic novels such as “A Brave New World” and “Nineteen Eighty-four.” While those novels portray the rigorous controls placed on society, “Darkness at Noon” delves more into the mind of the men leading the political charge and the inertia that is displayed regardless of leadership changes.

The book is truly a masterpiece. Koestler let his ideas stew within his mind when he was a political prisoner, and as such, they are presented with extreme clarity. While sometimes this dialogue is thick, it always contains extreme purpose. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to find insight, not with war or political pressures, but with the world around you.

"A mathematician once said that algebra was the science for lazy people - one does not work out 'x', but operates with it as if one knew it. In our case, 'x' stands for the anonymous masses, the people. Politics mean operating with this 'x' without worrying about its actual nature. Making history is to recognize 'x' for what it stands for in the equation." 84
"History has taught us that often lies serve her better than the truth; for man is sluggish and has to be led through the desert for forty years before each step in his development. And he has to be driven through the desert with threats and promises, by imaginary terrors and imaginary consolations, so that he should not sit down prematurely to rest and divert himself by worshipping golden calves." 99
In reference to messages to the public (not unlike our society today):

"What was present as right must shine like gold, what was presented as wrong must be black as pitch; political statement shad to be coloured like ginger-bread figures at a fair." 179
"Gletkin read monotonously, without any intonation, in the colourless, barren voice of people who have learnt the alphabet late, when already grown-up." 187
In reference to torture:

"Now he was to find that powerlessness had as many grades as power; that defeat could become as vertiginous as victory, and that its depths were bottomless. And, step by step, Gletkin forced him down the ladder." 213
"At the age when you were given a watch, I was being taught by the village priest that Jesus Christ called himself a lamb, which had taken on itself all sin. I have never understood in what way it could help mankind if someone declares he is being sacrificed for its sake. But for two thousand years people have apparently found it quite natural." 226
"Whether Jesus spoke the truth or not, when he asserted he was the son of God and of a virgin is of no interest to any sensible person. It is said to be symbolical, but the peasants take it literally." 227
My favourite:

"There must have been laughter amidst the apes when the Neanderthaler first appeared on earth. The highly civilized apes swung gracefully from bough to bough; the Neanderthaler was uncouth and bound to the earth. The apes, saturated and peaceful, lived in sophisticated playfulness, or caught fleas in philosophic contemplation; the Neanderthaler trampled gloomily through the world, banging around with clubs. The apes looked down on him amusedly from their tree tops and threw nuts at him. Sometimes horror seized them: they ate fruits and tender plants with delicate refinement; the Neanderthaler devoured raw meat, he slaughtered animals and his fellows. He cut down trees which had always stood, moved rocks from their time-hallowed place, transgressed against every law and tradition of the jungle. He was uncouth, cruel, without animal dignity - from the point of view of the highly cultivated apes, a barbaric relapse of history. The last surviving chimpanzees still turn up their noses at the sight of a human being..." 229


shannon said...

Lovely review! You put it so eloquently... I'm quite envious! (I'm honestly not trying to be patronising or anything - it's so damn hard to get tone across on these things!)

Anonymous said...

Where the "Nick was right" comment?

Spudz said...

Thanks Shannon... enjoyed your review as well!

I have no idea what Nick was right about. I do know, however, that for two months in a row, Nick has brought a first edition. I can't wait to see the first edition of Frankenstein.