Ishmael has moved on to the next step of his argument. People, you will remember, believe that they are the pinnacle of creation, and are supposed to conquer the world. They do this by creating civilizations. Ishmael — the gorilla — likens this to early attempts at flying. Not understanding the laws of aerodynamics, he says, folks just jumped off cliffs and flapped their arms. Right up until they hit the ground, they thought they were flying. We, he says, are falling dangerously in our civilization, as so many have before us — the Maya, etc. — and still think we are flying. We see that other civilizations failed and disappeared, but we think that we can avoid the errors that caused that and go on happily forever — but in fact, since we don’t know the laws of how to live right, we are really just falling, not flying.
Again, it is an intriguing metaphor and an interesting point, but the gorilla continues to be irritating and the man continues to be stupid. The gorilla, while admonishing the man to try to think better and patronizingly assuring him that he doesn’t have to remember everything or understand everything at once, is taking the man step by tedious step through the very simple idea he is trying to convey. The teaching process would be suitable, perhaps, for a class of children working through the discovery process for the principles of aerodynamics — a set of knowledge which Ishamael refers to briskly as something everyone knows. But applied to this book’s body of ideas, it causes the reader to think, “Oh, just say what you want to say, for heaven’s sake!” Obviously, I am not achieving suspension of disbelief. But it is still an interesting book. I am eager to find out what the gorilla has in mind as the law of “how to live right.”
One thing that struck me as I was talking with #1 daughter about the book yesterday was that both of us had assumed it was written a long time ago. “When Grandma graduated from High School,” #1 daughter thought, and I would have said the 1950s, which is about the same time frame. In fact, this book appears to have been written about ten years ago. I think it is the language that gave us that impression. It sounds like something written in the 1950s.
The grandma in question did not like the book at all, and in fact did not make it through the first chapter. This really surprised me. She has a lot more tolerance for mysticism and romanticism than #1 daughter and I, and some of her own novels are dystopian and even include the Wise Teacher from Another Species motif (though hers are usually extraterrestrial).
If I can make guesses about what is coming next, it does seem to me that civilization itself — the subduing of nature and building up of culture — is to be the villain in the piece.
#2 daughter and I did not make it all the way through Coupling. We did, however, get to the used bookstore and buy every single novel there which we thought we might be able to read with enjoyment. I had a lot of credit for exchanged books, but it still cost more than we expected. We are stocked up for the summer, though, with light reading. We will alternate this with serious books others have suggested to us, including the Daniel Quinn books and Dr. Drew’s Process Theology, which we are for some reason holding hostage here. I want it on record that I would have mailed it to him. We also have Candyfreak, a couple of things on physics and chemistry, and some biographies. We also made it to the quilt shop, where the eucalyptus-colored fabric had arrived. I have washed and dried it, and #2 daughter is going to help me today with the cutting, which requires a level of accuracy I do not naturally possess. We cleaned up enough for me to tolerate the mess. And the Schwann’s man arrived, replenishing the sweetitude with ice cream and sorbet. So, what with one thing and another, I think we are prepared for the summer.