The White Lily Blog

Gordimer, Guns, Original Sin

So much time, so much experience, and yet human life is short. The woman who looks out of her photograph on the wrapper in The House Gun is quite grey now, as am I, and her face is set in the sardonic expression of her work, as is my own, try as I might to even the eyebrows and turn up the line of the lips into a real smile.

And yet she is smiling. As am I. We have both triumphed over the Revolution.

She had to be seen as a revolutionist. She had, in fact, to help to bring it about. She had to make it happen, in order to expose it, and in The House Gun she has exposed it, exposed the contradiction at the heart of a society on the other side of apartheid. She has shown what in human nature can never be made equal, and she has shown through the book’s commentary on prayer what can never be made rational in an intrinsically irrational being. Her protest against the revolution, hidden in her books like a small jeweled vial: poison; her own prayer flung forth.

She was only speaking to her parents. That is clear, now. But I thought she was speaking to me, and we both were revolutionists together, in the holy Struggle. Thus I ignored the message of the heroine of Burgher’s Daughter. Thus, in my master’s thesis, I misinterpreted the characters of The Late Bourgeois World, thinking she meant to parallel Lenin’s exposure of them in Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder. Instead, I see now, she meant these characters are at the center of Marxism, and thus the flaw in it, and thus the prediction of the fall of the Soviet.

But the persistence of faith! The persistence of faith in men like Harold in The House Gun, the persistence of the need for confession and forgiveness in a world that has ceased to recognize sin and is lost in the contradiction of a world in which all men are equal by decree but mugging is the norm.

I have not sampled the criticism of The House Gun. It does not matter to me how others read Gordimer, especially those who watch everything from the outside, those consumers of revolution, those who wear Ché on their chests but never change their hearts-and those, too, who wear a crucifix but never die for love. She was my own companion when I was a sincere revolutionist, her voice I carried inside me as reassurance that we sought not only justice but beauty, when the movement was steadily disabusing me of that catholic notion, and when she herself was trying to gently disabuse me of it. She knew sincere revolutionists; she was speaking to us. And now, in this work, I have her nod: it was what she understood, and exposed, all along. She was always writing for those who could return, or who, like Harold, were always faithful. I did not, losing the revolution, losing a husband, losing a family, lose Gordimer. Oh, thank God.

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