Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

WILLIAM GOLIDNG'S THE INHERITORS AN APPRECIATION CONCLUSION

Which brings us to William Golding's lovely novel, The Inheritors.  Golding [1911-1993] was an English novelist and poet, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who is best known for his novel, Lord of the Flies.  The Inheritors is a short novel, only 213 pages in my PocketBooks paperback edition, which tells the tragic story of an encounter between a small band of Neanderthal and a group of Cro Magnon, from the point of view of the Neanderthal!  The genius of Golding's artistic creation lies in his ability to imagine the world as the Neanderthal experience it.
Golding conceives the Neanderthal thought processes as essentially visual and pictorial, rather than analytic or linear.  "There was too much to see and [Lok] became eyes again that registered and perhaps would later remember what now he was not aware of."  The Neanderthal share the pictures in their heads by a primitive form of telepathy, which considerably supplements their rudimentary speech.  They are able, in effect, to show one another the pictures they imagine, and thus to communicate plans of action or feelings.
The plot is quite simple.  The little band of six or seven Neanderthal have just welcomed a "new one," a baby, into the group.  The death of an old one or the birth of a new one are terribly important events for the little group, whose survival depends on maintaining some minimum number.  The old woman is the keeper of fire -- when the group travel from place to place, she embeds the glowing embers in moist clay, and then blows them into flame when they arrive.  [As Golding imagines the Neanderthal, the females are wiser and more responsible than the males, incidentally.  Just the opposite is true of the Cro Magnon, as he represents them.]  The Neanderthal encounter the Cro Magnon, who steal the new one, the baby.  With the Cro Magnon's vastly superior technology -- they use dugout canoes and bows and arrows -- the outcome is never in doubt.
The pleasure of the novel, for me at any rate, lies almost entirely in Golding's ability to conjure a plausible image of the thought processes of the Neanderthal.  They experience the world visually, sensorily.  They experience surfaces.  Thus, when they see the new people, the Cro Magnon, paddling their canoes, Golding's rendering of what they see goes like this:  "Someone dug noisily in the water, and the logs bumped."  At one point [I cannot find the passage], Lok sees one of the Cro Magnon hold a bent stick with a twig across it [a bow and arrow.]  Then a twig suddenly grows out of the tree next to his head.  It takes a moment for the reader to understand that the Cro Magnon has shot an arrow that has embedded itself in the tree next to, Lok's head.  But that is not the way Lok experiences it.
Much of the central part of the novel is taken up with the desperate and unsuccessful efforts of the Neanderthal to retrieve the stolen new one [who has been taken by a Cro Magnon woman who seems to have lost her own baby.]   Then abruptly, seventeen pages before the end of the novel, the narrative perspective shifts, and the remainder of the story is told from the point of view of the Cro Magnon, who load up their canoes and paddle off into the distance, leaving the Neanderthal literally, historically, evolutionarily, and narratively behind.
And there it is.  The Inheritors is a simple novel, exquisitely conceived and carried off, that upends our customary expectations and evaluations and suggests what has been lost in the dying out of the Neanderthal and the triumph of modern homo sapiens sapiens.  It is a quick read, and I think well worth the effort.  I recommend it strongly.  In a sense, it can be thought of as a prequel to Golding's much more famous Lord of the Flies.

5 comments:

NotHobbes said...

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Inheritors-William-Golding/dp/0571225470


Just bought it, thanks Professor
:-)

(Makes refreshing change from reading "The uses of reform:Godly discipline and popular behaviour in Scotland and beyond, 1560-1610")

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I should think! No one can accuse you of going for the easy subjects. :)

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

Delightful. Thank you. Is there no evidence of paintings by these sensually, visually attuned creatures?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

No, although I believe [this may be wrong] that there is some evidence of burial goods -- i.e., objects being buried with the body, which suggests some cultural development. IT is worth noting that the Neanderthal survived as a species, through really challening climatic changes, for perhaps four or five times as long as our species has survived thus far.

By the way, the portrayal of the Neanderthal is of course Golding's artistic invention, not anything based on paleontological evidence!