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Critical Essay by Arthur A. Brown
SOURCE: "Raymond Carver and Postmodern Humanism," in Critique, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, pp. 125-36.
In the following essay, Brown—a professor at the University of California, Davis—argues that Cathedral is not a radical departure from Carver's style, but an example of his postmodern humanist writing.
When Raymond Carver wrote "Cathedral," he recognized that it was "totally different in conception and execution from any stories that [had] come before." He goes on to say, "There was an opening up when I wrote the story. I knew I'd gone as far the other way as I could or wanted to go, cutting everything down to the marrow, not just to the bone. Any farther in that direction and I'd be at a dead end" (Fires 204). He began to write longer stories, and his characters started to see things more clearly. Perhaps Carver was exaggerating, however, when he said that "Cathedral" was "totally" different.
Carver's writing has remained postmodern, a distinction as apparent as it is challenging to describe. The teacher of a drawing class once said as my class worked on contour drawings of a tree, "Don't lift your pencil from the page. Keep your eyes on the tree. Concentrate until you get a headache, until your pencil is on the branch of the tree." The contour drawing seems an apt metaphor for postmodern fiction, with its attention to surface detail, its resistance to depth, and its aspect of self-consciousness, where the medium merges with the subject—the creation of the fiction is the subject of the fiction. The pencil is on the tree. What can happen in postmodern fiction is what happened in that drawing class—when we looked down at the page, finally, we saw a good deal of contour drawing and little tree. What makes Carver's postmodern fiction so remarkable is that the tree is still there. He never loses sight of his subject, which is real life, even while his subject is also the creation of fiction.
"Cathedral" is the final story in the collection of stories by the same name; it is the first Carver wrote in this collection. William Stull characterizes the change the story represents in Carver's writing as a movement away from the "existential realism" of his earlier stories toward a "humanist realism."
Existential realism … treats reality phenomenologically, agnostically, and objectively. Whether dead or in occultation, God—the archetype of the author—is absent from the world, which is discontinuous, banal, and, by definition, mundane…. The style of existential realism is, therefore, studiously objective, impersonal, and neutral…. Humanist realism, in contrast, takes a more expressive, more "painterly" approach to its subjects…. Such realism treats reality metaphysically, theologically, and subjectively. (7-8)
Stull thoroughly examines the revision of a story entitled "The Bath," which first appeared in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In Cathedral, "The Bath" has become "A Small, Good Thing," and the most obvious difference is that it continues where the first story left off. The characters move from a serious miscommunication to a very real kind of communion. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this" (Cathedral 88), says the baker to the couple whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver and whom he had senselessly tormented, and he shares bread with them. It is a very different kind of eating from that found in many of Carver's earlier stories. In "The Idea," for example, eating—like the television, like language itself—substitutes for communion and is used by his characters to block out the realization that they are dissociated from themselves and from others, especially those with whom they should be the most intimate. "A Small, Good Thing" ends: "They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving" (89). Thus, "The Bath," which, according to Stull, had been "an existential tale of crass casualty," has become "a story of spiritual rebirth, a minor masterpiece of humanist realism" (13).
Stull refers to existential realism as postmodern, while he associates humanist realism with the classic realism of Balzac, Henry James, and the early James Joyce. Stull says, "Humanist realism … differs from its postmodern counterpart in both philosophical orientation and fictive techniques" (7). But Carver is as postmodern in "Cathedral" as he was in the existential stories in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, particularly "Neighbors," "Collectors," and "Put Yourself in My Shoes." Rather than characterize Carver's work in Cathedral as humanist realism, let us call it humanist postmodernism. The central action in "Cathedral" is itself a kind of contour drawing, where not one but two hands hold the pencil.
Most important, Carver does not need to revert to classic realism to express themes of brotherly and spiritual love. In today's world, these themes are more effectively realized in postmodern fiction. Carver's first accomplishment was to join realism with the resistance to depth and the self-consciousness peculiar to postmodern fiction. His second accomplishment has been to leave behind the themes of dissociation and alienation, which post-modern writers inherited from the modernists, and show that reassociation is possible. He has done this because his own theory of fiction never lets him leave real life.
Concerning the difference in the conception and the execution of "Cathedral," Carver said that he supposes "it reflects a change in [his] life as much as it does in [his] way of writing" (Fires 204). Mona Simpson and Lewis Buzbee once asked Carver, "Are your characters trying to do what matters?" He responded:
I think they are trying. But trying and succeeding are two different matters. In some lives, people always succeed…. In other lives, people don't succeed at what they are trying to do…. These lives are, of course, valid to write about, the lives of the people who don't succeed. Most of my own experience has to do with the latter situation…. It's their lives they've become uncomfortable with, lives they see breaking down. They'd like to set things right, but they can't. And usually they do know it, I think, and after that they just do the best they can. (Fires 201)
Thus it is Carver's personal experience that caused him to write about waitresses and salesmen, millworkers, the unemployed, would-be actors and writers, and people whose marriages had failed. His personal experience dealt with both a life he perceived as not succeeding and also with that perception. "And suddenly everything became clear to him" is a quote from a short story by Chekhov that Carver kept on a card near his desk. He explains:
I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that's implied. There is mystery, too. What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What's happened? Most of all—what now? (Fires 24)
Seeing is intricately related to being. The writer's art is not separate from existence but is part of it, not merely because it is the writer's task to see clearly and to show what he sees to others, but because seeing is a part of all of our lives. Without it we do not exist. In "Fires," Carver talks about the biggest influence on his life and writing—the fact that he had two children—and about a moment in a laundromat when it became clear to him that the things he had hoped for, the things he thought were possible in his life, simply were not going to happen. "But like that it came to me," Carver says. "Like a sharp breeze when the window is thrown open" (Fires 24). Moments of sudden clarity are moments of seeing, and these moments are dangerous and mysterious, like the wind. Our very identities are changing.
"The Pheasant" is a story about a young actor who has been living with an older woman for her money and her connections. "He could call himself an actor at long last" (Fires 150), says the omniscient narrator. What one can call oneself, the nature of one's identity, and the fact that identity is dependent upon watching others and being watched, as is the case in the acting profession, are ever-present themes in Carver's stories, and an element of self-consciousness is usually present during the moments in which everything becomes clear to his characters. These are moments of self-realization for the characters, but, in addition, an element of self-consciousness enters the story itself—the story seems aware of its own existence.
In "The Pheasant," the young man's identity as an actor is tenuous. One night just before his thirtieth birthday, he and his older woman-friend drive three hundred miles up the coast from Los Angeles to her beach house. On the way, as she dozes, he speeds up to hit a pheasant that crosses the path of the car. Driving again, after having stopped to look at the dead bird, the young man asks his companion, "How well do you really know me?" (149). She has no idea what he means. This is the point at which the exposition occurs and the character's brief biography is presented; in other words, it is here that the reader begins to know the young man. He asks, "Do you think I'd act, that I'd ever do something against my own best interest?" (150). She says she thinks he would. The young man remarks that the countryside is "[s]omething out of Steinbeck" (151), recalling the trucker in Grapes of Wrath who swerved to hit the turtle crossing the road. Finally, the young man tells his companion that he killed the pheasant intentionally:
She gazed at him for a minute without interest. She didn't say anything. Something became clear to him then…. [He] suddenly understood that he no longer had any values. No frame of reference, was the phrase that ran through his mind. (151)
"The phrase that ran through his mind": it is as though we hear the actor-character, as well as the narrator-writer, reflexively making life into fiction. The story continues: "'Is it true?' she said. He nodded. 'It could have been dangerous. It could have gone through the windshield'" (151). As soon as we are conscious, then, of the fiction, the question is asked: "Is it true?" Truth and danger go hand-in-hand, through the windshield.
Windows and breezes, or rushes of wind, figure heavily in Carver's fiction, especially at moments of sudden clarity. The word "window" comes from the Old Norse "vindauga," which means literally "wind eye." The window might be a symbol of fiction itself. Truth comes through it. We see ourselves by watching others, and in this revelation is mystery: "What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What's happened? Most of all—what now?" There is danger, for it is dangerous to consider that we might not know ourselves, that we might "act … against [our] own best interests." Here the young actor avoids danger to himself by killing the pheasant instead; he uses the pheasant's death to discover his own identity. Is that not the way we use fiction—both in the writing and the reading of it—to take us through crises we would rather not experience firsthand?
The most self-conscious of Carver's stories is probably "Put Yourself in My Shoes." He says in "Fires":
I once sat down to write what turned out to be a pretty good story, though only the first sentence of the story had offered itself to me when I began it. For several days I'd been going around with this sentence in my head: "He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang."… Pretty soon I could see a story, and I knew it was my story, the one I'd been wanting to write. (Fires 17)
It is not surprising that the sentence suggested a story to Carver; in fact, it might have suggested more than one. "Collectors" is about a vacuum cleaner salesman named Bell—as though Carver cannot help connecting the vacuum cleaner to the telephone—who essentially collects another man's identity. More to the point, in "Put Yourself in My Shoes" the main character is a writer. It is Carver's story, and it is Myers's. Perhaps there is a play on this character's name as well, with the words "my" and "yours." Perhaps it is also the reader's story.
One of postmodern fiction's assumed roles is to remind the reader not only of how he reads the text but, by extension, of how he reads the world. In reading we are creating a reflection of ourselves, as there is no perception without a perceiver. The world, like the text, is a fictional construct—although, unlike the text, it is also real. We identify our own search for identity with the writer's, and vice versa. By reminding us of this, the writer is doubly (or infinitely) identified, and so is the reader. This is the reason mirrors are so prevalent a sign in postmodern fiction, as they are in Carver's stories, for they represent the text itself. If windows are a symbol of fiction, mirrors are a symbol of postmodern fiction. Looking into them is no small matter, for the character's, the writer's, and the reader's existences are affirmed—and perhaps altered—in them.
"The telephone range while he was running the vacuum cleaner" (Will You Please 130) is the first sentence in the story. Myers's girlfriend Paula is calling from the Christmas office party at the firm Myers quit in order to write a novel. The first thing she tells him is that a fellow worker committed suicide. This is the first of several incidences of violent deaths that are related by one or another character in this story that is so concerned with storytelling. It is no accident that violence and death should be immediately under the surface. Carver says, "I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories…. There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent … or else, most often, there simply won't be a story" (Fires 17). There are more than artistic or technical reasons for the danger, however, for what is usually at stake is a character's identity, a character on the brink of being and not being. And yet, can we place the concerns of a character ahead of "artistic or technical" concerns? The story, too, is struggling to exist. Analogous to danger and the fear of death for a character is the possibility of a story not being written, or not being read, and that very fear and possibility make the story.
Paula wants Myers to come to the party, but Myers says no. He watches the snowflakes fall outside the window, rubs his fingers across the glass, then writes his name on the glass. Myers's writing his name on the window suggests, almost too clearly, that, like all writers, he obtains his identity from watching. Myers and Paula decide to meet at a bar, and on the way Myers looks at the people, the sky, and the buildings: "He tried to save it all for later. He was between stories, and he felt despicable" (132). They decide to leave the bar and visit the Morgans, in whose house they had lived when the Morgans were in Europe. As they start up the walk to the front porch, a dog runs out from the back of the house, heads straight for Myers, and knocks him over. Inside the house, Morgan, who is not too pleased with the unexpected visitors, asks Myers if he is all right. "I saw it," Morgan says. "I was looking out the window when it happened" (135). The narrator tells us that "this remark seemed odd to Myers." The idea of somebody watching him is what Myers finds odd, and he immediately turns this around and studies the man. At this point, Morgan is described, as though Carver, or the narrator, and Myers are working together. When Paula or the Morgans talk about what Myers does, which they do repeatedly, they say "he writes" rather than "he is a writer." He is still "between stories" and without an identity. "What did you write today?" Morgan asks, and Myers replies, "Nothing" (137).
Then the storytelling begins. The Morgans are eager to provide Myers with some material, and, after Morgan tells the first story, Mrs. Morgan, Paula, and Morgan himself offer different opinions as to which character's point of view would hold the most interesting possibilities for the story Myers should write. Morgan's remark reminds us of the title of the story we are reading when he says, "Put yourself in the shoes of that eighteen-year-old coed who fell in love with a married man. Think about her for a moment, and then you see the possibilities for your story" (139). Morgan adds, "It would take a Tolstoy to tell it and tell it right" (140).
Carver uses the stuffy, professorial Morgan to remind us of literature and its great traditions in order to make the point that those traditions are of the past—they will no longer work for today's stories or storytelling. In "Fat," the story that begins Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, the waitress-narrator has been telling a story to her friend. "What else? Rita says, lighting one of my cigarets and pulling her chair closer to the table. This story's getting interesting now." As if responding to both Rita and the reader, the waitress-narrator continues, "That's it. Nothing else" (5). At the point where the traditional story would have begun, today's story ends. There are no conclusions, no judgments.
After Morgan has finished his tale about the eighteen-year-old coed, the two couples hear singing. They go to the window to watch Christmas carolers across the street, and Mrs. Morgan says sadly, "They won't come here" (140). In fact, the singers do not come to the Morgans' house. Mrs. Morgan then decides to tell Myers a story she hopes he can use. It is a fairly long story, and it ends: "Fate sent her to die on the couch in our living room." The line sends Myers into a fit of laughter. The Morgans' idea of storytelling—of stories controlled by a universal, larger-than-life force that orders them and defines their meanings—is too much for Myers, and his laughter destroys the surface calm of the visit. "If you were a real writer," says Morgan, "… you would not laugh…. You would plumb the depths of that poor soul's heart and try to understand" (147).
"Plumbing the depths" is precisely what Carver and Myers will not presume to do. Says Carver:
What creates tension in a piece of fiction is partly the way the concrete words are linked together to make up the visible action of the story. But it's also the things that are left out, that are implied, the landscape just under the smooth (but sometimes broken and unsettled) surface of things. (Fires 17)
By keeping us on the surface. Carver is adding force to whatever is beneath it, or to the terrible sense that nothing is there at all. Dean Flower contrasts Carver's approach with Hemingway's theory that "you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted, and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood" (Baker 143). Flower writes of the stories in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?:
In their terse objectivity as well as subject matter … these episodes suggest Carver as a descendent of Hemingway, relocated in the Pacific Northwest. But where Hemingway's purified style was meant to imply volumes of unspoken knowledge, like the seven-eighths of an iceberg underwater, Carver's method suggests that the other seven-eighths either isn't there or isn't knowable. (281)
Hemingway never loses sight of his frame of reference, his values. If he leaves something out, it is only because he is so sure of what it is and he believes that, by leaving it out, he can make it felt more strongly. Carver has less choice about what he leaves out. There is no universal referent, no code of ethics or incontestable values, no resource of significant events to draw from in postmodern fiction. There may be no real reason, no cause, for the breaking down of our lives. There is no choice but to stay on the surface.
On the surface we find more than enough for real stories, and the real feelings of the characters in "Put Yourself in My Shoes" are evident from the beginning of the narrative in the observable surface details. "The real story lies right here, in this house, in this very living room, and it's time it was told!" Morgan cries (147). He does not realize that the story is being told. He accuses Myers of stealing from him, which is precisely what Myers is doing, whether or not he took Morgan's "two-volume set of 'Jazz at the Philharmonic'" (149), as Morgan accuses him of having done. Myers is stealing Morgan's identity for a story he is already writing in his head, just as it has been written by the narrator and just as we are reading it. In stealing Morgan's identity, Myers's own is reestablished, as are the narrator's and the reader's. As Myers and Paula leave the house, the dog yelps in fear and jumps to the side. Myers exists again. The story ends:
Myers patted her hand…. Her voice seemed to come to him from a great distance. He kept driving. Snow rushed at the windshield. He was silent and watched the road. He was at the very end of a story. (150)
In this story about storytelling, about itself, Myers, like the young actor in "The Pheasant," is protected from the wind by a windshield. Like Myers and Carver, we are protected from the real danger of not existing by the story itself. Myers and Carver seem happy, at least for the moment, and we are happy for them—and for ourselves.
Alongside the quote by Chekhov on Carver's wall was a quote by Ezra Pound: "Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing" (Fires 14). Citing this quote, William Stull states that, prior to writing Cathedral. Carver "embraced an aesthetic of accuracy, objectivity, and authorial neutrality" (4) and that "this moral and aesthetic orientation suggests a subject as well as a style" (5). The question is whether the moral and aesthetic orientation suggests the subject, or the subject suggests the moral and aesthetic orientation. We have discussed the importance of subject and of real life to Carver, as well as the more humble reasons he might write about "the lives of the people who don't succeed." In any case, Carver qualifies Pound's quote by adding that "[fundamental accuracy of statement] is not everything by ANY means" (Fires 14). Carver uses "fundamental accuracy of statement" in order to make real life, as he sees it, vivid.
In "On Writing," Carver quotes V. S. Pritchet's definition of a short story: "something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing."
Notice the "glimpse" part of this [Carver continues]. First the glimpse. Then the glimpse given life, turned into something that illuminates the moment and may, if we're lucky … have even further-ranging consequences and meaning. The short story writer's task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power. He'll bring his intelligence and literary skill to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things: of how things out there really are and how he sees those things—like no one else sees them. And this is done through the use of clear and specific language, language used so as to bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader. For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given. (Fires 17-18)
Four things come together here: subject ("how things out there really are"), seeing ("how he sees those things—like no one else sees them"), language ("the use of clear and specific language"), and, inseparable from the others, meaning.
In an essay entitled "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?: Voyeurism, Dissociation, and the Art of Raymond Carver," David Boxer and Cassandra Phillips write: "In Carver's works, the gulf between the seer and the seen—that is, between writer and subject—is very small indeed. His voice barely impinges upon the story being told" (79). We are again reminded of the contour drawing, in which ideally the pencil seems to be on the tree itself. Boxer and Phillips continue:
[Carver] seems to have appropriated what he's writing about and to have kept the stolen thing closely intact out of fascination or respect. And so, as we read his stories, we feel we're accomplices in this faintly stealthy act of appropriation. Like the writer, we're voyeurs, peering into the disturbed lives of these unsuspecting characters. This is what is unique about Carver, his thorough but subtle manipulation of the metaphor of the voyeur at every level of his writing. (79-80)
Boxer and Phillips briefly examine the role of the voyeur in literature.
[Whitman] used voyeurism as a way of resolving the paradox of the One and the Many, the individual and the other. Whitman's omniscient self plays at being invisibly present at the events described by the poet … "I am the man, I suffer'd, I was there." Thus, voyeurism becomes emblematic of an ultimate form of identification and empathy. But in our century a strong bond has been forged between voyeurism and alienation, disconnectedness rather than connectedness. (78)
They point to examples of this alienated voyeur in the work of Eliot, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway and of contemporary writers such as Fowls, Panchen, Barth, Walker Percy, and Leonard Michaels, among others. If Carver makes us—the readers—feel like accomplices in voyeurism, then a kind of collaboration is implied, a connection at least between writer and reader, even if this is achieved at the characters' expense. Furthermore, have we not suggested that seeing, rather than being separate from life, is at the very heart of it, that it is a necessary part of being? What the writer does is intensify this phenomenon, both for himself and for his readers. Carver's art, rather than being one of dissociation, is an art of association, of participation. As though his success at writing has brought this home to him, Carver is ready, at the time he writes "Cathedral," to share this success with his characters.
A blind man comes to spend the night with the narrator of the story and his wife. The blind man, whose wife has just died of cancer, is an old friend of the narrator's wife. She had worked for him, reading case studies to him in his office in the county social-service department, while her first husband was in officer's training school. That her job was reading and her work with the blind man was performing a kind of social service are details that show that Carver wants us to be aware of reading and of its humanist possibilities. Moreover, the narrator's wife had written a poem about the blind man touching her face. The narrator seems uneasy about all this.
How do I know these things? She told me. And she told me something else. On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose—even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her. (Cathedral 210)
His wife having written a poem about the blind man touching her face connects human intimacy to reading and writing in an obvious way. The narrator dwells on the poem, which his wife had showed to him when they first started seeing each other.
In the poem, she talked about what she had felt at the time, about what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips. I can remember I didn't think much of the poem…. Maybe I just don't understand poetry. (210)
By the end of the story, thanks to the blind man, it is clear that this seemingly insensitive narrator is perfectly capable of understanding poetry.
More subtly, the blind man's touching the face of the narrator's wife is almost itself an act of reading and writing, as though one human being is reading and writing another. As with the contour drawing, the blind touching can be seen as a metaphor for postmodern fiction. Again the attention is on the surface, but here the surface is human. The blind man's touching the face of the narrator's wife is a very different way of seeing and establishing another's—or one's own—identity from Myers's rubbing his fingers and writing his name on the cold glass. Here the knowledge of others and of ourselves is a more intimate knowledge, although we cannot forget that the knowledge is blind, appearing not in the light of some controlling order but in darkness. It is a human knowledge, simply a human connection.
The narrator is jealous of the blind man, especially since his wife's friendship with the man dates back to the time of her first husband, "the man who'd first enjoyed her favors" (210). But there seem to be other reasons the narrator does not want the blind man to stay with them. Blindness is strange to him. Not only has the blind man known his wife longer than he has, and in ways that he has not known her, but from tape recordings his wife has exchanged with the blind man over the years, the man even seems to know him. He had heard the blind man say on one of the tapes, "From all you've said about [your husband], I can only conclude …" And then the tape had been interrupted.
After dinner, the three drink, smoke marijuana, and watch television. The narrator tells us, "Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed together at the same time. When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes I'd wake up from one of them, my heart going crazy" (222). It is significant that he puts this in the past tense. Presumably, the events he is narrating have changed his domestic life. Furthermore, the loss of marital intimacy he describes recalls Carver's earlier stories—again "The Idea" is a good example—in which any intimacy, sexual or even conversational, either no longer exists or was never there. In his foreword to William Kittredge's We Are Not in This Together, Carver writes, "There's God's plenty of 'disease' in these stories, a phrase Camus used to describe a certain terrible kind of domesticity" (ix). In "The Idea," an almost hyper real symbol of this "dis-ease" is the ants the woman finds after her husband has gone to bed; in "Cathedral," it seems to reveal itself surrealistically in the narrator's dreams. In "Cathedral," however, we are not left with the bad dreams, and Carver may be pointing to a way out of this "dis-ease."
After his wife has fallen asleep, her robe having slipped open as she sits back on the sofa between the narrator and the blind man, the narrator asks the blind man if he is ready to go to sleep. The blind man responds, "Not yet…. No, I'll stay up with you, bub. If that's all right. I'll stay up until you're ready to turn in" (222). There is a program on the television about cathedrals, and it occurs to the narrator that the blind man might have no idea what a cathedral looks like. He asks him, and the blind man says he does not have a good idea and asks the narrator to describe one. The narrator tries but has a difficult time.
They're massive. They're built of stone. Marble, too, sometimes. In those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God. In those olden days, God was an important part of everyone's life. (225)
God was also an important part of fiction, and fiction now must find its way without him. The blind man asks the narrator whether he is in any way religious. The narrator shakes his head and says he guesses he does not believe in anything. He ends his description of cathedrals by saying, "The truth is, cathedrals don't mean anything special to me. Nothing. Cathedrals. They're something to look at on late-night TV. That's all they are" (226).
The blind man asks the narrator to get a pen and some heavy paper. The narrator gets a ball point pen from his wife's room upstairs and a shopping bag from the kitchen, items that remind us of his domestic life. The blind man puts his hand over the narrator's hand and tells him to draw. He tells the narrator to close his eyes. The television station goes off the air. Together, they draw a cathedral. "His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper," the narrator says. Thus the blind man is feeling not the finished drawing of the cathedral, not the paper or the cathedral itself, but the making of it—he is participating in the drawing of the cathedral. The blind man says, "I think that's it. I think you got it…. Take a look. What do you think?" (228). The narrator has almost become the blind man, and the blind man the narrator. Who is drawing for whom? Reader and writer have merged. The narrator does not want to open his eyes.
"Well?" [the blind man] said. "Are you looking?"
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.
"It's really something," I said. (228)
If the contour drawing is a metaphor for postmodernism, then this contour drawing, of one hand upon another's, is a metaphor for humanist postmodernism. Through the making of a fiction together, the narrator and the blind man come to communicate; even more, they become aware not merely of their physical but of their spiritual being. The narrator shows the blind man a cathedral, and the blind man shows the narrator how to see. He shows him what a cathedral means. He shows him something larger than himself. And the narrator is good enough to show us.
Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Avon Books, 1980.
Boxer, David, and Cassandra Phillips. "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?: Voyeurism, Dissociation, and the Art of Raymond Carver." Iowa Review 10.3 (1979): 75-90.
Carver, Raymond. Cathedral. New York: Vintage, 1984.
――――――. Fires. New York: Vintage, 1984.
――――――. Foreword. We Are Not in This Together. By William Kittredge. Washington: Graywolf Press, 1984.
――――――. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.
Flower, Dean. "Fiction Chronicles." The Hudson Review 29 (1976): 270-82.
Stull, William, "Beyond Hopelessville: Another Side of Raymond Carver." Philological Quarterly 64 (1985): 1-15.
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