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Critical Essay by William F. Touponce
SOURCE: "Reverie and the Utopian Novel," in Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and the Reader, UMI Research Press, 1984, pp. 79-110.
In the following essay, Touponce examines the utopian construct and social criticism of Fahrenheit 451 through extensive analysis of dialectic; historical and psychological effect; and reader response.
Although the utopian novel addresses itself to a reader, literary criticism has been primarily concerned with the author's point of view, paying little attention to how the reader might be affected. One notable exception to this rule is Richard Gerber's Utopian Fantasy, which brings out the important role of reader expectation in such works. In following the theme of the utopian traveller in the evolution of utopian fiction since the end of the nineteenth century, he notes that the general aesthetic problem of utopian literature—how to present us with a society already made—inevitably involves the reader in a search for the past history of the society, what he calls the "utopian past."
If the writer of utopia could express the ideas of his hypothetical model of society directly in the experience of his characters, Gerber explains, he could dispense with the argumentative essays—the exposition of utopian life and passages of undigested social theory that often mar the attempt to create an effective utopian novel. But in practice this is nearly impossible to avoid. The new world is simply too unfamiliar. And the creator of a fictional utopia has to present us with a new construct that must be explained to the reader much as the naturalist writer explained society to his readers, but without the initial familiarity of the latter's scenes.
For the nineteenth century, Gerber points to the example of William Morris's News from Nowhere as being typical of how the past is hardly ever made a dramatic problem. As in most utopian novels of this century, historical accounts or discussions of how the utopian society came to be are usually placed in a central part where afamiliar repertoire of characters engage one another. Usually, the stranger or utopian wise man (Old Hammond in Morri's novel) meet and discuss all the important questions connected with the subject. Gerber argues that few utopian novels of this sort are successful at making the society come alive for the reader because of the reader's position in the historical account—he is being passively informed rather than actively searching for the meaning of the utopian past for himself. These discursive passages, Gerber concludes, inevitably slow down the pace of the reader's exploration and discovery so that the reader is barely made to feel what it would be like to live in such a utopia. This last requirement Gerber takes to be the historical task of the utopian tradition and the uppermost desire of utopian authors throughout the historical period his book encompasses.
Gerber also observes what happens to the reader's role in twentieth century utopian fiction, where an assimilation of techniques from the modern novel enables utopian writers to effect their desire for a complete society on the reader with more direct means than didactic arguments and discussions. The imaginary journey with its functional type, the pseudonative traveller who reminds us of the unreality of the utopian world by his very presence in it, gives way to a new kind of plot which he terms "completely utopian action." In this type of story (Gerber lists Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World as examples) the historical account has been effectively absorbed into the structure of the novel. Interest centers in the utopian characters and their existential problems which are directly presented (we might say through the system of perspectives that Iser has outlined as the underlying structure of the novel). More importantly, the reader is acquainted with the utopian world by means of an initial shock or surprise (a defamiliarization, we might say) instead of a gradual transition. This surprise enables the utopian writer to attain the closest possible connection with the reader's present-day reality. The reader must of necessity try to familiarize himself with his estranged surroundings (by projecting images into the text). In this manner, and by individual strategies which we need not examine here, 1984 and Brave New World bring the reader to actively imagine the utopian society for himself: "At last the utopian writer's aim has been achieved: utopia has come alive, the reader becomes a citizen of the imaginary world."
This traditional desire to achieve the effect of an imaginary society goes along with Gerber's system of aesthetic values in utopian fantasy. Gerber proposes a series of touchstones for the successful utopian novel which can easily be integrated into Iser's theory. Gerber says that in general the reader must feel the presence of a consistently worked-out fundamental hypothesis, first by giving it imaginative reality and then by following it through all its ramifications. Furthermore, the utopian novel must present us with a society worked out in suggestive detail. The narrative must work on the reader's imagination with more than just statistics, arguments, or discussions. If there is any satire implicit in the contrast of the two societies (the reader's and theone presented in the book,) it cannot be merely didactic: the reader must feel it for himself. Most importantly for Gerber, the novel's imaginary society should seem to be alive, and we should be made to feel what it would be like to live in such a utopia (utopia must be given full ontological status as an imaginative reality—not written off by the author as just a "fantasy" as W. R. Irwin's study would seem to indicate). And finally, Gerber's aesthetic value system requires that after reading a negative utopia (dystopia or anti-utopia) the reader should be thoroughly and experientially dissatisfied with the present state of society: he will have worked out for himself through the exercise of his own utopian imagination the meaning of the novel's latent social criticism.
Beyond this modicum of expectation, we should refrain at the outset from imposing any abstract generic schemes on our reading of Fahrenheit 451, for those critics who have not done so have been led by their preconceptions to derive false interpretations from a true response. A good case in point is John Huntington's recent study of utopian and anti-utopian logic in the novel. Huntington claims that the novel moves from dystopia to utopia, from negative to positive without evoking any critical positions in between, and he thinks that this is a deep structural contradiction which cannot be mediated except in a "blurred" fashion (imagery and evocation rather than true thought): "The dystopian and utopian possibilities in the novel are thus represented by separate clusters of images that the novel finds unambiguous and leaves unchallenged." Indeed, in this view of the text, mediation produces horror rather than thought. Nature is good and technology is bad, but the ultimate horror is a mixture of the two, the mechanical hound, which combines the relentlessness of the bloodhound with the infallibility of technology.
But if both possibilities depend on systems of imagery that ignore contradictions, Huntington goes on to note the very presence of contradiction in the novel's central symbol:
The interesting difficulty is where do books fit into this simple opposition? Since Gutenberg the book has been a symbol of technological progress. Bradbury counters this meaning of his symbol by reducing his pastoral, not to paper books, but to humans who remember books. Thus the replication and general availability that are books' virtues, but which the novel has seen as the instruments of the mass-culture that has ruined the world, are denied. We have the idea of the book without the fact of its production. Then, by becoming a general symbol of the past now denied, the book becomes a symbol for all old values, but this symbolism brings up two difficulties. First, whatever good books have propagated, they have also preached the evils that have oppressed the world. The very technology that the novel finds threatening would be impossible without books. Second, books can readily inspire a repressive and tradition-bound pedantry which, while anti-technological, is also against nature.
One wonders how Huntington could have arrived at this awareness of contradictions if the novel in fact so studiously avoids them. Thus Huntington is confused by the end of the novel where he sees the moral vision of the novel and its ideal of radiant literacy made subject to a "titanic revision of values." But to read it this way would be to suppose that Bradbury is attempting anti-utopian thought, which he admits seems unlikely. These difficulties are the result of genre theory, narrowly conceived. If Huntington had remained true to his actual experience of reading, instead of trying to impose an abstract scheme on it, he would have been led to discover the complex dialectical process by which the social criticism of the novel is effected and to a clearer perception of its themes. On the oneiric level, mediations are everywhere suggested, and as we will show later they evoke anything but horror.
The reader's search for the meaning and significance of utopia is in essence the subject of the book, as should be obvious from the fact that the protagonist, Montag the fireman, is caught up as a reader himself in the very contradictions Huntington mentions. This is what makes the book's portrayed world so dramatic and easily realized (quite apart from the fact that fire itself easily and dramatically brings about the phenomena of a fantastic world). Its main hypothesis—that technology, mass culture, and minority pressure brought about the world we see portrayed in the novel—is indeed made concrete for the reader because of the very contradictions of books. I do not mean that Fahrenheit 451 is contradictory in the sense that it refutes its own hypothesis, but only that it does not deny the negative and contradictory values of books themselves. Why this negative value needs to be preserved is something we can now elaborate on.
Fahrenheit 451 makes vivid for the reader the whole problematic course of Western enlightenment that culminated in technology and the positivistic processes of thought its worldwide dominance have brought about. In order to know nature objectively we in a sense misrecognize or forget ourselves as part of nature. The price of progress is brought about by a kind of oblivion, like that of a surgical operation on our bodies during which we were unconscious or anesthetized. Consciousness once more restored, we find it difficult to bridge the gap between our present and our past: "The loss of memory is a transcendental condition for science. All objectification is a forgetting." The disenchantment of nature and myth brings about a certain triumph of man over his fears, but by defining man in opposition to nature it sets up a program for domination and so reverts to barbarism and mythic repetition. Thus like the phoenix symbol used in the novel, history in Fahrenheit 451 appears to go in cycles. The irony seems to be that the capacity to know and represent the world to ourselves is the measure of our domination of it, but domination—power and knowledge—are the things most often represented. Language itself (as that of Fire Chief Beatty in the novel) is used deceitfully as a tool for domination: "The capacity of representation is the vehicle of progress and regression at the same time."
It is understandable then that this dialectical process is represented in Fahrenheit 451 as a fantastic reversal of the real world. Firemen who should control fires (perhaps the ultimate symbol of technology in the novel) are lighting them instead. The reader is at first surprised by this when the novel opens immediately with a scene of house burning or arson in which Montag takes pleasure in burning books, and it sets him off on his quest for understanding the relationship between this fantastic world and his own. It is also therefore a contradiction within the imagery system of the dystopian world itself, for how can the technological world be represented by natural imagery? It seems that we must find a nonalienating way to represent the demands of unrecognized nature. Fire in this world can only be ironic enlightenment.
The principles of this false enlightenment are made apparent to the reader by the book's vitriolic attack on mass culture, which turns out to be a permanent denial of pleasure despite the power it displays and promises. No modern utopian novel insists more than Fahrenheit 451 on the nonidentity of culture and society. The book struggles at every point to double or split the reader's forced and false identification with the society which has nurtured him. It compels the reader to discover for himself the passivity of the subject in mass culture, his loss of critical autonomy and freedom, and the general decline of negative critical forces in society—forces which could lead to a critique of existing conditions if not to utopia. This splitting constantly happens to Montag in his readings and is dramatized especially in the second part of the novel. It is here that the book registers a deeply felt fear that mass culture is threatening to collapse art as an autonomous realm of utopian freedom into the mere mechanical reproduction and repetition of the economic base. Why are books banned in this society? The reader discovers with Montag that they are the only thing left which harbors the forces of negation or principles through which the world around us could be made to appear false and alienating (what the implied author obviously thinks is the case). As the utopian wise man Faber says, books show the pores in the face of life, its gaps and discontinuities.
But what role does reverie have in the novel? This only emerges clearly in the third part of the novel when Montag has escaped the city. The third part of Bradbury's hypothesis is realized here. It was minority pressure which combined with the other two forces which eventually led to the need for everyone to be the same—to narcissism, in short. People must be mirror images of each other which means that they never have any real contact with a world outside themselves. And advertising and other media techniques are bent on artificially stimulating the consumption of grandiose images of the self within the city itself. This psychological theme is very prominent in Fahrenheit 451, and it is surprising that no critic has made much of it since Kingsley Amis twenty years ago.
Amis argued that the lesson to be drawn from Fahrenheit 451 is not only that a society could be devised that would frustrate active virtues, nor even that these could eventually be suppressed, but that there is in all kinds of people something that longs for this to happen. This need presupposes not some kind of overt political action (indeed, no violent military takeover or class struggle is indicated in the novel), but a tendency in human behavior that could be reinforced if certain tendencies presently at work in society were not corrected or mitigated. Analyzing a scene from Fahrenheit 451 in which Mildred, Montag's wife, is near suicide from a drug overdose and is listening only to the noise of an electronic Seashell, he concludes that it demonstrates to him a "fear of pleasure so overmastering that it can break down the sense of reality or at least the pattern of active life, and break them down in everyone, not merely in the predisposed neurotic." Now, it is the experience of reverie in the third part of the novel which connects us to a real natural world (an arcadian utopia, in fact) outside the narcissism of the city. The reader rediscovers through a long water-reverie, which is the exact opposite of Mildred's, the archetypes of utopian satisfaction. We experience with Montag a non-alienating relationship to nature, and this experience of the imaginary, of another world not based on domination, enables us to effect an oneiric criticism of technological society.
It is Bradbury's strategy to link initially the experience of reverie and world with Clarisse, Montag's teenage neighbor. Montag knows that all books that are works of art are connected with her in some way, for she awakens in him the desire to read (to create an imaginary world). But we must also be given some distance from this experience of the imaginary if we are to effect social criticism. To identify completely with a character in a novel or play, as Madame Bovary and Don Quixote do, to become the book, is romantic madness and Faber tells Montag so in the book's central section. This sort of narcissism is resisted early in the book; the reader is repeatedly split, and we should therefore not be surprised at the end when Granger, the leader of the book people, tells Montag that he is not important, but the book he remembers is. Books must preserve their independent, autonomous and negative character, if they are to aid us in transforming basic impulses in the personality such as narcissism. Works of art, therefore, by representing deprivation as negative retract, as it were, the prostitution of the utopian impulse by the culture industry and rescue by mediation what was denied: "The secret of aesthetic sublimation is its representation of fulfillment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses." In Bradbury's novel media are not mediations unless they have some historical content to transform in the first place. Books are the repositories of that content, the novel's utopian past.
So Bradbury's novel is itself negative in representing utopia as a broken promise and pessimistic to the extent that utopian alternatives seem to be preserved nowhere else than in the damaged lives of cultural outsiders. Yet it must be that Bradbury believes that social freedom is inseparable from enlightened thought, from remembering the mistakes of the past and not from forgetting them, because he holds out the promise that after this new Dark Age man may begin again. At the end of Fahrenheit 451 books are no longersymbols of technological progress—of power and knowledge—but rather of wisdom.
Roughly, that is the course of the reader's discovery in the novel. It remains to be shown in detail how the reader builds up an understanding of these themes by means of a repertoire of patterns serving an overall strategy through which the world of Fahrenheit 451 is presented. As previously mentioned, there are two opposed imagery systems in the novel. They have been isolated and independently studied by thematic criticism, as has the elaborate system of allusions and quotations in the novel. They are in fact two different modes of fantasy, one leading to existential and reflexive use of the imagination in which the self can represent a world to itself in a non-alienated fashion, the other undermining the self's ability to conceive of anything outside of a fragmented dream. Together they constitute the poles of the suspended system of equivalences that the reader activates in reading the novel, which unfolds in a dialectical three-part structure as I have indicated.
In a first reading, and not by reading selectively to illustrate the imaginative and moral values of the novel, as we will do in a moment, the reader of Fahrenheit 451 is immediately struck by the fact that the implied author has chosen to select and "depragmatize" a certain mode of fantasy as representing the dominant ideological systems of the fifties. Why, the reader asks, has this one been chosen and not another? Specifically, why is Montag's job (which is supposedly so important to the maintenance of order) treated as a carnival, and why is he a kind of clown? Why is happiness and not freedom the ideal of this society?
This simultaneous evocation and depragmatization of images representing the "culture industry" (Kulturindustrie—the term is Theodor Adorno's) leads the reader to project acts of consciousness into the text under conditions very different from that in which he experiences these media in real life. The reader thereby discovers deficiencies or contradictions inherent in such a system. The selection and intensification of Freudian fantasy (perhaps best exemplified by his book The Interpretation of Dreams, which discusses the unconscious processes involved in the dream's staging and representation of fulfilled desire) by the repertoire brings the reader to discover a destructive core of narcissism pervading the world of the novel, and by direct implication, the society around him.
I find that Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism (1979) simplifies but still gets at the essential criticism that Bradbury's reader has to enact. Lasch's point is that people in the "society of the spectacle" (and by that he means the specific social and economic environment of the post-World War II period) have lost the experience of real satisfaction because of the fabrication of so many pseudo-needs by industrial civilization. Uninterrupted advertising transmitted by mass media uses Freudian images of utopian satisfaction not so much to create desire (which in Freud's system is related to a lost object anyway) as to activate anxiety about one's self-image. Indeed, the similarities are so striking in so many details that I am tempted to agree with French post-structuralist thinkers such as Louis Marin who argue that at a determined moment of history, utopian textual practice sketches or schematizes unconsciously, by the spatial plays of its internal differences (non-congruences), the empty places (topics) which will be filled by the concepts of social theory in a later phase of history. To write a utopia is to indicate what cannot yet be said within the available language.
But this would be to deconstruct my own phenomenological project, perhaps the subject for a future book, but hardly compatible with my view here of the temporal unfolding of meaning for the reader of Fahrenheit 451, which, as in all fantasy based on reverie, exists in a realm between the unspeakable and the conceptually spoken, the realm of the poetic word. It would also be to deny that the utopian novel can effect critical thought in the reader, is more than a "neutralization" of society's contradictions. For the moment it is best to bracket the relationship between social theory and literature, although Bradbury's book did appear at a time when many studies purported to analyse the psychological impact of social changes on character structure: Eric Fromm's "market-oriented personality," or William H. Whyte's famous "organization man" being two obvious examples. It may be, as Lasch says, that these social theorists mistook the bland surface of American sociability for the deeper reality, which he believes was the creation of a narcissistic personality amenable to social domination, but such arguments, interesting as they are in themselves, would take us too far afield.
In any case Bradbury does lay bare the hidden violence and emptiness of this sort of personality. The reader cannot organize the image-sequences of the programmed fantastic (or so I term the fantasy of the telescreens) which represents the world of appearances, into a coherent experience. Furthermore, we are made aware by a constant ironic switching of character perspectives that the self-mastery and happiness preached by the advocates of this mode of fantasy is completely false. Their inner selves are exposed as chaotic and impulse-ridden. Both Fire Chief Beatty and Mildred are deeply suicidal.
Once the reader discovers that Freudian fantasy has been selected to personify negative trends in our society (especially advertising and debased romantic fantasies, "the Clara Dove five-minuteromance"), he is also led, through the activation of his own archetypal imagination in reverie, to seek out and consider solutions to the problems raised by the programmed fantastic. This is tied together with Montag's search for the utopian past, as I have mentioned, and his readings produce a system of allusions and quotations which guide us in this process by stimulating, however briefly, the experience of the imaginary, the promise of a world of meaning that can only be given through literature. Thus both modes of fantasy converge on the problem of utopia through a process of coherent deformation, a reciprocal projection and contrast of images drawn from both systems.
The search for answers to the utopian past is, as Gerber indicates, an aspect of plot which needs to be integrated into the experience of the main character. Fahrenheit 451 accomplishes this through its strategies. In particular, the experience of literacy as a new psychic faculty is organized by a theme-and-horizon strategy which now foregrounds and now allows to be part of the background the reading of forbidden books. This strategy controls the dialectical contradictions experienced by Montage, who goes from being a burner of books curious about what they contain, to a Promethean reader who wants to redeem all culture, to a chastened man who assumes responsibility for his existence, and, by resolutely committing himself to memorize a part of the Bible, for the healing of others. The plot of Fahrenheit 451, if we wanted to discuss it apart from the demands of signification made on the reader, is not simply an inversion from positive to negative or vice-versa. The mediations go from ignorance to knowledge and from knowledge to its enunciation as the novel ends.
Despite the apparent oppositional arrangement of the repertoire, which would seem to require that the text set norms against one another by showing up the deficiencies of each norm when viewed from the standpoint of the others, in a process of reciprocal negation and continual conflict, in actuality the strategy embodied in Fahrenheit 451 is much simpler, closer to what Iser terms the counterbalancing arrangement, and to the traditional utopian novel. In this arrangement the elements of the repertoire allotted to different perspectives form a very definite hierarchy. Qualities and defects of the perspectives are clearly graded. The hero represents the principal perspective through which a catalogue of norms is unfolded. In Fahrenheit 451 Montag is intended to be an effective counterbalancing visualization of that which the society of spectacles seems to exclude—an exemplary concern for the rights of others and a world outside the self. Nevertheless, the norms of the culture industry take place in a context of negated and negating perspectives—a context quite different from the system out of which they were selected. This is tantamount to saying that the reader becomes aware of the influences and functions they perform in real life. And Clarisse, a minor character by objective standards because she disappears early in the novel, is in essence the inspirational anima figure of Montag's quest. She represents those imaginative values he lacks and which he must acquire. Otherwise the social norms and imaginative values of the repertoireare assigned to perspectives that are subtly undermined. Those characters attracted to fantasy-spectacle (Mildred and Fire Chief Beatty) have complexes which reveal a hidden ontological insecurity which they have not consciously faced. Even Faber's ideal of radiant literacy is undercut, but self-consciously by himself.
What this amounts to saying is that the reader must pay special attention to the oneiric level of the text, the transcendental vantage point which eventually he must build up in order to have a coherent aesthetic response to the text's world and from which the events and characters are to be imagined. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the case of the mechanical hound and the sense of uneasiness it is intended to provoke. This feeling of uneasiness or uncanniness is linked to the oneiric strategy of making the reader become aware of the nonidentity of society and culture. The reader must be doubled or made self-conscious of it. Treated objectively (as Huntington and W. R. Irwin seem to do) the hound represents another character perspective, a failed mediation, or the dragon on Montag's quest. On the oneiric level of significance, however, it is the embodiment of the uncanny return of our existential problems that we have attempted to banish with the use of technology. It represents also the history of repressed nature which follows its own underground logic: "It was like a bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that overrich nectar …"
Huntington says that mediation in this novel produces only horror, which is a true response on the affective level, but it is also a contradiction or negation or mediation because the reader wants to know why technology is represented by alienated natural imagery. Interpreted in a dialectical-historical fashion, these images yield up their truth and cognitive value: this is not the utopian nectar of the gods on Olympus, offering eternal bliss, but that of some dark underworld; it is surely not wisdom or spiritual riches either, but the representation of the productivity and abundance of nature gone awry. What is "that overrich nectar"? The obedient activity of dominated nature, the bee, produces only poison for us by some process that is now mysterious. Like a nightmare it seems alien to conscious life, and cannot be integrated into it. Yet the bee has come home to its hive, our society, and is familiar to us. The material imagination aids us in understanding the oneiric level of significance here, which is much more than metaphor, and in transforming historical content. Thus the reader's response has to be both cognitive and sublimative; he is doubled or split by the initial uncanniness, but in responding he must make full use of his humanity.
W. R. Irwin's response to the novel is interesting in this regard, for he reports that the mechanical hound evokes no uneasiness in him and that the reader is not doubled. Irwin's rhetoric of fantasy, The Game of the Impossible, argues that the reader's role in any fantasy text is a kind of "dual participation" because fantasy is a demonstrational narrative dominated by intellectual persuasion. The reader is persuaded by the author's rhetoric toaccept an "anti-fact" which is then developed by intellectual play. But the reader must be kept continuously aware that he is engaged with the impossible as a factitious reality—there can be no surprises or ambiguities about the rules of the game of the impossible (Irwin's theory is in fact the exact logical opposite of Todorov's). The reader "must feel at all times intellectually 'at home' in the narrative and yet maintain his sense of intellectual alienation as a means of reflecting on the displaced real." According to Irwin, Fahrenheit 451 is not a fantasy because its narrative does not deal with the impossible and does not evince utopian thinking that asserts and plays with the idea of an impossible society. Incredibly, Irwin bases these conclusions not on an analysis of the reader's role in Fahrenheit 451, or even on a consideration of what the generic role of the reader is in utopian fantasy, but on the supposed science-fiction content of the novel. Science fiction, he says, while it may deal with the improbable, does not assert "the thing which is not." After summarizing the plot of the novel he goes on to affirm:
My point is that all the devices by which tyranny is secured either exist at present or may be foreseen as probable technological developments of the near future. Even the Mechanical Hound puts no strain on belief; it is a not very daring instance of the malevolent robot. And we are all used to robots. I feel safe in saying that no machine that possesses super-animal or superhuman capabilities can prompt a reader to say "impossible."
Quite apart from the fact that this analysis cannot be made to agree with Irwin's own normative statement that "to define a genre by its material content alone is a mistake," one senses in the background and from his disparagement of reverie in general the presence of a non-dialectical Aristotelian logic with its categories of probable, improbable and impossible. This sort of logic cannot deal with dialectical contradiction or the Freudian logic of the uncanny. Irwin reports that he "feels safe" in his response to the mechanical hound, but also that the narrative did not make him feel at home while engaging in a game of contradictory credences (in other words, this is science fiction, not fantasy; but we are all familiar with robots). Again one wonders whether a true response has been falsified by the imposition of a foreign logical scheme. The recognition that we are the source of strangeness, and that we cannot escape our existential problems by the use of technology and representational logic, constitutes an uncanny feeling to say the least.
In what follows I shall be concerned only to point out instances of the reader's developing response to the oneiric level of the text. Limitations of space forbid my giving a narrative reading as in previous chapters.
In part I, "The Hearth and the Salamander," the main events are the opening scene of arson, already mentioned, Montag's meeting with Clarisse, Mildred's attempted suicide, our first encounter with the mechanical hound, another fire in which an old woman chooses to diewith her books (and during which Montag steals a volume), Clarisse's disappearance, Montag's subsequent illness or alienation from his work, and Beatty's attempt to win him back through a defense of utopia. It ends with Montag's decision to find out for himself whether books contain anything worth dying for.
How are these events and characters to be imagined? To begin with, the title of this section is clearly ironic, for houses in this future society have all been "fireproofed." There is no possibility for a fireside reverie in which man might find repose in centering his consciousness on a specific object. The landscape is instead infested with a cold mythical beast, the fire engine/Salamander that "spits its venomous kerosene upon the world." Montag is also a part of this landscape, and his complex emerges in the following lines: "… his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history." One critic has called it a "Nero complex" and I see no reason to change this designation. Besides, it provides a useful semantic index for the reader in later contexts where the complex is being transformed. In the second part, where Montag learns from Faber that books are a counter force to man's narcissism, he is told that books exist to remind us "'… what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue. Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.'" And in the third part, Granger further tells Montag to forget security, to see the world outside himself that is more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in the factories of the culture industry, to hate the Roman named Status Quo.
The first step towards the transformation of this complex is Montag's meeting with Clarisse on a moonlit sidewalk on his way home from work. Ostensibly happy and adjusted to his work and society, a minstrel man, Montag is gently divided against himself during their encounter:
He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but—what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle. One time, as a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon …
Himself reflected in minuscule in the miraculous water of Clarisse's eyes, in fine aesthetic detail, Montag is given a tranquil affirmation of his being. The material imagination is present here in amber, the scented hardened fossil resin "wept" from trees. This substance is naturally miraculous because it preserves fossils and time. Montag can see himself in the heart of matter, transparent, in tact, and living (unlike the melted tallow skin of his false face which comes later). The amber is oneirically appropriate for Clarisse (and her object reveries), expressing her love and knowledge of the natural world and the past. But more significantly, a world of intersubjectivity is granted here: in the instantaneous moment of the image, which usually inaugurates reverie, Montag rediscovers a dimension of consciousness lost to this society which paradoxically is saturated with image-spectacles (so much so that he wears a fiery permanent smile on his face, as if he were being recorded and simultaneously transmitted to an unseen audience—another aspect of narcissism). On the level of reflexive reading indicated here, this passage shows us what a reverie text can do, namely, mirror the process of intersubjectivity in reading, of that moment when we feel another consciousness enclosing ours.
Furthermore, this reassuring act of consciousness is tied to our experience of childhood in subtle ways. Husserl, the founder of phenomenology as the eidetic science of the possible structures of consciousness, argued that the first formal act (der erste Aktus) that constitutes the child as child is an act of empathy stemming from the felt awareness of the other (usually the mother's face or glance) and the subsequent communicating and working with the other. Husserl suggests that through the act of empathy the child comes to see itself as appearing for the other, in the other's surrounding world, and, at the same time, the child comes to see the other as appearing for the child, in the child's life-world. For Husserl, the mirroring structure of the glance is founded on the recognition of the other as an entity existing independently of the child, though supporting him. It is an act of consciousness that opens also new possibilities of love and empathic being, possibilities of transcendence towards a common horizon, instead of the infinite repetition of the same. Such phenomenological interrelatedness gives rise, he says, "to an infinite reciprocal 'mirroring' … an unlimited reiteration which is a potentiality for levels of empathy." Thus Montag is brought back to his childhood and the security of reverie in a single instant.
This movement of consciousness is clarified and developed when Montag searches for an equivalent to the soft constant light of Clarisse's face and discovers the memory of a utopian past in a reverie towards childhood that is the opposite of the fantasy world of the programmed fantastic (here represented by the hysterical light of electricity). The light of her face is not the hysterical light of electricity, but the generic light of the candle, the light of reverie texts, a humanized light lacking in this technologically oriented society. That light which is strangely comfortable and gently flattering (already the candle speaks poetically and we can imagine an admiring glance between self and world) assures the reader that he is going to discover in this passage the shadings of an ontology of well-being, or reverie. The candlelight which gathers dispersed being around the dreamerawakens the reflexive dimension of consciousness lost to this society: reading.
By leaving the end of his last sentence blank and in suspension, "hoping that the power might not come on again too soon …," Bradbury structures a gap which the reader has to fill in with his own imagination of what the mother and son did after they lit the candle and space lost its vast dimensions, drawing comfortably around them in humanized reverie. In that brief hour of rediscovery where the mother and son are transformed, I imagine they are reading, perhaps even a book of fairy tales. And as Bachelard indicates in a book devoted entirely to a philosophic meditation on reveries of the candle flame, the lifting force of this vertical-tending reverie is the most liberating of all, especially when it dreams of another possible world above the prosaically horizontal, or in the case of the programmed fantastic, circular, life. In oneiric terms, the candle flame is both strange and comfortable because it allows for shadows (indeed, shadows seem part of its valiant struggle to be) and for the unconscious mind under the beneficial influence of the anima to make the candle flame's struggle for illumination and its frail vertical existence into our own because of our own desire for transcendence. The flames of hell are certainly transforming, but they belong properly to the fantastic, not to the delicate penumbral ontology of Bachelardian reverie where the values of the dream and reality can be freely explored.
So the oneiric level of significance discovered by Montag in his reverie of the candle's flame is very much the opposite of the on/off logic of the light switch which controls the source of illumination in these "fire-proofed" houses. Our only role in technological illumination is to be the mechanical subject of a mechanical gesture. "We have entered in the era of administered light," Bachelard says of our loss of the ability to make the light of candles and lamps our own through reverie, humanizing the world and making ourselves at home in it. Bradbury would seem to agree, for mother and son are very much at home in the solitude of the candle flame. Having gathered our reverie of verticality around us, and having glimpsed with Montag the possibility of transcendence of his situation, we can well understand their hopeful consciousness that the lights will not come on again too soon and destroy the beneficial influence of reading in anima.
If I seem to stress Clarisse unduly, it is because her perspective is held up as one of the ideals of the novel, at least initially. Her reveries in which consciousness intimately touches the reality of the material universe offset the erosion of Montag's capacity to dream. Through his encounters and talks with her he rediscovers the power of reading in anima (and later, when he begins to read more resolutely, he realizes that "These men have been dead a long time, but I know their words point, one way or another, to Clarisse.") Although she is presumed dead early in the novel, her spirit returns in the third section when Montag is finally able to represent a utopian experience to himself.
A gentle hunger and curiosity, a desire to look at things as epiphanies of a marvelous reality, pervades the presence in the novel of this anima figure. Obviously she has a very deep sympathy with nature. When Montag first meets her out walking one enchanted moonlit night, the leaves and the wind seem to carry her forward like a wood spirit along the sidewalk. Her unique slender face is wholly outward-looking, nourishing itself on things. Furthermore she constantly probes Montag's identification with his job by asking him questions ("Do you ever read any of the books you burn?"), shocks him with her knowledge of the past (firemen once put out fires instead of lighting them) and of the present (how advertising billboards have been made two hundred feet long so that speeding drivers can read them, whereas grass is a green blur, cows are brown blurs). She lives surrounded by a loving family in a house brightly lit at night where Montag can hear human conversation weaving its magic spell.
Bachelard tells us that the subject in reverie is astonished to receive the image, astonished and awakened. When Montag's capacity for reverie is awakened, it is always Clarisse's face (her very name is a simulacrum of reflected light) that will guide him: "The girl's face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact." But her own reveries are object reveries, a simple faithfulness to the familiar object. Bachelard says that in object reveries we learn to dream near things and explore our attachment to the world. Clarisse tries to stimulate these reveries in Montag. She leaves a bouquet of late autumn flowers on his porch, or a handful of chestnuts in a little sack or some autumn leaves neatly pinned to a sheet of white paper and thumbtacked to his door. Although her reveries are not the complexly layered structures of consciousness that Montag will develop in his long water reverie, she can do things with a common dandelion flower that reveal Montag's inner being. Her consciousness is infused with objects of the world: there seems to be no distance between them and her, so faithful and welcoming is her glance. Clarisse is truly one of Bachelard's dreamers of looking (rœveurs du regard) who can raise objects to a level of poetic existence, and therefore of human existence.
In addition to awakening wonder in the contemplation of the ordinary itself (we are told her face is "fragile milk-crystal," a seemingly commonplace object but evoking at the same time a recognition of it as an exceptional phenomenon, a cool stillness in a world of fiery conflagrations) Clarisse does three things for Montag. First of all, Montag receives from her gaze not a narcissistic mirror image, but a tranquil affirmation of his existence, which is also an act of empathy and a genuine intersubjective relation with an other. Second, she awakens in him an other experience of temporality, an ontological sensitization to the future. The girl's simple wonder at the things of this world (her pale surprise, the narrator says) make her fore-sighted in a utopian sense. Third, she contributes to the level of reflexive reading in the text by stimulating Montag's reading in anima. The second and perhaps most utopian of these accomplishments emerges in the following passage, where the narrative mode creates the effect of a strange mental process (reverie) suddenly intruding into Montag's mind:
Montag shook his head. He looked at a blank wall. The girl's face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing in fact. She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of the night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it has to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darknesses, but moving also toward a new sun.
"What?" asked Montag of that other self, the subconscious idiot that ran babbling at times, quite independent of will, habit, and conscience.
Here we can observe a penumbral reverie forming in Montag's mind, beginning with the astonishment of the image (the girl's face in memory), then moving on to a search for an equivalent to that astonishment, a clock seen in the middle of the night upon awakening, and then onward to a sequence where technological segments of time (hours, minutes, seconds) are more and more minutely divided, until only a durational flow, a continuous pulse of experiential time, remains. Montag awakens to discover a new consciousness of time as sustaining the forms of life instead of destroying them. The clock's face is a white silence and a glowing. Like the moon in Montag's long water reverie in the novel's concluding section, it shines by reflected light, not burning time, but telling us where we are. Compensating Montag for a lack in his conscious mind, Clarisse enables him to project unconscious feminine values. An image received from the anima puts Montag's mind in a state of continuous reverie; it is a time fully experienced and filled, disclosing to Montag an inexhaustible reserve of latent life. As Bachelard says, the clock of the feminine runs continuously in a duration that slips peacefully away, but the masculine clock is composed of technological segments, jerks of time, so many projects and ways of not being present to oneself.
One has the sense here also of being guided by the anima figure, because the feminine clock is certain of what it tells Montag: the darkness of the night will get darker, but there is no need for despair; we are also moving toward a new sun. We feel reassured in this strange new experience of time. Montag's reverie begins in memory (perhaps a memory of childhood, of awakening from a nightmare), but opens up to the future, toward not-yet-being, a pattern of consciousness which splits Montag from his identification with his social mask or persona. It lays down the temporal pattern of Montag's utopian longings.
On the oneiric level, meaning is constituted here by Montag's questioning "'What'?" directed towards that "other self," the archetypal shadow, which he has taken previously to be a fool butwhich he will want to educate through reading. Prior to this scene, Clarisse and Montag walk together for perhaps five minutes of objective clock time, yet now that time seems immense and numinous to him. The narrator says that her slender figure throws an "immense shadow" on the stage of his imagination. Indeed, it is clear that she reveals to him his shadow, without which he would be a one-dimensional man, his shadow which represents the large undiscovered part of himself that this society has repressed and excluded. In the Jungian development of individuation, the persona is the counterpart to the shadow, and its original existence is prompted to a large extent by the need to repress material inconsistent with the social environment. Until he meets Clarisse, Montag's ego is largely fused with his persona as a fireman, but the anima intervenes between these two figures and allows him to deal with his shadow in a manageable and integrative way, although not without a certain amount of anguish when the desire for illumination, expressed as a candle flame, becomes opaque and consciousness thickens into the substance of unhappiness:
He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.
Here Montag is beginning to make the transition from identification with society to open rebellion against it. His unhappiness is further deepened by his discovery of Mildred's attempted suicide. She is Clarisse's opposite, a true victim of consumer culture. Inwardly, she is a frightened child in despair about ever knowing reality. Outwardly, however, she is an advertising man's dream, addicted to novelty, gadgets, and anxiety-easing pills, Her hair is burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her body thin as a praying mantis from dieting. Montag's relationship to her is always "mediated" by some desiring-machine of the media. At night she lies in bed with the little Seashells (remember Johnny Bishop, our other dreamer of the sea, and how he escaped the adult world?) or thimble radios, tamped tight in her ears, "and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind." This is hardly a natural reverie of sea, since it is programmed by the media, and the fact that it is so unsatisfying in indicated by the fact that Mildred is unsleeping and suicidal: "There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time." Mildred is an expert at lip reading (ten years of study in this technique having been provided by the Seashell corporation) and when she has the Seashells in her ears, conversation is reduced to a kind of pantomime. The only thing Mildred seems to desire is the fourth parlor wall "to make the dream complete." If they had a fourth wall, she argues, then the room wouldn't be theirs anymore, but would belong to "all kinds of exotic people."
As Lasch has indicated, this is the pattern of pathological narcissism that advertising and consumer culture have reinforced through stimulating the desire to consume grandiose images of the self. Mildred's intrapsychic world is so thinly populated, consisting of these shadowy and specular images, that Montag in a moment of oneiric insight (derived, it is clear, from his dialogues with Clarisse,) senses the effect on Mildred's inner world of these mindless conversations emanating from the fantasy people who inhabit the T.V. walls. Mildred is the little girl of a fairy tale, lost, however, without the hope traditionally granted to heroines by the spirit-figures of this genre which Jung has identified (the anima herself, the wise old man, the archetype of the tree of life which Montag rediscovers at the novel's end). Mildred cannot find a way out of this insane asylum where the walls are always talking to her (where she is always talking to herself). Images of a real family have disappeared; fake images have taken their place. None of these "relatives" of the telescreen family will tell her a fairy tale, that traditional source of popular wisdom which, as Bettelheim indicates, offers a convincing view of the adult world to the child and which therefore builds a bridge to that world. And if fairy tales are the oldest form of utopian narrative, as Ernst Bloch suggests, then there is something sadly lacking in this "utopia" which feels it must burn those allegedly terrifying stories. The psychologistic age depicted in Fahrenheit 451 has destroyed one of the primary means for assuring continuity of generations (since the child can come to feel, according to Bettelheim, that his parents do not inhabit a world that is totally alien to his own) and the memory of happy experiences. Recently, Ursula Le Guin has also written about the beneficial effects of these Jungian figures in fantasy and science fiction.
What this amounts to is that Mildred has no culture complex outside of a very primitive narcissism. Society has provided her with no means, however contradictory, to transform her inner psychic world, which is seen even more clearly from the narrator's perspective during her attempted suicide. In a cleverly staged scene in which two impersonal "operators" come to the rescue with a kind of vacuum cleaner mounted with an electronic eye, we are made acutely aware of the individual's dependence on a bureaucratized state and the "helping professions," those outside experts who intervene in family problems. The irony of the scene is that they are not even doctors, but "handymen," since suicide has become so common that it required the production of a new machine to deal specifically with the problem, and with a new job speciality. At the same time as we are working out for ourselves the depths of irony in which no one is really getting at the real problems behind Mildred's suicide (though of course the operators are efficient, practical and helpful), the narrator directly asks the reader a rhetorical question about the machine and its eye: "Did it drink of the darkness? Did it suck out all the poisons accumulated with the years?" On the oneiric level of material imagination, we must imagine through this critical negation of technology how time has stopped flowing toward the future for Mildred, how it has gathered in a "liquid melancholy" that cannot be sucked away by the machine, indeed that the "eye" of the machine cannot even see. Unlike the machine and its operators, we must give a full human response, cognitive and sublimative, if we are to grasp the significance of the scene.
Clarisse's disappearance brings about "vague stirrings of disease" in Montag and in a scene in the firehouse he recognizes that these men whose faces are sunburnt by a thousand real and ten thousand imaginary fires are "all mirror images of himself." Montag had stolen a book of fairy tales at the last fire; in a slip of the tongue which reveals the dominance of the anima in his mind he asks Fire Chief Beatty if "once upon a time" firemen put out fires instead of lighting them. This brings on a lesson in history of the Fireman of America which is nothing less than an illustration of the Freudian dream-work, which distorts a basic content in order to represent a wish as fulfilled. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who established the Firemen in the colonies to burn English-influenced books. The lives of the Firemen are governed by a series of five rules laid down by him that define a narrative circuit from alarm to fire to firehouse to alarm, the very instance of an anxiety mechanism.
In the next fire Montag witnesses a suicide that is undertaken deliberately with full knowledge of the consequences. An old woman chooses to die in the conflagration which destroys her library and home rather than be taken to the insane asylum. This action, while it horrifies Montag, also leads him to equate people with books and books with people. Fire Chief Beatty argues that the old woman was driven insane by the contradictions among the books ("a regular damned Tower of Babel"), but Montag begins to realize that their job is only to provide more spectacle, a show for the neighbors. In addition to this cognitive level of discovery, the oneiric level of significance emerges when books begin to pour out of the destroyed walls of the house onto Montag's shoulders: "A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon." This is a clear image of transcendence, the bird being symbolic of a proffered flight to the imaginary. The feather is snowy and of a very different climate from the burning world with which Montag is familiar. And the words of this book are not printed, making it a symbol of technology, but painted, which suggests the medieval illumination of manuscripts where words themselves come alive in ornate and painfully slow scriptive fantasy. Once one has seen one of these books, all other books, however produced, pale in comparison. Unfortunately, Montag loses this book of reveries, but not before reading a line in it: "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine," which suggests an illuminator patiently reading and transcribing with love a sacred scripture, an occasion on which real time would seem to be transformed magically. It is nonetheless a powerful negation of Montag's sense of time as burning away the past and memory and history.
It is no wonder then that Montag is not ready to accept Fire Chief Beatty's defense of the status quo, no matter how sympathetic he may seem. His perspective is undercut by all we and Montag have learned about books. They may indeed by contradictory, but that experience in itself is somehow valuable. Beatty wants a type of society that requires only enough mind to create and tend machines, which, of course, he thinks are marvelous labor-saving devices. He thinks that they have eliminated unhappiness: "The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour." It is, of course, also an indication of his ambivalence towards the "doubleness" of philosophy whose terms seem to keep sliding despite the quest to embody truth, and an ironic indictment of him, that his own speech reveals more than he intends it to, that it is more than just the revelation that "Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure did the trick," in bringing about this "happy society." Beatty's language is an attempt to "sell" Montag on the idea of being a fireman, which is why it seems to be alienated from any connected meaning or attempt to think of a social totality. Just before he launches into his defense, we see him obsessively flicking his lighter:
He examined his eternal matchbox, the lid of which said GUARANTEED: ONE MILLION LIGHTS IN THIS LIGHTER, and began to strike the chemical match abstractedly, blow out, strike, blow out, strike, speak a few words, blow out. He looked at the flame. He blew, he looked at the smoke. "When will you be well?"
This brief passage informs the reader about how to imagine the relationship between consciousness, language, and its objects during the course of Beatty's speech. It shows us the lighter as a practical technological device bearing a promise, but this object in turn shows us only the reified language of mass culture itself. The lighter is a fetish, an emblem of the eternal consumer, the ideal of this society of narcissists (in contrast, Faber tells Montag: "I don't talk things, sire … I talk the meaning of things.") So the structure of Beatty's language, and the reasons for its debasement, are here succinctly presented for the reader. As a symbol of our control over fire, with its promise of a million imaginary fires, it must be understood in a negative sense. Its ideal, the beauty in consumption, is a deception, based on repetition and sameness. It is this deception we must bear in mind throughout Beatty's defense and in the next part of the novel where we again see him talking about the "false promises" that literature offers.
Beatty's language has a quality difficult to capture in brief quotation. It seems to destroy previous stages of the argument without preserving anything for further thought. Although it is full of novelty and dynamic tempo (he invokes a film speeding faster and faster), it is really governed by a constant sameness, the rhythm of mechanical reproduction. It is a montage of superstructural effects which do not touch upon basic economic realities. Beatty's attitude towards the past (which he is supposed to be revealing) is obviously one in which there is no possibleexperience of an integrated tradition. Everything has to run incessantly to maintain the illusion of life:
"Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh?, Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digests-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!
This is really a biting satire about the ways in which the culture industry turns the successes of enlightenment into mass deception. With the proliferation of magazines does not come more knowledge and power for the individual, but the absence of these things, and a brutalization and re-barbarization of language, a gradual descent into subhuman grunts. The lack of political discussion indicates that real freedom has been forfeited in order to preserve happiness (political candidates are chosen for their "winning images.") There is nothing left for the consumer to classify, no fundamental concepts that are evoked by these predigested tabloids. Beatty gives an artificial impression of being in command, but as he stares abstractedly into his eternal consumer lighter, we know that he is simply rationalizing. We must seek out, as Montag does, the true utopian wise man, Faber, who appears in the second part of the novel.
Part II, "The Sieve and the Sand," foregrounds the process of reading itself as a process of self-discovery. Once he begins reading in earnest, Montag is deeply worried that he will not be able to retain what he has read (hence the sieve), or understand it more deeply. He therefore seeks out an old retired school teacher, Faber. During this search the programmed fantastic is intensified as a threat to reading (especially in the subway). But finally Montag is equipped by Faber with an electronic transmitter which allows them to communicate their thoughts and especially for Faber to read to him unbeknownst to others. But Montag rashly thinks that he can reform his wife and her friends at one of their T.V. parlor parties by reading them a poem (Arnold's "Dover Beach"). This event marks the turning point of the novel, for Montag is now in open rebellion. Although he tries to cover up his mistake by burning the book in question, and even though he appears to lose another debate with Beatty, his wife decides to turn in the alarm on him. Part II ends with the fire engine arriving at Montag's own house. Again the oneiric level of the text provides us with instructions about how to imagine these events. In particular, Faber's demystifying of the programmed fantastic occurs before we are given a series of representations from it (earlier we were only given the fragmented experience of the self in such a fantasy, which provides us with the proper distantiation to effect a criticism of its inner mechanisms and the secret of its appeal).
Early on in this part Montag remembers or imagines Beatty telling him how to read a book:
He could hear Beatty's voice. "Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chain smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies." There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.
Beatty's reading is a kind of defloration, a perverse destruction that conserves nothing but depends on a total blank out of differences, lighting the third page from the second, never achieving synthesis but destroying past stages of history. The delicate nuances of meaning (color) produced by the flowering of reverie in the reader's mind (recall the flower image offered by the narrator of "The Sea Shell" here) are homogenized and made black by fire. Fire destroys those impurities and frictions, those irritants in reading that stimulate us to discover new things. Fire destroys dialectical negation, the very principle of reading, as Iser has shown, and with it the labor of the concept and the fruitfulness of historical contradiction. The hallucination Beatty creates on the basis of the text is one of repetition and sameness. Each page becomes a black moth in the scattering storm of his reading. The butterfly, often a symbol of fantasy itself, or, in less capricious terms, of the soul's unconscious attraction towards light, here dies without the hope of ever rising up past the threshold of the unconscious, for Beatty's reading is a habituation, like chain smoking. Elsewhere, in a later perspective segment bearing on his fascination for fire, Beatty says:
"What is there about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?" Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. "It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will life you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical."
Here Beatty's feeling for the beauty of fire, which mingles elements of both idolatry and ideology, belies his interest in its supposedly technological and practical effects. He is drawn to it (like a moth) because it destroys responsibility for his own life, his freedom. We note the persistence of a mythical attitude despite his claims to enlightenment. He even claims to know what the positivists do not know about fire with their "gobbledegook": fire as ideology is not brought about by friction with the real.
As Bachelard has shown, fire is an imaginative force that constantly distorts scientific inductions because it can explain anything—that is the secret of its ambivalence, which can never be entirely mastered, for human desires. It is both the subject (that which burns) and object (that which is burned); it is love, it is hate, comfort and torture, cookery and apocalypse. Beatty reveals his awareness of these contradictions when he says that fire is antibiotic, aesthetic, and practical, yet still a mystery, all at the same time. But if by ideology is meant a particular or relative discourse seeking to pass itself off as universal or absolute, then Beatty's discourse deserves this title, for it affirms only certain aspects of fire—those which stabilize a society of spectacles (the phoenix emblem on his uniform is a perfect example of this). Instead of proving our domination over nature, Beatty's discourse reveals an alienated nature's power over him, for man could never invent perpetual motion, the ideal of the consumer culture.
Beatty's complex thus is a true complex uniting the love of fire with the instinct for dying, felt as the appeal of the flames. At the center of his idolatry of fire is the Empedocles complex (Bachelard's name for it) containing the wish for the least lonely of deaths, one that would involve the entire universe in a conflagration (yes, Beatty also wants a cosmic reverie), but ironically he dies the most dehumanizing of deaths. In addition and most importantly, Beatty's idolatry of fire embraces the very principle of consumer culture: repetition and mechanical reproduction; once the reader discovers this, he has realized Bradbury's implicit oneiric criticism of our society.
It is Faber, however, who instructs Montag in the phenomenology of the reading process:
"Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are. That's my definition anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
"So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality."
The forbidden and dangerous book that Faber is holding in his hands—the Bible—could well stand as a resonant symbol for the totality of literature, so many of the central myths and archetypal patterns of literature have come from it (including both patterns of utopia, the arcadian paradise and the heavenly city). According to Northrop Frye, the Bible is a total verbal order, the supreme example of how various myths can be integrated into a single vast vision of the world. Faber asserts almost the same thing earlier in this dialogue when he says the magic in the web of literature is texture: "How they stitched the patches of the universe into one garment for us."
Indeed, there is a striking resemblance between Faber's remarks on the function of literature and Frye's assertion that the reader himself is responsible for the moral quality of what he reads, that the cultivated response to culture is a redemptive if not a revolutionary act of consciousness. Faber is a kind of failed Northrop Frye, who has always insisted that we can get a whole liberal education simply by picking up one conventional poem and following its archetypes as they stretch out into the rest of literature. In the context of a study of romance (which Frye believes to be the structural core of all fiction) Frye remarks:
When we study the classics of literature, from Homer on, we are following the dictates of common sense, as embodied in the author of Ecclesiastes: 'Better is the sight of the eye than the wandering of desire.' Great literature is what the eye can see: it is the genuine infinite as opposed to the phony infinite, the end-less adventures and endless sexual stimulation of the wandering of desire.
This resemblance may seem all the more striking when we remember that Montag's moral response to this society, which stimulates the wanderings of desire, is, loving the wisdom of the preacher so much, to become the Book of Ecclesiastes among the itinerant book people.
Actually, Frye is ambivalent about the wanderings of desire, as of any centrifugal motion. Perhaps, he opines, literature would not exist without it, for the production of culture may be, like ritual, a half-involuntary imitation of organic rhythms or processes. But our response to culture remains nevertheless a formed response to human values. For Frye, literature is not mere wish-fulfillment; it provides not satisfaction of desire, but a realization of both its positive and negative moments (in Fahrenheit 451, for example, the reader discovers both the negative and positive dimensions of utopia). The literary universe is saturated with desire: its heroes incarnate the desirable, its villains the undesirable. The romance-world, and by extension the world of literature in general, is a paradise, then, not because our desires are always fulfilled there, but because they can in any case always be incarnated, brought to consciousness, formulated by the reader. For Faber also fiction is a genuine infinite, an imaginative vision that is also an ordering process, opposed by its very structure to the spectacles (fireworks) of the mass media.
But whereas Frye's visual imagination pertains more to a flash of insight, when we at a certain point in the narrative see a total design or unifying structure of converging significance, and nothing more, Faber's gives way to material imagination and our recessive desire in reading. People have lost touch with the earth, the principle of continuity and reality. They have lost the ability to ground their needs in the experience of satisfaction and real contentment. They have allowed the "helping professions"—psychiatrists, family counselors—to define their needs and psychic health for them. It is no wonder that those needs never seem to be satisfied: they are completely mediated by electronic images; flowers are trying to live on flowers.
Faber's reading complex appreciates images, telling details, but wants them to be part of the chemistry of the earth. Literature must also make us feel Bachelardian reverie, the texture of that good black loam. For him, books smell of nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land: "I loved to smell them when I was a boy." Even though he scoffs at Montag's naive request that he teach him to read, calling him a hopeless romantic for equating books with happiness (the archetypal wise old man always has some sobering truth for us!) he reveals through his reading complex that literature was for him as a boy the secular scripture, romance. Frye suggests that it is possible to look at secular stories as a whole, as forming a single integrated vision of the world, parallel to the Christian and Biblical vision. Faber shares this formal and visual imagination, telling Montag next a story from that other fabulous branch of now secular literature, classical mythology: the fable of Hercules and Antaeus; but the very presence of a book such as the Bible (which he has not held in his hands for so long) is enough to stir the material imagination of a better world.
Faber tells Montag, and us, how to read, by himself using suggestive details. Hercules was only able to defeat the giant wrestler, Antaeus (whose mother was Earth and who stands here for the force of the material imagination) by holding him rootless in the air. Each time Hercules threw Antaeus to the ground he grew stronger from contact with his source, so each time we read books of quality and texture we gain the experience of life—grainy, fibrous, woven and dimensional, as opposed to smooth, narcissistic, surface interests. Faber's Antaeus complex also tells us that as acts of consciousness and as lived experiences, images (flowers/fireworks) produced from the reading process must be sustained by an awareness of a historical dimension. In Iser's cognitive terms we would say that the text's repertoire of literary allusions suggest answers to the problems that the selection of norms and thought systems raises. Realistic texture (Faber' saesthetic is close to that of a realist) is therefore the imaginary correction of a deficient reality. It is an infinite profusion that is imaginatively real, not a false infinity of mere facts. By contrast, Beatty wants people crammed full of "noncombustible data," such as the fact, which every fireman and reader of the book should known, that book paper catches fire at 451°F.
Although this vision of a radiant literacy has failed, in another sense it has not entirely been disproved either, which is perhaps the reason why Montag chooses to read Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" to Mildred and her friends in a scene we will examine in a moment. The powers of literature exist apart from any attempt to theorize them, and theory may ultimately be a kind of defense against this power, as Geoffrey Hartman argues in connection with Fahrenheit 451. As readers we realize this also about Beatty's theorizing: he is secretly afraid of literature. When Montag is asked by one of Mildred's friends if the presence of the book in his hands is because he is reading up on fireman theory he responds: "Theory, hell … It's poetry." So we would be wise to keep our distance from theory as well in reading this book. Nevertheless, we can affirm that Faber, like Frye, still convinces us that we need a means to unite the world of nature with a total human form. Frye has argued that culture insists on totality—for whatever is excluded from culture by religion or state will get its revenge somehow. Faber exults in Montag's ruse of putting forbidden books he has stolen in the houses of firemen and then turning in the alarm: "The salamander devours his tail!" Faber's speech is didactic, but it leaves open paths of reverie and cognition by using the legend of Hercules and Antaeus for Montag to imagine and complete his own cycle back to reality. Books precisely are not completely real, although they allow the real to enter into them. They can be beaten down with reason, he says. On the other hand the programmed fantastic is so immediate that it rivals the real world: "It grows you any shape it wishes!"
Let us now consider, in the light of these discoveries made by the utopian reader, an example of the representations of the programmed fantastic:
"Isn't this show wonderful?" cried Mildred.
On one wall a woman smiled and drank orange juice simultaneously. How does she do both at once? thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an x-ray of the same woman revealed the contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her delighted stomach! Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.
"Millie, did you see that!"
"I saw it, I saw it!"
Montag reached inside the parlor wall and pulled the main switch. The images drained away, as if the water had been let from a gigantic crystal bowl of hysterical fish.
In the five minutes during the showing of this fantasy, we see more action than in our slow moving world in many a day. It is, in fact, almost a perfect realization of Lasch's fears about the warlike social relations of a declining capitalist society where people are bashing and chopping each other to pieces for more consumer goods. First of all, we note the stimulation of infantile oral cravings. The x-ray provides the assurance (in this society which respects scientific images and facts it creates an aura of authenticity) that the shadowy and specular image of the ideal consumer's satisfaction is real. Then there follows a series of aggressive fantasy scenes, disconnected, and which entertain no relations of any kind with the reality principle. The action in these scenes completely defies the laws of gravitation, and seemingly all other known laws of nature. The room takes off on a rocket flight into the clouds and in the same sentence splashes into a lime-green sea where predation comically takes place. Weirdly artificial colors lend a kind of cartoon beauty to this scene that belies the obvious aggression of the fish; this is a reverie of the bright narcissistic surface of water, which quickly disperses without committing the imagination.
As the psychoanalytic critic Hans Sachs wittily observed on the subject of cartoons, this is animation with a vengeance (Sachs was punning on the regression of "animistic" thinking in cartoons). But interestingly, Sachs argued that the cartoon, unlike the fairy tale which does arouse anxiety and enable us to master it through its formal literary properties, is unable to eliminate or even diminish an anxiety situation (caused by the aggressive impulses of the spectator's projected id). This is so, Sachs argued, because in its pure form the cartoon is pure id, the overflowing vitality of libido. It offers us no coherence either of plot or of figures remotely resembling the human and through which we might identify.
How, then, does the cartoonist display so much aggression without arousing anxiety? Basically, says Sachs, it is "the amazing unreality of the world of cartoons which saves us from anxiety." In cartoons there really is no form by which we might master our fears (in Holland's sense of the transformation of fantasy), but everything is kept in constant motion (against the known laws of nature) so that our emotions seems sufficiently real, i.e., vivid. The cartoonist uses the unlimited despotic powers afforded to him by his medium to keep anxiety out of it. And as Lasch's social criticism here corroborates, in this type of fantasy Bradbury shows us that the modern propaganda of commodities has no need to disguise its id impulses—it gives us the illusion of a world full of vitality and force (in order to sell orange juice) and without the need for our imagination to engage itself. In the programmed fantastic, there are no novelistic techniques of illusion-building that might seek to simulate the reality of an action or a situation by having the reader use his own "free" imagination. Indeed, the very category of the real seems to be absent.
The Three White Clowns, who merrily chop each other's limbs off, are, of course, human figures, but the unreality of their gestures is rather emphasized by the fact that they are clowns. Anxiety is not supposed to be aroused here because they are not really losing their limbs (Sachs provides the example of Mickey Mouse, who in one instant is cut in half by a rolling wheel with a razor edge, and who in the next instant is reunited again, none the worse for his experience) in this unmistakably sadistic situation. It may of course arouse anxiety in the reader of Fahrenheit 451, but that is another matter. The spectators of this fantasy are perfectly assured that this violence is not real because the one technique for displacing anxiety that cartoons do in fact have is here effectively used: the Three White Clowns chop off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter.
After unplugging the T. V. walls, Montag reads to Mildred and her friends Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." It is an indication of Bradbury's confidence in the power of literature to bring neglected states of mind to light, to convert passive knowledge into active, that he makes us feel in this scene, despite the obvious impracticality of Montag's gesture, that as long as we remember one poem from the repertoire of mankind's greatest poetry, the effects of habituation which threaten to devour, like fire, our families, friends, and even our fear of war, will find it more difficult to settle in. The last line about ignorant armies clashing by night rings particularly true for this society which indeed seems like a land of dreams, for none of the women seem to acknowledge the impending war. The poem provides also the idea of an alternative life in which people really speak to one another. Lovers communicate their deepest feelings, needs, and aspirations consequent on the very condition of being alive, knowing they have to die, needing love. This is decidedly not the happy ending which these women have come to expect, however, for it brings out uncontrollable sobbing in Mrs. Phelps and outright anger in Mrs. Bowles. Montag cannot help furiously throwing them out of his house when they attack him for arousing real emotions in them.
He realizes later that he has made a terrible error in acting so openly against the state and reproaches himself for being such a fool. Nevertheless, as Faber gradually reads to him he feels himself gently split into two people, one of whom is educating the other. On the oneiric level of experience, Montag is able to imagine himself as fire plus water, Montag-plus-Faber: "Out of two separate and opposite things, a third." That third thing brought about by dialectical sublimation is wine, for wine remembers, as it is put away and conserved, the earth from which it came. This newself will remember the past and will know the fool it once was.
It is only in part III, "Burning Bright," that technology is used directly against itself. Montag destroys the mechanical hound with a "single wondrous blossom" of fire, and Beatty as well, who dies like "a gibbering mannekin, no longer human or known." Montag also burns his own house, making everything once familiar seem strange. In a final nightmarish scene, Montag on the run has a vision of himself reflected in millions of T. V. sets, and imagines seeing himself killed on television by the hound, "a drama to be watched objectively." This vision of a fictive self and its false identification with society marks the climax of Montag's feelings of unreality and doubleness. From hence forth in the novel burning bright will mean the rediscovery of the utopian ideal. We need now to examine how this is presented to the reader:
He felt as if he had left a stage behind and many actors. He felt as if he had left the great seance and all the murmuring ghosts. He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new.
The narrator relates these thoughts of Montage as he is "floating in a sudden peacefulness" downstream in a very real river he has plunged into in order to escape pursuit by the mechanical hound and the helicopters. They mark the beginning of a transition, a rebirth through water, a rite of passage that devests Montag entirely of his Fireman persona. This long water reverie symbolically puts out all the imaginary fires in Montag's mind. Montag's reverie becomes cosmic when he dreams of the sun and the burning of Time and the moon which shines by reflected light, discovering that he must never burn again in his life if human time is to be preserved.
When Montag drifts toward the shore, another reverie begins, organizing and transforming Montag's experience toward a utopian openness to the future. It has a highly organized, complexly layered, existential structure bearing the three dimensions of time (one indication that the programmed fantastic is so unreal is that it does not possess these existential temporal horizons): including the rediscovery of a happy childhood memory, events in the present, and a situation which is to emerge in the future, representing the fulfillment of a utopian wish as a broken promise.
The motion of the waters and the smell of hay from the shore awaken in Montag the memory of a farm he visited when he was "very young, one of the rare few times he discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the tin moat of the city, cows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon, and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill." Obviously, he has transformed and idealized this memory through reverie into an arcadian utopia. Montag imagines sleeping in a hay loft on that farm. From this inhabited space he projects images of the future, utopian longings:
During the night, he thought, below the loft, he would hear a sound like feet moving, perhaps. He would tense and sit up. Thesound would move away. He would lie back and look out the loft window, very late in the night, and see the lights go out in the farmhouse itself, until a very young and beautiful woman would sit in an unlit window, braiding her hair. It would be hard to see her, but her face would be like the face of the girl so long ago in his past now, so very long ago, the girl who had known the weather and never been burnt by the fireflies, the girl who had known what dandelions meant rubbed off on your chin. Then, she would be gone from the warm window and appear again upstairs in her moon-whitened room. And then, to the sound of death, the sound of the jets cutting the sky in two black pieces beyond the horizon, he would lie in the loft, hidden and safe, watching those strange new stars over the rim of the earth, fleeing from the soft color of dawn.
Because of its oneiric level of meaning, this passage bears an experience of exceptional poignance. It may even approach the sublime. All the elements of its structure seem braided together like the girl's hair, with loving recollection. Clarisse has disappeared, and Montag hopes that she is not dead, projecting her face on that of the very beautiful young woman he imagines distantly in the window. That woman is clearly archetypal, however, being a Jungian spirit figure who symbolizes the free and sovereign image-making capacity of the mind. Clarisse had revealed Montag's unhappy being to him through the being of an image, a "dandelion test." She seems to him now the very spirit of utopia, innocent and inviolate, never burned by the sparks of any destructive fire, enabling him to master the sound of death with her fairy-tale stillness and beauty, helping him to watch with the ease of reverie the dawn chase away the apocalyptic stars.
For Freud, the utopian urge originates in the drive to restore an earlier state of gratification (mother-infant Eden-eternity), but Montag's reverie, from which we are forced to make only this brief selection, is actually what Ernst Bloch describes as a Traum nach vorwarts, a dreaming forward which fills the future with sublimated images of utopian desire. These images are certainly compounded of childhood wishes and desires, but reverie has so idealized them that they are uplifting and inspiring, quite unlike the images of satisfaction that can be found in the programmed fantastic, which are narcissistic and destructive. According to Bloch, the essence of the utopian principle is this: the interweaving of fear and wish (in our case, activated by the childhood image of the dawn) into a visionary future modeled on remembrance, imaginary or partially real, of the past. But Bloch stresses that utopian desire is not chaotic; it is formed wish. We would say that it is an imaginative existential structure open to the future: "… for the daydreaming 'I' persists throughout, consciously, privately, envisaging the circumstances and images of a desired, better life."
Montag's reverie is therefore a means for overtaking the future rather than a regression to the past. This scene resonates with what Bloch calls aurora archetypes which, when examined hermeneutically, reveal indications of utopian content like a glow on the horizon. For example, consider the open window lit bymoonlight (which, we have already learned from Montag's cognitive reverie in Part 1, shines with a reflected light, reminding us of a source of light to come) where we can barely see the face of our ideal. Consider the girl herself who symbolizes utopian reverie and who remains forever young despite the fact that Montag knows that Clarisse is dead (hence the feeling of broken promise in the passage). And finally, there is the dawn itself, which we are certain is going to bring the apocalypse yet not entirely destroy our hopes for the future.
Objects too are transformed in this reverie, revealing their being to us. Montag's reverie is powered by distinctly oral images of happiness, yet paradoxically these objects are not there to be destroyed by eating; they are sings of a different relationship to the world:
A cool glass of fresh milk, and a few apples and pears laid at the foot of the steps. This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time he needed to think all the things that must be thought.
Imagining this scene, Montag steps from the river, having gained some notion of what the real satisfaction of human needs must be like "… a complete country night would have rested and slept him while his eyes were wide and his mouth, when he thought to test it, was half a smile." In the pink light of early morning when Montag has been made so aware of the world through his reverie, these objects appear as a "small miracle." But they are more than just the signs of a new composure towards things. Since they are no longer objects for consumption, allowing for their being to be revealed, Montag wants the time to "think all the things that need to be thought" in the hope of a poetic dwelling on the earth. Only when we let the thing be as the gathering together of the world in its "worlding" do we think, Heidegger says, of the thing as thing, how all that a thing is, is granted to it by the world. In terms of Heidegger's phenomenology, the fruit and the glass of milk a "thinging" things, not objects consigned to oblivion of being by technological thinking. These objects have lost their aura of commodity production and have taken on the power to reveal our being-in-the-world.
It is difficult to summarize the many levels of Montag's utopian aspirations in this long water reverie, and we have not even touched upon his dream of inhabiting the hayloft which stabilizes him long enough to participate in dramatic cosmic events, to represent to himself a world which is as yet to him unexplored and unfamiliar (he is floating on the surface of the water during the entire sequence). As an ontological structure relating self and world, however, we can affirm that it clearly manifests what Paul Tillich calls the transcendence of utopia: a structure of being wanting to transcend itself although at the same time wanting to remain within itself and protect itself. Montag's imaginary house-barn is a well-rooted being, so he does not fear climbing up to the loft where he can be open to the wind and the dawn, and toanother house seen from outside at night.
Montag goes on, after he emerges from the river, to deeper reveries of a new autochthony in the forest world, where he imagines himself an animal attracted to a campfire, around which a group of the itinerant book-people have gathered to warm themselves. Montag is unfamiliar with this human use of fire and with the experience of language it gives rise to:
There was a silence gathered all about the fire and the silence was in the men's faces, and time was there, time enough to sit by this rusting track under the trees and look at the world and turn it over with the eyes, as if it were held to the center of the bonfire, a piece of steel these men were all shaping. It was not only the fire that was different. It was the silence. Montag moved toward this special silence that was concerned with all of the world.
And then the voices began and they were talking, and he could hear nothing of what the voices said, but the sound rose and fell quietly and the voices were turning the world over and looking at it; the voices knew the land and the trees and the city which lay down the track by the river. The voices talked of everything, there was nothing they could not talk about, he knew, from the very cadence and motion and continual stir of curiosity and wonder in them.
This description of campfire and silence at first breaks the pattern of narrative by putting the reader in a position of reverie, and therefore of reflection vis-à-vis himself. It is, in fact, a Bachelardian reverie of the forge which expresses the liberation of natural resources and the productive use of human energies. These men are intent on touching the world in material imagination, shaping it like a piece of metal in the sunset of their fire. Concern is the dominant mood. Even though we enter into a position of observing, we do not lose ourselves through technological domination of nature, because language and representation here arise from a conscious center (the bonfire). New worlds are being cast; language has the power to talk about anything but nothing is repressed. In the image of the campfire-forge, Bradbury shows us how the imagination (for it is clear that Montag has never before encountered such a "forge" in reality) can itself provide standards and values for our involvement with the world.
Even the nightmare of the telescreens has shrunk to a manageable proportion in this wilderness:
Granger snapped the portable viewer on. The picture was a nightmare, condensed, easily passed from hand to hand in the forest, all whirring color and flight.
It is Granger who further enlightens Montag about the programmed fantastic by showing him how to view, without allowing hisimagination to take over, the death of someone who unfortunately looks like him on the telescreen. He exposes this society's carefully controlled scapegoating and murder of innocent victims. We realize that books have been the mock victims on an altar of fiery sacrifice all along. This society was not rational or enlightened, but had reverted to myth and ritual in order to control forces it no longer understood.
After the atomic war that has been building finally erupts, destroying the city, Granger also tells Montag a fable about the phoenix, who "must have been a first cousin to man." This is not symbolism, but allegory. The fabulous bird embodies our multi-colored dreams of the dominance of nature—our aspiration towards utopia—but also the destructive tendencies inherent in such a project which involves a forgetting of ourselves as part of nature. Yet it is also that within us which enables us to overcome the death of our dreams and to build again. If we understand it as allegory, we can effect some distance from this blind destructive cycle. The bird is only first cousin to man, and unlike the bird, we know the "damn silly things" we have done as Granger makes clear. We know temporal difference and irony, if we remember our past, our books. Beatty (whose very name suggests the ringmaster of a famous circus) was obsessed with the phoenix and the salamander as visionary images of atemporal authority and power that suppresses differences. We understand now that he was himself a frustrated romantic who believed, despite himself, in numinous symbols of nature.
Montag searches the faces of the book people for some trace of his ideal of radiant literacy, but finds none. The old romantic metaphor of the lamp is put away for Granger's idea of the book as a mirror. But we know this is not to be taken to mean simple identification, for we are to take a long hard look at ourselves. Besides, we are jokingly told not to judge a book by its cover. We must read it slowly and thoughtfully first, paying attention to its images and what it has to say. Montag is only partly sure that he has wisdom within him, but not from the tree of knowledge. As the book ends we are offered a quotation from Revelations that is itself a leaf from the tree of life, for the healing of nations. Knowledge must someday be converted back into life; through it the fruitfulness of utopia must come.
The complaint that utopian novels are more concerned with ideas than characters, and present characters who are simply one-dimensional spokesmen for the author's social hypothesis, is often voiced. I do not think that this change can be brought successfully against Fahrenheit 451, despite the fact that it uses the conventional figures of the utopian novel (Montag is himself the utopian traveller in disguise). Because it dramatizes the contradictions of books in a society where the reading of literature is forbidden, it motivates the reader easily and intensely to take up the quest for the utopian past. And because of its suggestive deployment of many different modes of reverie, it preserves the archetypes of utopian satisfaction as a criticism of the culture industry the reading subject has to work out for himself. Is it necessary to say that Fahrenheit 451 continues to be relevant today, since the trends Bradbury projected in 1953 are unabated?
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