And so I’ve finished The Rings of Saturn, and I ask myself: Was this a good way to start 2019?
To tell the truth — I’m not entirely sure. The text is without doubt a masterpiece; written in a beautiful prose, based on vast knowledge, connecting us, contemporary life, to history in a highly original and unique way.
It is also a very melancholic book, a text which leaves you (- or at least me) rather sad and … drained.
In her book Spaces of Melancholy the Swedish philosopher Karin Johannisson states that “there is always a lack or loss that lies beneath the feeling of melancholy”. But The Rings of Saturn is, it seems to me, not only built on loss, it is also founded on a sense of ancestral or original sin.
“the sin of the first man, together with all of its consequences and penalties, is transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human being is a descendant of the first man, ‘no one of us is free from the spot of sin, even if he should manage to live a completely sinless day’. … Original Sin not only constitutes ‘an accident’ of the soul; but its results, together with its penalties, are transplanted by natural heredity to the generations to come … And thus, from the one historical event of the first sin of the first-born man, came the present situation of sin being imparted, together with all of the consequences thereof, to all natural descendants of Adam.”
— John Karmiris: A Synopsis of the Dogmatic Theology of the Orthodox Catholic Church
Yes, as already mention, The Rings of Saturn is a journal of a walking tour of eastern England — but it also a compendium of human exploitation, of imperialism, destruction and decay. It is a book which views our history through very dark lenses. It is true to history, but not the whole truth.
And so, after this travail, I think I have to let some optimism back into my life again – .
He is utterly despairing, particularly in The Rings of Saturn. It’s terrible, beautiful, and there’s no hope.