Tuesday, August 4, 2009

preliminary notes on Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter

            Interpretations, interpretations – he who knows this art, and has the courage to live it, owns everything. Hawthorne’s novel the Scarlet Letter is nothing about Puritans or witches or adultery. What is timeless in his book is his subtext about the power of interpretation. His extended prologue – “The Custom House” – so boring I used to skip it when I read the book, I finally knuckled through and saw it for what it was, the mirror image of the book. As a lens shaped like an A, the “historical” fiction about Hester Prinn, is the mirror of the fictional history of Hawthorne himself, working his job, analyzing his coworkers, interpreting their moods, drawing character sketches, and considering how he – the real Hester of the history, feels anchored to the solemn town of salem, and feels the hell fire burning his forefathers for destroying witches and adulterer – the entire novel is his own personal confession, and through its literary success, became a permanent A on his reputation, by which everybody praised him not know their praise blamed his fire eyed, wiry and exuberant mask, which hid a bit of Puritanical heart of lead. The novel ends with the admonition: “Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” And what was Hawthorne’s worse? Something as tedious as adultery? But the true “sins” of the soul, the sinful truths – but I tautologize, sin is truth (etymologically, one is sinful when he is true), the true self-possesion of the soul, which ever prevaricates before the Puritanical evil eye of witch decy, must be in the very story itself: the apple falls upon the foot of the tree, true to her source.

            The book rarely interprets on its own – just a few awkward times. Instead, we are given a dozen various opinions from the townspeople about Hester. We see her in layers, first wearing the letter visiting her costumers as a seamstress – indeed, she had sown her own fate with the beautiful weave of the letter, a labyrinthian stitch which by tease of mouth would lead the Minister himself through a wooded labyrnth – and as we see her, no Pearl is mentioned. But the next chapter tells another layer of the story, like those old animation reals, where each animated character got a layer of glass to walk upon, layed over the others. The perfect elfish Pearl, who is never fooled, being born from a lie she sees through all lies, she too accompanies Hester, and now we see the same Hester doing the same deeds, with Pearl, and that changes everything.

            The plot is very thing – but plots are by nature thin, straigth, direct, simple – there never was in all the world such a thing as a “complex plot” but only a simple straight thread ran through some course teeth so much so that they edges fractal up as frays, and tease the mind with nuances of subtlety.

            Dimmsdale committed his heart to the “black man” which stands not for the devil – who is a sort of slanderer, but for self-deceit, the suicide from which a man must die. That death point is his public place at the scaffhold, an asymptotic point of infinite anxiety that he can only approach after 7 years of preparation.

            The jealous husband who befriends the adulterous minister under an alias is the primordeal psychoanalyst, who teases and gouges the soul – the true cause of the body’s maladies – by knowing the hidden secret of the minister, and perpetuating and expanding the wound by seeming acts of kindness and friendliness. This guilt poison through words of kindness – indeed, the very basis of psychoanalysis, therapy, and religion – Hawthorne leaves unnarrated, he tells of it, he does not demonstrate it for us so we may recognize it, for really – Hawthorne simply does not know how it goes. He merely indicates that it did happen and does happen.

            The A is the peephole by which the sun of Hawthornes heritage is shone upon the prologue of the novel, as fictional as it may be, and by which Hawthorne exposes his own, self-inflicted breast of A. A is for apple which Adam and Eve ate. Thus the puritans teach the alphabet.

            And so the rosebush, the letter, the reverend’s literal heart, his mutilated chest, and the A shaped meteor in the sky, are duplications of the same instance, the key hole, the peephole of the novel, and they are contantly analogized, metaphorized, hidden and exploded – and through the eyes of a democratic array of perspectives – pre-Nietschzean no less! – where a fact is not known until an arrange of selfish, individualistic multifareos interpretations are cataloged next to each other, and no compromise, no bending, no agreeing is ever sought. That is American democracy. Be utterly yourself, and the whole nation will thrive.


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