A Canticle for Leibowitz (Book 10) discussion
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Well, this is just to open the discussion.
Does anyone want to post/suggest some discussion points?
I'm not terribly far into the novel, but am a bit put off by the use of Latin. I'm not quite sure why. I read this perhaps 30 years ago and had nearly forgotten it, but as I re-read it now I do recall it in that deja-vu way that re-reads sometimes invoke. In my mind I never held this one up as one of the "greats" from the past, although it has been held in high regard by many others obviously.
The book suggests a parallel with our own dark ages compared to the future dark ages in the novel with the Catholic church and the monks being a repository for knowledge. But it also isn't shy at poking fun (I'm not sure that is the right word) at things either. The whacking of Brother Francis's bottom ferinstance ...
I just finished the book, and I found that I could not put it down. I have to admit that I was wishing that I knew some Latin. I only knew a few of the phrases (although some others were translated). While reading this, I found several sentences that I had to stop and reread, because to me they were thought-provoking. I still remember the Cold War, so maybe that is why this book spoke to me. Here is one of the quotes:
"How can a great and wise civilization have destroyed itself so completely?"
And the book to me provided the answer to the follow up question, if given a second chance, would the civilization destroy itself again?
I liked the way the book was divided into three canticles over different time periods. And I did like how the stories linked. One thing I would have liked tied up was the hermit/Lazarus. Somehow, I thought we would have a final answer about him. Overall, I thought it was a terrific read.
I read the book a few months ago and absolutely loved it. It does require some thought and perhaps some knowledge of the Cold War author's context (good point billiejean) as well as some Catholic theology, or at least world view. In the little research I did on Miller suggests that he was writing from an explicitly Catholic point of view.
I find the moral angle of the work extremely interesting. Although I found the book entertaining as a read, the exploration of both personal and social morality made the book superior in my opinion.
I came to the book after reading Anathem. Comparison and influence are clear to me. I enjoyed Stephenson's book, but the economy and art of Miller's impressed me.
After I read the book, I looked up the latin phrases for the 3 section headings and did find a study guide with a translation of all the latin phrases by chapter. I would have appreciated footnotes or endnotes with the translations as I was reading. But now that I've read it once, I have put it back in my TBR pile for a re-read in a couple of months with a study guide in hand.
What I really liked about the book was how it portrayed the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of civilizations. So, by the end I was asking myself the question whether the monks should have taken the memorabilia and their religion to space with the purposes of starting all over yet again. At what point, will humanity learn from the lessons of history?
I did find the last 40 pages quite jarring with the antagonism around the issue of euthanasia. It reminded me so much of the public battle over Terri Schiavo. I particularly enjoyed the moment when the woman turned to the monk, who was relating the story about the dog in pain, and said (paraphrasing here), "I presume this will be a story with a morale?" So, while the book was written several decades ago, the issues it sets forth are still relevant today.
Ironic how both Liebowitz and the Poet were both ordinary individuals but ended up being viewed as Saints by future generations. Just reminds us how history can be skewed to fit a particular mythology.
I just finished the book and I enjoyed it. The three sections were all interesting and tied together really well. Like BJ, I expected some explanation of the pilgrim/Benjamin/Lazarus. I am assumming they were all the same person, even though Lazarus doesn't talk about the past he is the only character to use Hebrew like Benjamin/the pilgrim did.
I thought it was interesting that the abbot Zerchi thinks, "When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it." but in Fiat Homo we see that in the darkness the people were not believers or seeking perfection. The monks preserved the Memorabilia hoping for the day when light would come back and men would want to know their history. It seems in all three sections the monks are hoping for a time when civilization will straighten itself out but I think Miller is saying that will never happen.
I think the book is really sad and left me with a feeling of despair. But in the Cold War context it makes sense. There was a constant fear of nuclear war during that time period and it seems a lot of books and movies about nuclear warfare are a sigh and despair over the foolishness of men.
Funny, this is a classic of Sci-Fi and I have only read the first third, though because of this thread, I plan on immediately reading the other two parts so i can discuss it.
I liked what I read, but I tend to read more than one book at a time and this is one that I never got back to; I was thrown when I went from a post-apocalyptic monastary to medieval politics. As for the cold war context, it seems to me that the threat of nuclear devastation is a real if not more real than during the cold war. In fact I think we don't think about it as much because of the very fact that it could happen at any moment with more and more countries and powers with less and less to lose gaining nuclear weapons.
As for wheter humanity will ever learn from the lessons of history and why we don't - i think I have an answer to this. Its because we start over with each generation. Knowledge can be passed on, but sadly, wisdom has to be earned, through experience, by each individual and each generation has to learn its own lessons. Sad, but true. And this doesn't take into account the less than stellar aspects of our nature that force us to do terrible things.
I read this book for the first time twenty or so years ago and I have grown to appreciate it more as time goes by. It touches on so many aspects of human nature: The need for fulfillment; in Francis's character entering the monastic life, the Lazarus seeking the messiah, and the monastic orders' raison d' etre in saving knowledge for the future. The urge to blame others for misfortune in the Simpleton's hatred of education and the educated. The power plays of the regional factions in the warring and infliction of a cattle plague on the nomads by the city states. The cyclical nature of empires, by a greed-driven overextending ala Alexander, Rome, the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler, Japan, Britain . . . A timeworn but still vitally valid philosophical/religious discussion on the value of life.
The last act of the monk who slaps the soil from his sandals before he closes the hatch of the starship is biblical and says (I paraphrase) 'I leave the bad behind me to journey to something better' is hopeful.
I also liked the ending paragraphs on the feeding of the scavengers in each of the 3 books, i.e. life begets life and despite it all, something survives.
I have long thought that some motion picture producer with a full-enough appreciation of the overall profundity of the book could create a great movie that could keep these thoughts in the present zeitgeist for a while longer, thereby edifying us all a bit.
I read this book in high school (30++ years ago) and still remember it as a favorite.
What I remember most is how it made me think about "sacred texts" and "saints" . . . and how odd everyday things can become "sacred": "pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels—bring home for Emma."
Really need to re-read it soon!
I have read this book perhaps four times now over a period of 40 years ... and each time I read it I am struck anew with its depth of thought, the tremendously strong - but ultimately fleeting - characters, and the cycle of civilization as mentioned by LLemire (above comment).
Heartily recommended - not a light read by any stretch - but a worthwhile one and ... I agree that it could make an absolutely AWESOME movie ... though making it mainstream may require dumbing it down enough to ruin it so ... who knows? :-)
Posters above are correct that Miller comes from an explicitly Roman Catholic worldview. Each section looks at a new way that original sin expresses itself by corrupting our good intentions. The hopeful note in the final section comes not from those escaping in the spaceship--is there any reason to suppose that they won't reiterate the prior sections?--but from the nature of Rachel. Zerchi, as he dies, rejoices as he recognizes that out of the horror of nuclear war and its genetic after-effects has come hope in the form of a being who shares Mary's immaculate conception.
I, for one, would have been greatly disappointed if we had gotten a logical explanation for Benjamin. I like him much better unexplained.
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