Thursday, June 07, 2012

A tale of two writers

Ray Bradbury and Christopher Hitchens died within a few months of each other. Both men were gifted wordsmiths. Both men wrote about the human condition. But there the comparison ends.

Despite his linguistic virtuosity, most of Hitchens’ prolific output will be quickly forgotten. One reason is that so much of his writing is about politics. That’s inherently ephemeral. And, frankly, it’s not that interesting to begin with.

Unlike Bradbury, Hitchens was admired as an earnest and eloquent writer, but his writings will never be loved. Hitchens’ subject-matter is confining, because he writes about the real world. What is or was, not what might have been. The tyranny of the actual.

In addition, the world he writes about is a fallen world, without hope of redemption. The never-ending cycle of depravity. So his material is ultimately depressing. Imprisoning. Like Solzhenitsyn writing about life in a penal colony. Or describing the wallpaper in a mental ward.

Bradbury put his verbal dexterity to a very different use. He articulates an inarticulate yearning in the hearts of many readers. A yearning for lost youth. As well as a longing for unrealized possibilities.

His aliens worlds are scientifically absurd, but that’s not the point. They’re just a vivid literary device to explore alternate timelines. What might have been–in another life, in another world.

In that respect, his otherworldly material is far more appealing than Hitchens’ worldly material. Of course, some of Bradbury’s writings are political allegories. To that extent they’re concerned with the real world. But that’s not where his core appeal lies.

Still, there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about Bradbury’s vision. If Hitchens’ work is unsatisfying because it’s too realistic, Bradbury’s work is unsatisfying because it’s too unrealistic. Within his secular outlook, Bradbury’s possibilities are impossible possibilities. They tantalize the mind, taunting us with iridescent dreams of something forever out of reach.

An unenviable choice between Hitchens’ dyspeptic reality and Bradbury’s imaginary Eden. After escaping for a few hours into Bradbury’s fairy-tale world, we must return to Hitchens’ shard-glass reality. 

Only the Christian outlook does justice to both. On the one hand, reality is ultimately edifying inasmuch as reality is ultimately redeemed. What was lost is found.

On the other hand, our reality is one of God’s infinite possibilities, while our sheer possibilities are God’s infinite realities. All timelines play out in the immutable reality of God’s omniscient mind.

Bradbury’s writing also illustrates the symbiosis between life and art. Bradbury’s particular vision is inconceivable apart from the time and place of his birth and upbringing. His specific background makes all the difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment