Below is the next entry in my philosophical journal, dated when originally written, from a series of entries containing my reflections on British novelist Pat Baker’s Regeneration Trilogy, so named from the title of the first of the three books. The following is my second entry on the second novel of the trilogy, The Eye in the Door.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
A bit later in Barker’s novel [later than the passage cited at the end of my preceding post], Rivers visits [the British poet] Siegfried Sassoon [another of Barker’s “historical” characters in the trilogy] in Lancaster Hospital after the latter has been sent back again from the front for a head (scalp) wound, which Sassoon may have brought on himself in an effort to die with the men he’d led to death over the tours he did in France. As Prior, Manning (a married, homosexual, upper-class officer), and Rivers (and Head) all in their own ways have Jekyll-Hyde splits, so does Sassoon in these passages reveal himself to be two persons in one: the caring humanitarian, and the sadistic killer. His war protest and his thinly veiled attempts to get himself killed off, both manifest as a sort of drive to introduce basic existential “consistency” into his own being. At one point, before his most recent accident, an encounter with a new second in command to him at the front, makes Sassoon face himself (as Prior makes Rivers face himself earlier [in the “change of places” episode I commented upon in my immediately preceding post]). As he describes the incident to Rivers (p. 229):
“A marked change in tone: ‘It was when I faced up to how bloody stupid it was.’ Rivers looked puzzled: ‘What was?’ [Sassoon replies:] ‘My pathetic little formula for getting myself back to France.’ He adopted a mincing, effeminate tone. ‘I’m not going back to kill people. I’m only going back to look after some men.'”
A couple of pages later (231-232) Sassoon says: “‘You know, Rivers, it’s no good encouraging people to know themselves and . . . face up to their emotions, because out there they’re better off not having any. If people are going to have to kill, they need to be brought up to expect to have to do it. They need to be trained not to care because if you don’t . . .’ Siegfried gripped Rivers’s hand so tightly that his face clenched with the effort of concealing his pain. ‘It’s too cruel.'”
After finally helping Sassoon calm down and go to sleep, Rivers sits beside him, thinking. P. 233: “He was finding it difficult to be both involved and objective, to turn steadily on Sassoon both sides of medicine’s split face.” P. 235: “Perhaps, contrary to what was usually supposed, duality was the stable state; the attempt at integration, dangerous. Certainly Siegfried had found it so.”
P. 249, exchange between Prior and Rivers:
“Prior was lost in thought. ‘Is it just remembering?’ [Rivers:] ‘I don’t think I know what you mean.’ [Prior:] ‘If I remember, is that enough to heal the split?’ [Rivers:] ‘No, I don’t think so. I think there has to be a moment of recognition. Acceptance. There has to be a moment when you look in the mirror and say, yes, this too is myself.’ [Prior:] ‘That could be difficult.'”