'Torture in the country of the mind', a study of suffering and self in the novels of Patrick White
Brugman, Albert Pieter
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This study is concerned with an evaluation of the suffering and self of the elected characters in the novels of Patrick White. The suffering these elected characters endure, apart from the uncomprehending antagonism of society, takes place mainly in the country of the mind - "that solitary land of the individual experience, in which no fellow footfall is ever heard" (Epigraph to The Aunt's Story) - and is a form of catharsis in preparatory to a reunion with God as the Source of all Being. The suffering, whether of a psychic or physical nature - or both - is complicated by the duality between the esoteric and exoteric selves of the characters involved. The nature of the suffering is always solitary. The wisdom eventually gained from the suffering cannot be shared. Contact with fellow elect is brief and without consequence except for mutual recongnition of "outsidership". It is clear that the elected character has no apparent control of what happens to him in life. The reader gains the impression that the elected characters in White's novels are the involuntary victims of some "malign" life-force that, paradoxically, brings about a state of grace. White touches on, but wisely prefers not to examine, the problems of predestination and euthanasia. The elected characters are all outsiders in the sense that they are, in some psychic or physical manner, different from the members of the society in which they find themselves. In the earlier novels the elected characters' alienism is characterised by their intuitive awareness of another, nonphysical, transcendent plane of being - "There is another world, but it is in this one" (Epigraph to The Solid Mandala) . Progressive reading of White's novels reveals that his conception of suffering, despite disavowal, is in line with the Biblical concept of suffering as described in Paul's letter to the Romans. The non-elected members of society with whom the elect come into conflict either do not understand or are unwilling to admit their intuitive awareness that there is another world within the familiar one, a concept White frequently refers to in his image of boxes and boxes within boxes. The secret knowledge the elect seem to have antagonises the other members of society because of the sense of loss they experience. White's later novels reveal a concern with sexually aberrated suffering which is closely aligned to his own unhappiness. The sexual duality that is an essential aspect of Theodora Goodman's (The Aunt's Story) dilemma gains progressively more of White's attention and is eventually exposed in his biography of Eddie Twyborn (The Twyborn Affair). White's concern with abnormal sexuality is related to his disquiet with the mystery of the soul baing "housed” in a body not only unsuitable, but also contrary to the nature of the psyche which is either predominantly male or female. White is clearly angry that this mystery should be the profound result of momentary lust. Although so many of White's elect labour under spiritually destructive burdens of guilt, the parents who are considered the root cause of all suffering in a post-lapsarian state, feel little of any compunction because they are too concerned with their own suffering, real or imagined. God as Source or God as the "One" is an all-pervading, if unacknowledged force in White's corpus and in the lives of his elect. The elect turn to God only when they have suffered and acknowledged their dependence on Him. It is sad that White should, in the end not find himself in "the boundless garden" with Stan Parker (The Tree of Man). He seems to share the fates of Theodora Goodman (The Aunt's Story) and Arthur Brown (The Solid Mandala).
- Humanities