Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Innocents Aloft: Canto Four

Although they were not bosom friends, Toby had from the beginning recognized Terrence McLynn as one of the people he had come back to the university for, instead of going off to Toronto journalism. In fact the entire Toronto plot - except for the possibility of it being the tyro contemplative's initial exercise in praying for the future of all his journalist friends who actually did go to the presses of that city for the rest of their working lives - had been something of a joke, inasmuch as he had only been in the bush a few days before he knew he would return to the campus for a year of all sorts of things he knew he had to catch up with. His year of partial removal had had its uses, but there was still much of the academic the novelist needed to explore.
And Terrence had been an excellent academic, a thorough reader, but not at all a recluse in an ivory tower, and ultimately enormously useful as an editor.
McLynn had been evident around the offices of the Pub Board, those utterly dingy basement rooms relying utterly for their architectural significance on the brains and hearts that frequented them, but Toby had never really seen him in action until he spent a lunch hour auditing a debate, over the relevance of the Queen, between the Brit and a Canadian student - ultimately destined for the diplomatic corps - whom he, Toby, already knew from another association.
It was a rollicking affair, in good old Arts 100, the scene of Toby's half-time auditing of Canadian history, in first year, and the much endured Economics 200 in second year. Terrence had acquitted himself in a sound parliamentary manner, immediately securing Toby's confidence in his basic literary competence, and then his protagonist had roundly accused him, in a manner quite stolen from John Diefenbaker, of taking his entire text from a recent article in Maclean's Magazine. Toby had simply enjoyed the whole thing, being impressed by skills he was not at all sure he possessed, and felt mightily confirmed in his decision to come back to the campus. There had been a good house, and Toby had also come away impressed by the energetic contributions to general society of his own nation, but equally convinced that it was no time to get rid of the monarchy.
So when Terrence showed up in the north Brock basement, or elsewhere on the campus, Toby always found something to say to him. The lad was enviable, in a way, finding purpose in the literature courses the university offered, and clearly radiating a co-natural relationship with them, unaffected and realistic, making it obvious to those sensible enough to appreciate it, that such study was the obvious road to intelligence: irreplaceable and not to be avoided. Terrence also wrote poetry, but not in such a way as to use it as an excuse to avoid the need of reading the classics. McLynn had annoyed him on only one issue - not bad for a fellow undergraduate - he had assumed that Toby was a socialist. He had pronounced this epithet as the pair of them were unfolding their umbrellas on the steps of the university library.
This pronouncement had come in the autumn, after Toby had turned over to Terrence his short story, Terrence being the editor of the student literary magazine and Toby having been oddly inspired to write a tale for it, subject, of course, to editorial approval. The story was plainly influenced by Toby's summer in the woods, and was undoubtedly a kind of pastorale in that respect, but it was also violently ant-establishment, one could say, because in it the principle character kills his boss by throwing at axe at his head. Toby knew only a little about Terrence's own position in the establishment of the British Isles, but he knew enough about it to think of the lad as quite broad minded in accepting such an explosive piece for publication. And yet it felt odd to be thought of as a socialist, after he had spent so much of the recent months pondering himself as possibly a Conservative, from the political point of view. He had most certainly not been anything of the sort before he went into the wilds, but the reading there had registered enormous sensibilities for the classics, and that seemed to him to include a conservative way of looking at all sorts of things. And yet if that were so, why had he admitted to himself that one of the biggest parts of his rationale for coming back to law school again was to study labour law, and read, with his head full of riotous anger, a substantial booklet on the Winnipeg General Strike of 1920 or so? It could all be very confusing, this swinging back and forth between points of view, and yet he had not enjoyed being labeled as a socialist. For himself at least, he had habitually thought that an honest novelist looking for a world-wide audience had to remain free of a specific political allegiance, for the sake of objectivity, just as he had to remain free of specific religious organizations for the same reason, although this latter position had somewhat altered, in the spring, when after his winter of studying the social sciences he had found himself quite sure he would become a church-goer when he acquired a wife and children.
And then there was that concept of perfection. This had come upon him on the bush job, as if he had been called away into the wilderness to be spoken to about something unusual, or, more accurately, about dispositions to the unusual further down the road. It had followed his running into Saint Thomas and the other classic writers Mortimer Adler was on about. He had not totally rejected the idea, but he had put it aside for later consideration. Perfection seemed to demand more than mere detachment, the concept that had been dangled in front of his nose as he entered university life. And as the obviously integrated Aquinas, the man who knew how to combine head with heart, was a Catholic, possibly this meant that he, Toby Skinner, would have to become a Catholic as well. But all in Somebody's good time, one day at a time, and probably not before he had accomplished certain goals.
There remained, for one thing, the problem of interior suffering. Was there too much comfort in Christianity? And then there were those who did not, could not, believe. Starting with his father,
reaching back into a very long list of thinkers and artists, and well spread around his campus contemporaries.
And, furthermore, one of those contemporaries, now, was his freshman brother, who, in fact, was another of his reasons for deciding to come back to the campus instead of heading off to j0urnalism in Toronto.

No comments: