Immortal Openings, 12: John Fowles, Daniel Martin

The first sentence of one of my favorite novels, maybe even my favorite (certainly it, along with John Gardner’s Mickelsson’s Ghosts, is a contender for Favorite Contemorary Novel):

Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.

If you don’t know the remarkable prose poem, “The Harvest”, that is the first chapter of the book, do make its acquaintance soon.

Fowles was influenced by Teilhard de Chardin, who writes in the Forward (“Seeing”) to The Phenomenon of Man:

. . . the history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen. After all, do we not judge the perfection of an animal, or the supremacy of a thinking being, by the penetration and synthetic power of their gaze? To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence.To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.

I would add something about Iris Murdoch and vision, but I suspect my readers can supply the requisite something themselves.  (I will add that I find the ‘fit’ between the  de Chardin passage and various passages in Merleau-Ponty worth pondering–and it further suggests thinking more about Fowles’ novel in light of Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of vision.)

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