Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz has been hailed as a representation of the “long future of mankind as a recapitulation of its own long past.” Milan Kundera claims that kitsch is the passing off of thoughtless concepts as art, and that the non-thought of received ideas can be very misleading. In my opinion, these two ideologies, while taught together, conflict harshly in practice and cloud the issue of whether or not we can ever become modern.
For centuries mankind has attempted, through the use of the novel, to predict the future of civilization, while exposing inner human values. Since Revelations, religious factions have made efforts to persuade the general population that a specific deity will lead His people to a paradise, or a Hell of sorts, as He sees appropriate. When reading any work of this nature, as the Canticle clearly is, we must take the motive(s) of the author into consideration, before we can come to a final conclusion.
The feeling I sensed after the final page, is that Miller’s goals in producing this work are numerous as well as vague. My first impression was that the Canticle is an attempt at finishing, if not just prolonging the Bible. The titles for these three new books could be The Book of Francis, The Book of Dom Pedro, and The Book of Zerchi. The religious biases that are prevalent in almost every personal interaction within the book make it hard to decipher what is Human and what is God as far as decisions and opinions. The idea of autonomous individuals, as taught in Cultural Analysis, stands in direct opposition to the lack of independence demonstrated by members of the Monastery. Where the Church and the Brothers of AOL represent that which is modern and advanced after the Simplification, there is an obvious lack of autonomy displayed when a lifetime of actions have been devoted to God. Albeit, the decision to devote oneself to God is an autonomous one, that independence is forfeited shortly.
This idea is intrinsic of the servant status attained upon entering the Order.The whole process of writing in the future also has vagueness in and of itself. The simple fact that no one knows what is going to happen makes accuracy an impossibility here. Thus, another motive of the author becomes apparent. Like Nostradamus and the recent rise in tele-psychics, one way of immortalizing ones own name, is by predicting the future with a reasonable amount of believability.
Since we have no way of predicting accurately what society and culture will make of itself, we must rely on those who read what we write to make our predictions come true. By creating a positive depiction, we can raise the likelihood that the reader will try to make it come true. If and when it does come true, the author gains credibility, status and immortality. If that is not a motive to create a fictional future, I don’t know what is.The concept of fact in a prophecy is a contradiction, until it comes true.
Therefore, no prediction made today can have truth, because its truth is, of yet, undeterminable. This means that at present, all predictions are poor information, and those presented in novels, television, or any art should be considered kitsch. This is what Kundera claims is an enemy of culture, because it can specifically be used to promote ones position without substantial cause. Another aspect of modernity as found within the Cultural Analysis I Syllabus is “faith in progress as a result of continuous increases in our knowledge of the world and in our ability to map and control it”. Throughout the Canticle, Miller depicts a society that is incapable of a progression beyond a certain era. That being the Nuclear Age, an age that our own culture has not surpassed and Miller’s culture had just entered, the extrapolation Miller makes, based on only a few years of nuclear technology, quickly proves to be unfounded.
Those who do not come to this realization are victims to Kundera’s second enemy of culture – the non-thought of received ideas.This is also a very dangerous aspect of the Canticle, in that Miller has made it rather easy to believe the future will unravel as he has written, though there is little reason to believe that it will. It is very misleading and does not allow the less insightful to make a distinction.The only sure-fire way to escape this trap is to realize that fiction is, by definition, false. The futuristic novel attempts to claim that there is something that can be determined about the future by looking at the past. This is not possible because every day is a new one. Too many variables are present for any sort of definiteness in prediction.
Generalities are very helpful to most for short-term guesses, but not in the case of the future of mankind.For me, there now arises a major conflict as to what I will accept after this analysis. While Miller’s novel appeals to my sense of humor, as a fantastic, imaginative, sadistic dream of one suicidal Walter M Miller, Jr., it holds little more than entertainment value, and I will never read it again. Kundera’s ideas however do move me to ponder what motives are present when I see an obvious example of kitsch in society. If I am going to be autonomous, I must make decisions like this. I have only my own opinions and experiences to base my life on, and the way I see things will always be the way I see things. To accept a novel that is so hard to believe would be to contradict myself and give up some of my own autonomy.
If I have the choice to be modern, then this is my opinion.