Last session, we focused on a Fahrenheit 451 passage in which Montag and Faber discuss why people struggle with unhappiness in their seemingly post-scarcity economy. We decided that the following keywords best characterize the themes of the passage as they relate to the work as a whole:
- Cycle. Faber contrasts the fake cycle of flowers coming from flowers rather than the natural cycle of flowers coming from earth. The cycle has short-circuited in Montag’s world, with an echo chamber coming to replace authentic engagement with reality. The earth here represents reality, Antaeus modern society, and books the interface between the two.
- Reality. By losing contact with good fiction, that is, fiction that represents reality with great care and attention to particularities and details, Montag’s society has paradoxically lost its connection with real life. Defending society from controversial fictional ideas ultimately leads to society’s deterioration and destruction in Fahrenheit 451.
- Texture. Bradbury uses texture, or the pores of life, to suggest that without the contrast between smooth and rough, it is impossible to truly experience reality. Texture is lost throughout the book – for instance, cars speed by so quickly that blades of grass lose their individual character and become blurs. Texture is what gives an idea its reality, and what makes a work literary.
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber. “It would be funny if it were not serious. It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the “parlour families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. Of course you couldn’t know this, of course you still can’t understand what I mean when I say all this. You are intuitively right, that’s what counts. Three things are missing.
“Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more Titerary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth. But when he was held, rootless, in mid-air, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane.