Quarantine: Jim Crace’s Anti-Christ *)
English and English-American Literature35 (ISSN 0288-2396)
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Department of Humanities
Marking the end of the second Christian millennium, the 1980s and 1990s saw a number of publications which dealt with the life of Jesus. In 1997 two such novels came out, each receiving considerable attention. One was Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son; the other Quarantine by Jim Crace. The former is a pseudo-autobiography affecting to be narrated by Jesus himself. Stressing Christ’s humanity, The Gospel was widely welcomed as an addition to the Christian literature which interprets Jesus as a heroic sufferer. Yet some readers were discontent with the quality of the book. Bruce Bawer felt the book "hollow" and asserted that Mailer "might well envy" the other 1997 novel, Crace’s Booker-shortlisted Quarantine.
Crace’s novel originates in the legend of Jesus Christ fasting and guarding off Satan’s temptations for forty days in the Jordanian wilderness, but the narrative is devoid of any pious extolment of the Saviour. The legend itself is a rather short one—Matthew’s gospel reports the episode in half a chapter, while Luke does it in one-third of Chapter 4; Mark needs only three sentences; John does not mention the event at all. Crace has expanded Matthew’s half chapter into a book-length narrative, as John Milton did in Paradise Regained some three hundred years ago, and in doing so Crace borrowed a number of the events in Jesus’ life elsewhere in the four gospels, sometimes anachronistically.
Much of the family background and many of the personal propensities of Jesus in Quarantine derive from those of his Biblical counterpart described by the four gospel writers: he is a Galilean (see Matt. 3.13 and Mark 1.9), although his derivative nickname "Gally" seems to be of Crace’s own making; he is a son of a carpenter and his father’s apprentice (see Matt. 13.55 and Mark 6.3); as a child he loved to discuss religion and was "sodden with his prayers" (73) to the extent that made his parents worry and want to "distract him" and at times to drag him "unwillingly from prayer" (73; see Luke 2.46-51). He is gentle, "much loved and loving" (72). He intends to be a preacher some day, but is determined not to be sectarian, though he shows antipathy to the Romans; he is ready to include in his audience "those kept out of temples—lepers, menstruating women, prostitutes, the blind, even the uncircumcized—if they would listen to him" (150-151). Jesus aims to be "the good shepherd who will lead [his people] out of suffering" (151), an intention reminiscent of Christ’s claim to be "the good shepherd [who] giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10.11), and who has "other sheep . . . which are not of this fold: them also [he] must bring" (John 10.16).
However, not everything about Gally is so dignified. He is by no means alone in the wilderness but has four other quarantiners in his vicinity. Gally also encounters a feverish merchant and his wife, who have been deserted by their caravan companions. Before entering his proper fast Gally asks the merchant Musa for water. When his timid request—"Do not deny me water, cousin"; "A sip, a sip . . . . The merest drop" (25, 26)—is turned down, he takes water without leave, telling himself uneasily that "[t]his was not theft" (24), apparently feeling a twinge of guilt.
A number of the biblical references in the novel also serve to detract from Jesus’ divinity. In the first place, Gally decides to fast in order to "encounter god or die . . . [t]o let his god provide the water and the food. Or let the devil do its work. It would be a test for all three of them [i.e., god, devil, and Jesus]" (22). But isn’t Christ supposed to refrain from testing or tempting God, according to Matthew and Luke? Matthew also gives us Christ’s words about the proper way of fasting: "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret" (Matt. 6.17-18). In sheer contradiction to this prescription, it is out of childish vanity that Gally embarks on the forty-day fast. What makes him persevere is his conceited wish to be recognized as a powerful preacher by his neighbours who often deride his religion-ridden way of life. Gally in the cave keeps on telling himself: "What would his parents and his neighbours say when he went back to preach the word of god? They would not shake his shoulders, send his brothers to distract him, use the stick. They would rejoice in him" (81-82); "his neighbours in the audience would put their hands across their mouths and whisper, It’s Gally, see. Listen to him now. We never knew him after all" (129). This in turn reminds us of another biblical description about Jesus Christ’s disappointment in his hometown. When his former neighbours, astonished by Jesus’ new wisdom, exclaim, "Whence hath this man this wisdom? . . . Is not this the Carpenter’s son?", Jesus becomes offended "because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13.54-58, see also Mark 6.2-6 and Luke 4.21-30). This is an inauspicious sign of what Gally’s naive vanity would suffer, were he to survive the quarantine.
Gally is kind to the invalid, surely, like the hero of the New Testament. Indeed, Musa is cured of his fatal fever after the short visit by Jesus. But it is only "after"; we are never really sure if Musa is healed "by" Jesus’ miraculous power, for Gally at that time is so like a hangdog thief, as we have seen before. And Gally’s well-wishing spell—"So, here, be well again"—is nothing but "a common greeting for the sick" (26). Furthermore, Gally’s healing of Musa is not at all welcomed by his maltreated wife: "God damn the spirit that has brought [Musa] back" (39); "She had no wish to meet the healer face to face. She’d want to slap his cheek" (101-102).
Crace’s Jesus is too meek, too vain, too inappropriate, too human. He hardly seems capable of being entitled the Saviour. Gally complacently chooses a cave in the middle of a scarp, steep enough to be a "perfect perch for eagles, and for angels . . . [e]xcept there were no eagles nor any angels" (78)—not unlike the way John the Savage in Brave New World chooses to live in the abandoned lighthouse. But Gally starts to regret his fasting even before the first day: "It was hard to concentrate on god when his feet were so sore" (75); "He’d hoped for greater hospitality . . . [from this g]od’s unfinished landscape" (76). In the Bible, after Jesus Christ is baptized by John right before the fast, he encounters "the Spirit of God descending like a dove" (Matt. 3.16, see also Mark 1.10 and Luke 3.22). Gally expects "signs," such as "[s]ome burning bush" or "[a] white dove, yes" (78). Instead, Gally sees a carcass of the donkey Musa has beaten to death thrown down the precipice toward him, when his quarantine has hardly begun. To enhance the irony, the dead donkey is depicted in a dove-image; watching the carcass falling down, a quarantiner Shim shouts "‘Let fly, let fly’, as if the donkey were a dove" (70).
When Biblical Jesus is challenged by Satan to "command that these stones be made bread," he bravely and cleverly turns down the temptation by declaring "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Matt. 4.3-4, see also Luke 4.3-4). Gally is a simpler, more infatuatedly optimistic believer: "If needs be, god would show Jesus how to turn the stones to bread and take his water from the clouds" (108). God does not provide, however. Gally thirsts and dries up. Seclusion in darkness makes him "less certain" and his prayers "fickle" (130). In order to forget his loneliness and boredom and hunger, he plays the "mill game"—a game for the "bad boys" who skip "temple lessons, . . . playing on the mill-board for prizes of dried grapes, with sacrilegious forfeits for the ones that lost" (136). As days go by, he gets to fretting. He grows weaker and weaker: "He was as numb as wood. They could have driven nails into his feet. He’d not have felt a thing" (192).
Then Gally brings the greatest disappointment to Christian believers. He fails to survive the fast. Jesus dies on the thirtieth day, endorsing the physiological statement in the novel’s epigraph: "An ordinary man of average weight and fitness embarking on a total fast . . . could not expect to live for more than thirty days." What is more, Gally never achieves corporeal resurrection. The verb "resurrect" appears five times in the novel, but only one of them is applied to Gally, and it is when he wets some bread and dates with water—all of which he has stolen from Musa—so that he can "resurrect the softness in them" (26). The other four pertain to the book’s protagonist and villain, Musa, as we will see shortly.
Musa is the most disagreeable person of the seven characters in the novel. He is a greedy, relentless merchant whose "salesmanship was irresistible" (154). He is "practised in making virtues out of sins" (154) with his "blinding tongue" (178), captivating "[l]ike a snake" (86). Usually he is scathingly masterful but can be parasitically placating when he chooses. He is only twenty-six or so, but too obese to stand up by himself. He is a rapist and a wife-abuser, sometimes to the profane extent: "with her hair held in his fists, . . . pushing into her until there was a trinity of pain and tears and fear" (31). He is quick-tempered and egoistically revengeful, so that when he has caught fever, his caravan is only too glad to take this opportunity to bid him good riddance. When he finds himself abandoned by his caravan, he has to satisfy his anger by laying the blame on his innocent donkey—"He’d make her pay for his infection . . . [f]or his abandonment. . . . This was a settling of scores" (35-36)—and beat up the donkey until no bones remain intact. No wonder that his wife Miri has been hoping for some miracle that will put an end to his life and deliver her into happy widowhood. After recuperation and the slaughter of his donkey, Musa gathers the quarantiners, lays false claim to ownership of the caves, and extorts from the quarantiners a promise to pay rent.
From the viewpoint of the plot as well, Musa is cast in the part of Satan. Once he finds himself cured after the bodily contact with Jesus, he sees Jesus as a miraculous healer, and from then on, Musa tries to "lure the Galilean" and ask "to be taught the trick of healing" so that he can trade in "long life, and health" (140). He bullies the other four quarantiners into helping him carry some food-bags to the top of the precipice above Gally’s cave. As soon as Gally recognizes Musa, with Shim’s twisted walking-stick in his hand—"the demon’s baton" (111) to Jesus’ eyes—Gally identifies Musa with a devil who has "come to tempt him" (112). The tempter asks Gally to show him miracles: "You drove the fever out. A miracle. Come out and. Show yourself . . ." (111). On other days Musa offers food and water. Gally rejects the temptations, but not in the triumphant way Christ showed in the gospels. Gally conquers the temptation partly because he is "timid" and "afraid" of Musa (111), and partly because he is vain—he is determined to hear from his neighbours "a phrase he loved—‘We never knew our Gally after all’" (151). Not very dignified indeed, but the tempter-defender relationship in the New Testament is reproduced in the novel, designating Musa as Satan.
Musa’s Satanic cruelty is loathsome enough, but what might be the most disturbing to pious readers is the fact that there are some Christ-like idiosyncrasies in Musa. His "blinding tongue" amounts to a strong preacher’s persuasiveness; he "dispens[es] deals and judgements like a priest, implacably, too dignified to haggle with" (28). He is "the story-teller" (100, 171, 174, 197), and when he tells his "parable" of a hundred monkeys to the four quarantiners on the precipice, every listener is fascinated: "They nodded to the story-teller to urge him on. This was better than any parable" (174). Musa’s mind is saturated with trade, and his parable of monkeys is a lesson about a merchant’s tenacity with which he kept the losses of his merchandise (edible monkeys) to a minimum even when he had lost his way in the middle of the desert. Musa has other stories to tell, and although all his stories are about commerce, they are "hypnotizing" and "mysteries" (86). Actually, Musa’s concentration on trade is, in a sense, analogous to Jesus-Gally’s simplistic devotion to god: "trading is the truest test of man. It shows his strength, his worth, his piety" (174). Musa knows the world, and "[w]hat he didn’t know he would invent, and his inventions would be more quenching than the truth" (155). Musa’s parable-telling on the precipice cannot but remind us of the famous Sermon on the Mount, and his "inventions" are the parodies of Christ’s other sermons and examples, in which Jesus Christ sometimes defies the orthodox. And if Jesus had Musa’s background, it would be little wonder that Jesus Christ should tell the utilitarian parables of the talents (Matt. 25.14-30), of the unjust steward (Luke 16.1-9), and of the pounds (Luke 19.11-27).1)
We have already seen that Gally can resurrect the softness of dry fruit, but not himself. On the other hand, Musa will "resurrect himself with trade" (32), can be "resurrected by his drink" (70), and in fact is a "resurrected fat man" (151) when he goes and asks Gally to come out. Musa’s capability to resurrect is not just a matter of Crace’s phraseology. At the beginning of the novel, Musa makes a miraculous recovery from a seemingly fatal fever. This can be seen as a version of "resurrection", if only an ironical one. Musa once again goes through a kind of "resurrection" later in the novel. Trying to lure out Gally for the last time, and simultaneously enabling himself to spend the night in close vicinity to the female quarantiner he is planning to rape, Musa shams illness and sends for Gally to heal him again. Gally does not—or cannot, from emaciation—come out, and Musa is carried into a cave next to Marta’s. Miri thinks they will "only have to block his cave with stones to make a sepulchre" (180). Crace’s careful choice of the word "sepulchre" again makes us associate Musa with Jesus Christ, when he is buried after crucifixion: "So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone" (Matt. 27.66, see also Mark 15.46, Luke 23.53, and John 19.41-42).2) In comparison, after Gally is dead, he is buried in a water-cistern, not in a "sepulchre". Musa gets out his cave before dawn while his wife and the four quarantiners consider him dead—a crooked version of "resurrection"—and goes into Marta’s cave.
Marta is a barren woman spending her forty days in the wilderness in hope of becoming "pregnant, by some miracle" (114). When she hears about Gally from Musa, she starts hoping that "the healer" will heal her barrenness and then "she’d be fruitful, . . . she’d multiply" (44-45). Before coming to this scrubland to fast, Marta has "heard of women—unmarried, some of them, or widows and grandmothers, or wives whose husbands were away—who had conceived a baby without the maculate involvement of a man. Angel children, they were called" (114). Marta dismisses the story as a lame excuse: "A thin and comic telling of the truth, she thought" (114)—another example of Crace’s desecration, this time of the Virgin Birth. Nevertheless, Marta decides to consider Musa’s rape as a "miracle" that gives her a baby. She feels herself pregnant, "as if [her] cheeks had been touched by angels" (237). Here Musa is given the role of a miracle-giver, more powerful than Jesus Christ, for the four gospels do not record Christ healing infertility.
There is another, more essential connection between Musa and Jesus Christ besides these loudly ironical analogies. Musa is more than a wholeheartedly greedy merchant; he is "[t]wo men in one" (29). Inside Musa’s heart there is a "lesser, tearful twin . . . that tender sibling" suppressed from childhood by the "tougher self" (29). The first time Musa ever sees Jesus, Musa recognizes his own lesser twin in Jesus (38), and indeed Musa’s lesser twin is "briefly resurrected by the water" (29) Jesus tenderheartedly tips on Musa’s feverish lips. The resurrection of Musa’s tender twin is brief, but he re-resurrects after Jesus dies. Musa seems "transformed" and "a stoic, almost" (208) to his wife and the quarantiners. "Even the goats could tell he had improved" (207), if only to the extent that he quits kicking their legs with no particular reason.
In The Literature of the Second Self, C. F. Keppler defines the literary second self as "the shadowed self" (11), "the intruder from the background of shadows" (3) who has the "ability to see into his counterpart’s soul" (50), and "the possessor of secrets that the first self can never quite fathom" (11). Gally (and Musa’s lesser twin, whom we can identify with Gally) in many points satisfies Keppler’s requirements. In his book, Keppler does take up the Satan-Jesus relationship for discussion, and he refuses to see Satan the Tempter as Jesus’ second self on the grounds that "there is no indication that [Jesus] is at any point influenced by Satan" (58). In the case of Paradise Regained, Milton’s concern sometimes seems to be not with adamantine Christ but with Satan, who is influenced by Christ’s defiant reprimand and "struck / With his guilt of his own sin" (3.146-147). Likewise, in Crace’s novel, the relationship between the first and second selves is reversed: Musa is the first self, Jesus the second. Keppler says that "regularly it is the second self who initiates the action in the relationship between them, and the first self who registers the effect of this action" (25). Hence we ought to concentrate on the way Musa changes through his encounter with Jesus, rather than on Jesus’ predicament and perseverance.
The turning point is the moment when Musa sees Jesus-Gally walking up the precipice on his thirtieth day of the fast "with the confidence of someone who was full of god at last" (206), disappearing over the high slope. This is impossible, for Gally has been too weak to climb a few step uphill. Moreover, Gally is not "full of god"; he is in the stage of "his final blasphemy" and "beg[ging] the devil to fly up and save him from the wind. He’d almost welcome the devil more than god. For the devil can be traded with" (193). And Gally is to be found dead inside his cave in only a few hours. What has happened to Musa is a supernatural, spiritual experience. Musa is inwardly experiencing the "resurrection" of his "lesser twin", and envisioning it outwardly in the form of Gally. Again Keppler’s explanation is in order: "the coming of the second self . . . is the result of some unknown force using but transcending all known ones" (12). Musa begins to see the world in a different way. He comes to believe that Jesus has "achieved these sacred fields" and that "[he is] still there" (220). Musa feels that he can wait patiently and believingly for the second coming of Gally, for quite a long time or, if needs be, until the end of his life:
And if he [Gally] did not come . . . ? Then Musa would not be disappointed. Life was long. He could expect to meet the man in Jericho, among the palms, beneath the henna blossoms. Or in Jerusalem. Or Rome. Or in the land behind the middleman, the hill behind the hills, the village that you reached when all the villages had ended, where blue was silver and the air was heavier than smoke. (242)
Here, Musa is giving eternal life to Jesus. Jesus is "resurrected" along with Musa’s lesser twin, and will live on within Musa’s memory and stories. For "Yes, even Musa—especially, Musa—had had his glimpse of paradise" (220).
Yet there is a definite limit to Musa’s improvement. Musa indeed goes through a change, but it is not as drastic and fundamental as the Conversion of Saul reported in chapter 9 of the Acts. Musa’s "tougher twin" is still the dominant of the two. Musa claims that there has to be a proper sacrifice to attend Gally’s burial, but refuses to kill any of his goats: "He would not agree to sacrificing merchandise, not even for the Gally" (215). When Musa envisions "resurrected" Gally, he thinks of him as a business partner: "‘Show me how to turn stones into bread,’ he’d say, ‘and we’ll go into business. I’ll make you richer than Tiberius.’ They’d make a deal" (242). Musa once dreamed of himself "trading only in colours, not in wools": "I am like someone who sells sounds instead of drums and pipes. I deal in smells instead of food . . . Here’s something wonderful. . . . A caravan of colours, music, smells. So light a cargo" (91-92). Musa’s rather Platonic or semiological orientation finds a new cargo in the mysterious encounter with Jesus: "his merchandise, something finer and less burdensome than even colour, sound or smell. . . . He’d trade the word. . . . He’d preach the good news" (242).3)
Jesus does not survive the quarantine. He is not laid in a "sepulchre" and does not revive himself from it. Neither is he going to deliver sermons in the parable form. They are to be done by Musa, as Gary Kamiya rightly points out: "it is attractive to imagine that the legend of Jesus began after his death in the wilderness—a legend spread by none other than Musa."4) Here is the book’s final iconoclasm, and the Christ-image of Musa is Crace’s careful preparation for it. The New Testament (and Q [Quelle, which means the "source" on which Matthew and Luke based their gospels other than Mark’s text] in C. H. Weiss’ Q hypothesis, if you like) is based not on Jesus Christ’s heroic life, but on the smooth sales-talk of a windbag. John’s gospel declares "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1.1). But that Word belongs to Musa’s merchandise, a specialty that Musa proudly trades in.
In The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche denounces Christian priests for achieving "that miracle of falsification" (42; ch. 26): "The public notion of this god now becomes merely a weapon in the hands of clerical agitators, who interpret all happiness as a reward and all unhappiness as a punishment for obedience or disobedience to him" (41; ch. 25); "the priest, a parasitical variety of man who can exist only at the cost of every sound view of life, takes the name of God in vain" (43; ch. 26); "the priest rules through the invention of sin" (71; ch. 49).
Musa makes a parade of his fever and thereby draws out deference from the quarantiners. Later he makes a parade of Jesus’ alleged healing power. Sometimes, in his drunken dreams, Musa pictures how he himself will turn into a holy man:
In his dreams and in his drink, he’d lured the Galilean from his cave and asked . . . to be taught the trick of healing. He learned to fill his saddle-bags with prayers and spells, to dig up roots, pick leaves. Then he travelled to the pleats and pockets of the world and sold long life, and health. He was mistaken for a holy man, and people emptied out their purses in his lap. He drove out fevers for a price, turned water into wine. He made barren women pregnant with his Galilean tricks, and caused the lame to dance for him. At last he was respected for himself. (140)
According to Nietzsche, this is almost what Christian priests, Paul in particular, did:
Hard upon the heels of the "glad tidings" came the worst imaginable: those of Paul. In Paul is incarnated the very opposite of the "bearer of glad tidings"; he represents the genius for hatred, the vision of hatred, the relentless logic of hatred. . . —nothing was left of all this after that counterfeiter in hatred had reduced it to his uses. . . . [Paul] invented his own history of Christian beginnings. . . . At bottom, he had no use for the life of the Savior . . . (59-60; ch. 42)
Musa will start trading in a new religion. From the beginning, Musa’s devotion—"his piety" (174)—to commerce has a spiritual aspect: "To buy and sell is just as spiritual as prayer or going without food" (174-175). Indeed, his "spirituality" has been based on materiality: "A merchant’s never-ending quest is not for things that you can’t touch or buy . . . but for something new and real and grand. And valuable, of course. To make the world a richer place. We’re gods, we’re little gods" (175). But now he has learned to aim at distributing good news in the image of Jesus, "things that you can’t touch." Musa will not fail in his new business. All he needs is convincing sales-talk, and he is well equipped with "the words and mannerisms he should use to lend a touch of holiness to what he said" (100). This is the beginning of Christian religion, according to Jim Crace. Christianity has its origin not in Jesus Christ but in his usurping follower, Paul-like Musa. And this may explain why Paul can boast of "Christ speaking in me" (2 Cor. 13.3).5)
Crace’s Jesus is too feeble a character to fulfil the Christ-role, as we have already seen. This humiliated image of Christ is again analogous to its counterpart in The Anti-Christ. Jesus Christ, according to Nietzsche, embodies "a sort of recrudescent childishness of the spirit" (49; ch. 32). Nietzsche denies Christ the victorious titles like "hero" or "genius". Instead, he argues that "[i]n the strict sense of the physiologist, a quite different word ought to be used here . . . " (47; ch. 29). Although our translator H. L. Mencken is being discreet as the three dots show, Nietzsche in the original German gives us the relentless word: "das Wort Idiot"—an idiot in that he is capable of "[t]he instinctive exclusion of all aversion, all hostility, all bounds and distances in feeling" (47; ch. 30). Christ shows "a morbid sensibility of the tactile nerves which causes those suffering from it to recoil from every touch, and from every effort to grasp a solid object" (47; ch. 29).
However, Nietzsche is by no means a thorough denier of Christ. He sees the necessity to feel "the poignant charm of such a compound of the sublime, the morbid and the childish" of the "original traits and idiosyncrasies, often so painfully strange" which "all great . . . veneration . . . tends to erase from the venerated objects" (48; ch. 31). Nietzsche emphasizes that "the type of the Savior has reached us only in a greatly distorted form" (48; ch. 31), which implies that Nietzsche posits that there existed an original Christ and that he was a man of some value.
Quarantine depicts Jesus as a real human being, and not all the descriptions of him are tainted with human pettiness. When Gally hears from Shim that Musa is critically ill again (a sham, in fact) and that he needs Gally’s healing power, Gally imagines "lines of strangers waiting to be saved" and himself exercising his alleged healing power on them, saying, "So, here, be well again" (193), though he is on the verge of starvation himself. To be sure, the text immediately supplies us the mundane explanation again—"A common greeting from the Galilee" (193)—but the point is that among the seven characters here he is the only one who can gratuitously wish others well.
Dying Jesus begins to attain some holiness. When his death is confirmed, "[d]espite the broken nails, the blisters and the sores, his hands and feet were still beautiful, as polished and unyielding sculpted wood" (223). Marta and Miri prepare his body for burial, and they, not only Marta but also unbelieving Miri, feel that "touching him was not distasteful. It felt more like a blessing than a chore. They’d have good luck, not bad" (224). There is, at least, a touch of holiness in Jesus on his deathbed. And then, there is Musa’s unwonted poetic glorification of Jesus moving into "the hill behind the hills, the village that you reached when all the villages had ended," which I have mentioned earlier in this essay.
Crace professes himself to be "an atheist, impatient with the simple-mindedness of orthodox religion, its lack of imagination, its bafflegab." So, in writing Quarantine, he intended "to inflict some bruises on religious dogma," and as a result, "Quarantine with Science as its sword would kill Christ after only thirty days in the wilderness. There’d be no Ministry or Crucifixion. The novel would erase two thousand years of Christianity. This would be my party-pooper for the Millennium" ("Crace on Quarantine").6) In this too, Crace resembles Nietzsche, who decries the anti-scientific attitude of Christianity: "Such a religion as Christianity, which does not touch reality at a single point and which goes to pieces the moment reality asserts its rights at any point, must be inevitably the deadly enemy of the ‘wisdom of this world,’ which is to say, of science" (Anti-Christ 68; ch. 47). But then Crace admits that "novels have a way of breaking loose from their creators" and that "nobody could spend two years writing such a book and remain undisturbed by it." Crace could not "kill [Jesus] off entirely": "Science does not triumph unambiguously in the book. Faith is not destroyed by Doubt" ("Crace on Quarantine"). In a way, the novel (and Gally) has become a second self to Crace. This second self does not make the first self turn around and become a passionate religionist—Crace still believes in rationalism and asserts: "A universe which is an outside job, inflicted on us by a Creator in seven days, is a lesser marvel than a universe which is an inside job, the slow, painstaking product of natural forces. Evolution is a greater wonder than all the gods." He concludes with a reference to the title of Richard Dawkins’ 1986 book on evolution and natural selection: "The Blind Watchmaker is more inspiring than Blind Faith." All the same, Crace’s second self leaves him a trace of suspicion. He is facing "the challenge for all of us who have not been issued with the gene of religion." He feels that there does exist a kind of "transcendence", even if you deny "the vulgar, sentimental comforts of a god" ("Crace on Quarantine").
The "vulgar, sentimental comforts of a god" is what Musa is going to sell after the novel ends. He will build up a convenient image of Christ according to his commercial need, and at the same time cunningly aggrandize himself into a reverend priest. He begins his enterprise with a caravan that he chances to meet after his wife and the quarantiners have run away from him:
They were amazed at all the stories he could tell. He’d come from forty days of quarantine up in the wilderness. . . . He’d gone up thin and come back fat, thanks to god’s good offices. He’d shared his cave with angels and messiahs; he’d met a healer and a man who could make bread from stones. . . . He had, he said, some phials of holy medicine. A sniff of each, and all their illness would be cured and all their troubles would be halved. He would not charge them very much, as they were friends and comrades on the road. (240-241)
Crace has carefully set Musa’s age at about twenty-six, which is close to the age at which Jesus Christ allegedly started ministry on the road. Musa will tell the healer’s tale, and probably will "invent" some catchy anecdotes and morals to enrich his "sermons".
The quarantiners may have unwittingly provided the sources for his "inventions". The cancerous elderly Jew, Aphas, will not loom large in Musa’s story except as a typical suppliant, like the leper after the Sermon on the Mount and "a man sick of the palsy" (Matt. 9.1) in Galilee, and many more. But Shim, a fair Greek-like young man, is a more important character. He claims to be a seeker after a god "immanent in everything" (53). Therefore, Shim may be playing the part of Philo Judaeus, Paul’s contemporary, and other Christian Platonists, who stressed the immanence of God. For the time being, though, Shim’s "[q]uite valuable" (60) walking staff and his sour-grapish stoicism suffice Musa’s making of Christianity. The walking staff, which Musa plunders from Shim, gives Musa a prophet-like appearance. Shim’s praise for suffering—"We only meet the god within our true selves through suffering. . . . Pain and enlightenment are twins" (95-96)—and his belittlement of Gally—"His scoffing at Gally was nothing more than his cowardly revenge on Musa" (123-124)—paves the way for the Christian ressentiment and "slave morality" that Nietzsche denounces in On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil.7)
The most significant and yet mystifying one is "the badu". This nameless nomad speaks a language nobody can understand. His reasons for going into quarantine remain a mystery even to the reader. Thus, he is the most intriguing character in the novel and invites the reader’s attempts at interpretation. This "impish, restless figure, as brown-skinned as a honeycomb" (110) is often given a devilish image: he has "the manners and the narrow backbone of a goat" (49); he has "something devilish and immature about his face" (52); the other quarantiners feels that someone ought to "draw the demons out of him" (101). Everybody thinks of him as a dunce, until they see that he is cunning enough to outwit Musa and steal away his goats on the thirty-first night of quarantine. It would be small wonder if Musa should decide to designate the badu the devil in his version of the Scriptures.
There are still other interesting aspects to this badu. On the twenty-second day of quarantine, the badu descends the precipice and comes down to the entrance of Jesus’ cave. He brings with him some locusts—"a badu delicacy, the desert shrimp" (163)—and a water-pouch as gifts for Jesus. Jesus considers him as a tempter and manages to refuse the gifts. But in a different light, the combination of locusts and water (to be given to Jesus) can remind us of John the Baptist. If we take into consideration the honey the badu is so adept in collecting (168-170), the analogy is more inviting. Presumably he is to contribute to Musa’s gospel by providing the prototype of John.
A still more intriguing fact about the badu is that he seems to have some modern medical knowledge which is beyond everybody else’s understanding. He is the healer. For instance, when Aphas complains about his liver cancer, the badu taps the cancer with his finger, puts his ear to Aphas’ chest and grabs Aphas’ hand (55). These are primitive versions of palpation, auscultation and taking the pulse. Of course, they are incomprehensible to Aphas and the other superstitious people: "Nothing that he did made any sense" (55). On another occasion, the badu performs the medical practice of taking Musa’s temperature by feeling Musa’s head, when Musa is feigning sickness (182). He is a scientist, while the others rely on prayers, mumbo jumbo and miracles. The badu’s methods of finding a honeycomb (167-170) and of hunting a wheatear (216-218) are logical and rational. Being a desert nomad, he can make himself quite comfortable in this wilderness. The badu is not in need of gods: "The badu had not god to satisfy, or rituals to obey" (129). His only trouble is social-phobia. He gets flustered and hyperactive when people are around: "he was a madman only when observed, the cussed opposite of those who conspired to be rational in company and cultivate their manias alone" (217). Perhaps his reason for quarantine is merely that he needs to be alone. It may be that he is troubled and shy because of his own rational wisdom which came to him out of time. The badu is a man that Crace would appreciate, far more than Jesus. To quote Crace’s own words again: "Atheists, if they will seek transcendence in science and the natural world, could prove to be the new mystics" ("Crace on Quarantine").
Frank Kermode in his review of Quarantine in The New York Times admits that "[a]s often with Crace, there are words one need to look up in a dictionary, and in fact there are some I can’t find in any of mine." The noun "badu" may be one of them. OED does not have any entry of "badu"; an Arabic word badw, meaning "desert", is enrolled in the etymological explanation under the entry "bedouin". Encyclopaedia Britannica (1967) gives "bedu" (not "badu") as an sub-category of "bedouin" under the entry of "Jordan" (OED does have the "bedu" entry). We find the word "badu" in Volume 22 of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia (1988), under the heading "Jordan", in the sub-item "Physical and Human Geography; The Land; Settlement Patterns". Here, however, the word is introduced as a synonym for "nomads" and "bedouins", thus "badu" is treated as plural. Then why did Crace choose "badu" instead of a more common and recognizable word, "bedouin"? I would like to hazard a guess: "badu" may have been derived from an anagram of "Buddha". This may seem preposterous at first, considering Crace’s dislike of religions. However, if we turn to The Anti-Christ again, we find that Nietzsche values Buddhism above Christianity, on the grounds that "Buddhism is a hundred times as realistic as Christianity," although he refrains from giving 100 percent credit to Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism is "the product of long centuries of philosophical speculation," and in it the "concept, ‘god,’ was already disposed of before it appeared" (Anti-Christ 35; ch. 20).8)
Buddhism seems to possess some agreeable qualities for atheist Crace. Buddha’s recommendation of the Middle Way or Middle Path, for example, may have considerable appeal to him. After fasting and penancing himself for six years in search of enlightenment, Buddha threw away the penance as fruitless and broke his fast. Then he chose to take the Middle Way, in which he avoided "the two extremes: the pursuit of happiness by the pleasures of the senses, and the opposite way, the search for spiritual bliss by excessive asceticism" (Eliade 94; sec. 156). And through this Middle Way, Buddha succeeded in gaining his right view of the world and universe. This attitude can be compared with that of Jesus in Quarantine when the narrator points out "the folly of his unbending quarantine" (158). Gally, if he were not as weak as he is then, "might have decided that he ought to take the middle course, the one chosen by the other quarantiners . . . . They were wise and timid, and broke their fasts each day at dusk. . . . What vanity to think a total fast can rid a man of sin, or put a man at god’s right hand" (158).
Crace’s world view itself is not incompatible with primitive Buddhism. One important Buddhist philosophy is annata: "impermanence", that all real things, especially human beings, are transient.9) Quarantine closes with an impressive sentence that speculates the transiency of the godless scrubland, and man’s inability to comprehend this: "Nor could he contemplate the endless movements on the trading road, the floods, the rifts, the troops, the ever-caravans, the evening peace that’s brokered not by a god but by the rocks and clays themselves, shalom, salaam, the one-time, all-time truces of the land" (243). Frank Kermode argues that "Crace’s way is close to what Iris Murdoch distinguished as ‘crystalline’ construction, the end of the fiction spectrum where the novel is most like a poem." In the quotation above, while stressing man’s impermanence, Crace’s poetic prose takes on a transcendent aspect.
Crace himself says "I see myself as a landscape writer" ("Interview"), but he does not simply sketch the scenic beauty of fields and trees. Crace’s landscapes are in flux, teeming with life, sensitive to interconnections between living things. We see the food-chain in the water-cistern that Miri dug, from "[s]wag flies, mud wasps and fleas" to "slugs and snails . . . sign[ing] the stones and rubble . . . with their mucous threads" to "[s]tar lizard . . . in search of easy food" (56). Just before Gally’s death a night storm raves on the wilderness, but at dawn "[l]ice and termites tumbled in the daylight where the earth was scarred, busy with repairs" (201).
What footmarks there had been on the scrubby slope, to show the comings and the goings of the quarantiners, had been removed by the wind. . . . This was the way the world had been before mankind, the childhood of the earth when it was innocent and undisturbed. This was the way the world would be when all mankind had gone, when the cleansing wind of prophecy had swept all sins and virtues from the earth and the wilderness was strewn with fallen and abandoned faiths. (208)
We feel that in Crace’s landscape there is something transcendent looking down on these natural changes, something that transcends human history and all religious talk.10)
Indeed, TLS reviewer Eric Korn hits the mark when he points out that "the desert is a character." The landscape is the eighth character in this novel, and one with a philosophy at that.11) Yet there seem also to be human agents, "mystics" who embody the quest for the "transcendence in science and the natural world." Crace mentions the interreaction between humans and the landscape: "there was also something rich, at times, about scrub . . . . Perhaps this was because it made no claims . . . except, maybe, to replicate through its array of absences the body’s inner solitude and to free its tenants and its guests from their addictions and their vanities" (219), and the "chosen one or two, the very few, were rewarded for their quarantines with sacred revelations. The scrub . . . stretched its grey horizons to reveal . . . how slow and never-ceasing was the world" (220). And those chosen few may be the badu-Buddha, Nietzsche’s interim alternative for Christ, and that other-worldly second self of Musa.
*) I would like to express my deep thanks to my colleague Henry Atmore for reading over my manuscript and offering a number of constructive comments on it. Also I am very much obliged to Andrew Hewitt, who not only agreed to my using the materials on his web site about Jim Crace, but also kindly arranged Mr Crace’s permission for me to quote from his article about Quarantine originally written for amazon.com.
1) Many Bible readers have felt awkward about the parable of the unjust steward. For instance, Peake’s Commentary on the Bible confesses that "[t]his is the most difficult of all parables, and no interpretation is wholly satisfactory" (836), while A Commentary on the Holy Bible avoids the discussion: "The details of this somewhat difficult parable are probably not significant" (759).
2) Frank Kermode rightly points out that Miri and Marta here play the role of Lazarus’ sisters written in John 11.1-44.
3) Criticism of the cozy union of religion and pecuniary business has been one of Crace’s main concerns since the very beginning of his career as a fiction writer, as can be seen in "Talking Skull," the first story of Continent (1986). There, a successful businessman rationalizes the way to make money out of superstitious belief in a bogus panacea: "What is superstition but misdirected reverence? . . . This is the key to business. Unearth what is overvalued, amass it, and sell it at inflated prices" (19).
4) I quote Gary Kamiya from the book review page of e-magazine Salon 10 April 1998, "Salon Books / Quarantine."
5) See Eliade 347; sec. 222.
6) These quotes in this paragraph are from Crace’s own introduction to the book, written for amazon.com in 1998. I gained access to this passage on the Internet page titled "Crace on Quarantine," created and maintained by Andrew Hewitt.
7) Shim is in part a Christ-figure in Marta’s eyes. Marta, in hope of getting impregnated, sometimes daydreams of having intercourse with some man. Sometimes it is Gally, the healer and the miraculous life-giver. Sometimes it is Musa, from whom she feels the threat of sexual advance. Sometimes it is Shim, "More than handsome. Statuesque" (52). From time to time she confuses Shim with Musa and Gally, and "all three men leaped over her . . . They were a trinity as silent and as elegant as deer" (118).
8) Eliade affirms this view. See 72; sec. 147.
9) Freny Mistry points out the similarity between Buddhism and Nietzschean thought on man’s impermanence: "In both ethical philosophies, the conventional notion of God is negated as a convenient human invention or ‘egoism’ indissociable from man’s desire for self-preservation, his fear of insecurity and impermanence as also his ill-will and impatience against phenomenal suffering" (46), although Nietzsche diverges from Buddhist nirvana and establishes his own "way of overcoming the ‘impermanence’ of existence," which he calls Eternal Recurrence (156).
10) Andrew Hewitt compares Crace to Thomas Hardy in that both are "master ‘world-builder[s]’" and adept in "powerful evocations of nature" ("Context"). I also think that the Immanent Will of The Dynasts, the ultimate and heedless power which rules the world, is to some extent analogous to Crace’s transcendent landscape.
11) The same kind of philosophy is found in Crace’s latest novel Being Dead (1999). A middle-aged couple are assaulted and left dead and rotting on the seashore for six days. Their bodies are found by the police and then carried away to be duly buried, but the omniscient narrator says, "The dunes could have disposed of [the couple] themselves. . . . Their bodies would have been just something extra dead in a landscape already sculpted out of death. . . . Everything was born to go. . . . They might have found a brief eternity below the sand, . . . to weave and drift into the unremarking sea, or sink into the clods and pebbles of the earth" (193-194). And the landscape’s transcendence stands in clear contrast to man’s impermanence: "The natural world had flooded back. The brightness of the universe returned. If there was any blood left in the soil from [the couple’s] short stay in the dunes then it could only help to fortify the living murmur of the grass" (195).
** This paper was first published in English and English-American Literature, (Yamaguchi University), no. 35 (December 2000): pp. 105-127.
Bawer, Bruce. "Quarantine." Washington Post 3 May 1998: X5.
A Commentary on the Holy Bible. Ed. J. R. Dummelow. 1909. London: Macmillan, 1965.
Crace, Jim. Being Dead. 1999. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
—. Continent. 1986. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1997.
—. "Crace on Quarantine." Ed. Andrew Hewitt. Internet. 1 May 2000. Available HTTP: www.hammer.prohosting.com.
—. "Interview." Interview by e-mail with Andrew Hewitt on 27 Jan. 2000. Internet. 1 May 2000. Available HTTP: www.hammer.prohosting.com.
—. Quarantine. 1997. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997.
Eliade, Mircea. A History of Religious Ideas. Vol. 2. From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982.
Hewitt, Andrew. "Context." Internet. 1 May 2000. Available HTTP: www.hammer.prohosting.com.
Jaber, Kamel S. Abu. "Jordan." The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia. 15th ed. 1988.
Kamiya, Gary. "Salon Books / Quarantine." Salon Magazine 10 April 1998. Internet. 27 April 2000. Available HTTP: www.salon.com.
Kermode, Frank. "Into the Wilderness." New York Times 12 Apr. 1998. late, ed.: New York Times on the Web. Online. Internet. 9 Sept. 2000. Available HTTP: www.nytimes.com.
Korn, Eric. "The Galilean." TLS 13 June 1997: 25.
Milton, John. Paradise Regained. Milton: Poetical Works. Ed. Douglas Bush. London: Oxford UP, 1966. 463-512.
Mistry, Freny. Nietzsche and Buddhism: Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1981.
Nietzsche, Friedrich W. The Anti-Christ. Trans. H. L. Mencken. 1920. Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1999. Trans. of Der Antichrist. 1888.
Peake’s Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley. London: Thomas Nelson, 1962.
© Miyahara Kazunari, 2001
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