Book analysis: The Concept of Grammatical Fiction

Published under category: Essay Writing Tips | 2015-05-16 21:59:40 UTC

Context: Literature

The book “Darkness at Noon (1941)” appeared three years after Arthur Koestler the author, broke with the communist party in response to the Soviet blood purge. The book is an analysis of the way the Communist Part seemed to attack itself during the 1930s, exploring thus the motivations, goals, and fears of the Russian Communists (Koestler, 2009). Further, Koestler (2009) explored in the book, the attitudes of the Old Bolsheviks, who were imprisoned, tortured and executed by Stalin despite their devotion to the party. They were dedicated communists who served the party faithfully, actually heroes of the revolution. However, because Stalin feared opposition and hated intellectuals, he developed a megalomania drive that made him denounce these dedicated communists as enemies of the people (Caute, 2010). As noted thus, the book vividly explicates the motivations, goals, and fears of the Russian Communists that in paradox transpired and led to the demise of communism. More significantly, though, Koestler (2009) advanced a fundamental concept of grammatical fiction in correlation to the Stalinist Soviet Society. This is a powerful force that Koestler invents, a shadow, and a Doppelganger that reverses Rubashov’s normal thought processes. It can also be taken as an ironic description of the first person singular, the self, the ‘I’, which the Party holds to be of no account. Koestler knows all about the grammatical fiction, but his hero does not. The hero does not know about its nature or its mode of being, its ontological status or its psychological or intellectual procedures. However, gradually Koestler allows Rubashov to become aware that he has betrayed himself and millions of others by his failure to recognize the existence of the grammatical fiction (Brooks, 2000). The concept therefore means living as if one were free, enacting that mysterious inwardness that cannot be silenced by ideology or reductionism, the grammatical fiction of the selfhood. The ‘grammatical fiction’ is the final chapters of Koestler’s work “Darkness at Noon”. The grammatical fiction refers to Rubashov’s confession and guilty plea (Caute, 2010). The fictionality could be said to lie in their very linguistic form, in their claim to be a first person confession and admission of guilt, whereas, they are in fact the world of the interrogators and judges, and forced into the mouth of the accused. Like the inquisition, the Party needs avowal of guilt not only to legitimate its sentences but also to affirm publicly, from the lips of the accused, that what it considers guilt, or heresy, is recognized as such by the guilty person. If the heretic recognizes his belief as heretical, as mistaken, as wrong, then his punishment becomes merely purgation, a reaffirmation of true belief. Without confession, we are dealing in prosecution and a finding of guilt. With confession, however extorted, it is rather a matter of exposure and sacrifice, to the greater glory of God, or the Party. Koestler makes his protagonist Rubashov seek in his final duress to recover an authentic self precisely through the grammatical fiction of the ‘I’ (Koestler, 2009). A confirmed communist caught up in the purges, unlike Koestler who left the Communist Party in 1938, Rubashov accepts the logic of historical necessity with which his jailers urge him to confess to crimes against the Soviet Union, but also clings to a selfhood mystically revealed to him shortly before his brutal death in his cell (Caute, 2010). Koestler (2009) projected the image of the ‘grammatical fiction’ because he was dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Moscow purges. Koestler’s interpretation of this historical material constitutes an anti-utopia socio-fantasy. In a world in which the Communist International performs the role of grand inquisitor, images of the transparent ‘we’ and the opaque ‘I’ clash in the consciousness of the fictional protagonist, Rubashov. For example, Rubashov is troubled by the foreign body of his soul which manifests itself in a variety of ways and which his party mind identifies as the grammatical fiction of the first person singular. His mind struggles to come with the crazy reality of the purges, but the kind of darkness at noon cannot be resolved into anything other than some form of schizophrenic dualism (Brooks, 2000). Opaque disconnected fragments are all that he has to shore against the ruin of reason or revolution betrayed. Out of them, actually Koestler tentatively constructs a new mysticism that may be seen as the oceanic sense. Throughout Koestler’s work, there is this appeal from the mind to the body, from the cause to the person, from the ‘we’ to the ‘I’, from the transparent to the opaque (Caute, 2010). The justification for this anti-utopian dislocation is Koestler’s sense of revolution betrayed, which the god that failed becomes. Unfortunately, this attempt to humanize Marxism leaves Ivanov unmoved. Rubashov is good enough party man to know that, a revolution conducted according to the rules of cricket is an absurdity, that the end justifies the means, and that ‘we’ were neo-Machiavellians in the name of universal reason, as opposed to the fascists who were so in the name of a national romanticism. Rubashov cannot escape the consequences of his own communist logic, any more than could Zinoviev and the other victims of the Moscow purges. In deciphering the concept, the indication that I do not want to be ‘I’, I want to be ‘we’ is also a representation of grammatical fiction. Each of the novel’s first three parts depicts a hearing in which Rubashov is interrogated, at the end of the third of which he agrees to confess – as his final duty to a party whose dictatorship is necessary for leading the proletariat, and therewith all mankind, into the promised land of classless, finally free society. The use of the concept grammatical fiction was frowned upon by those who sought to construct a totally collectivist reality. Rubachov actually saw himself as existing only to achieve the party’s historic mission – in particular, that of carrying out the purges. Rubachov considered himself to be a grammatical fiction, the reality being history, the Party, and the masses. He is eventually broken as a man, by the very party to which he has dedicated his life, and it is in the course of his own humiliation that he discovers that what he believed to be a mere grammatical fiction, himself, is quite real. What is tragic, and of course ironic, is that Rubachov discovers in that same moment that all the people he liquidated and destroyed were not grammatical fictions, either. He is condemned to death, and dies at the very moment he discovers that he is alive. Notably, before the end of the novel where Rubashov is executed, Koestler (2009) notes so now it was over… he had paid his account was settled… the hours which remained to him belonged to the silent partner…he had christened it the grammatical fiction with that shamefacedness about the first person singular which the Party had inculcated in its disciples. Further, Koestler’s fictionalization of the Moscow show trials in which the entire leadership of the Russian Revolution and the Red Army offered voluntary confessions of treason and called for their own execution at the hands of Stalin – what the defendant Rubashov derisively calls his self, the grammatical fiction (Caute, 2010). Rubashov thinks of the individual as merely a multitude of one million divided by one million. His own ultimate abasement, the final horrifying assault on his human dignity, lies in the fact that this philosophy makes him go one step further than submitting to his punishment. It makes him beg for it. More significantly, our horror at Rubashov’s fate underlies the connection we find between turning him into the active instrument of his own destruction and destroying his human dignity. This concept clearly cannot be an option of political systems. The hardship seen of forcing defendants to throw either their honor or themselves on the sword is perverse. They are even compelled to testify for the prosecution, without evidentiary privilege. The grammatical fiction represents the cold reasoning used by the Stalinists to measure the value of individual lives based on how well they objectively served the unfolding of the laws of history. Gletkin, the functionary of a regime based on utilitarian morality, cleverly exploits Rubashov’s ethical ambivalence (Brooks, 2000). For Rubashov is torn between his feelings of remorse, derived from natural law for having sent Arlova to her death and his revolutionary belief in strictly consequential or utilitarian morality. Therefore, in addition to his longing to be allowed to sleep, Rubashov’s capitulation to Gletkin has two causes (Brooks, 2000). They include desire to keep faith with the living, with the Party that for forty years had been his life; and the need to pay the price which his old conscience, the grammatical fiction, the I demands for betrayal of a human being who had given herself to him completely. In my opinion, Darkness at Noon describes a procedure designed to consolidate the regime by removing a dissident member of its administration, but the effect of the narrative is the opposite: to expose the contradictions of the regime’s practices. This becomes apparent from the novel’s use of prison rooms as the main settings. Apart from the obviously claustrophobic effect of Rubashov’s captivity, a late phase of his interrogation induces the impression that time stood still. This both caused and exemplified by his second interrogator Gletkin, a young apparachnik who keeps the curtains of his room closed and his lamp burning at all hours. Although Party ideology appeals to the absolute of the history to justify its actions Gletkin manages to suspend time, trapping Rubashov in an extended present. The description of the latter’s arrest has already blurred distinctions between the Party and Rubashov’s earlier arrest in Germany by the Nazis. Koestler actually avoids the use of Party names, instead of deploying identificatory signs that simultaneously invite recognition from the reader and speculation about similarities between totalitarian regimes. The aim of the Party is to produce a monologic official discourse that excludes difference and rival points of view. However, a crucial progression that takes place throughout the novel is a fracturing of Rubashov’s discourse, to such an extent that the individual self to which the Party refuses to attribute any significance gradually comes to be recognized by Rubashov even though the recognition does nothing to alter his fate. Conversely, “Darkness at Noon” played a fundamental role in contributing to the demise of communism by exposing the supposedly corrupt essential logic of communism. As noted, in the second half of the 1930s, the Communist Party began to visit on its own members the brutal persecution it had hitherto meted out to its opponents. The mass arrests carried out by the NKVD between 1937 and 1939 are often referred as the purges, because one of their purposes was to purge and clear out the membership of the Communist Party itself to make it fully amenable to control by Stalin’s dictatorship. The purges were only one of the many assaults Stalin’s government perpetrated against the Soviet people, but they constituted the first great attack on the party itself. For instance, between 1936 and 1939, the NKVD arrested millions of communists, usually on fabricated charges of conspiracy and treason and tens of thousands of party members were executed, as many more were sent off to hard labor camps spread across the Soviet Union. Koestler’s novel ends in a fatal stalemate between two metaphysical visions, intractably opposed and mutually exclusive: the world of historical necessity, which is granted to Stalin and communism, and the mystical freedom of the solitary self, which is nevertheless unable to affect the historical world. The concept of grammatical fiction is indeed fundamental helping Koestler try to understand the perverse rationale of the Stalin’s government and was the stratum for the collapse of communism. References Brooks, P. (2000). Troubling confessions: Speaking guilt in law and literature. London: University of Chicago Press. Caute, D. (2010). Politics and the novel during the cold war. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. Koestler, A. (2009). Darkness at noon: A novel. New York: Simon and Schuster. ORDER PLAGIARISM FREE PAPER


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