A fellow writer has sent me more probing questions about The Disestablishment of Paradise. It is interesting how deeply people have peered into the novel, and how difficult it is for me to respond to some of the questions. While I am, delighted at the positive response to the book, I have to admit that I do not have all the answers. And that perhaps is as it should be. One of the main reasons for writing is surely to frame the right questions which then can be a focus for discussion.
Here than are the questions.
1. Is it a reading of Paradise Lost?
I never thought of that when I was writing the book. Truly. I suppose the book can be read that way, as Earth is now excluded from the planet Paradise… BUT one must not think of it as a reworking of the Bible story. That would be totally misleading and would not finally make sense. I have just checked in my concordance to the Bible and I find that Paradise is only mentioned three times, and never occurs in the Old Testament. Suffice to say, there is no secret code in the book. In the bible story and in Milton, the expulsion of Adam and Eve is for disobedience of God’s wishes. In the D. of Paradise there is no God lurking in the back-ground. It is the humans’ own innate ignorance and cruelty that rebounds back on them. There is no serpent either. The God of the bible story strikes me as being grossly anti-female, while the planet Paradise is strangely pro-female. I detest the ‘jealous’ god of the old testament – while I know that jealous meant something like ‘zealous’ when it was first used, it is still a barbaric and cruel act he performed. Not one to be emulated. José Saramago’s final novel Cain expresses this very well…. but the D of Paradise is not concerned with this at all.
From a human point of view, Paradise was innocent… though I do not like using a word such as that because in a dualistic way it implies the possibility of guilt. I did not think in terms of guilt or innocent when I was writing the book. All I knew was that Paradise was different and had a different morality and different senses to the ones we are used to. It is Pietr Z, remember, who says that the Dendron of Paradise never came up with clever ideas like defending themselves. They could not even conceive of the idea. “Poor dumb buggers” see page 139. From Paradise’s point of view, the planet was simply getting on with living when the humans arrived. And, remember, the planet Paradise was linked vis the Michelangelo-Reapers to the wider galaxy on a level which we might describe as consciousness. See chapter 35. The planet was profoundly aware, but its values were different. Concepts such as jealousy, cruelty and death even – to name but three – were simply not present. The problem I have is that I only have human language and knowledge with which to describe the alien. It is quite a strange feeling when one can can be aware of so much that remains out of reach, and sense, as it were, the limits of one’s own mind.
Which things said, I must say I love reading Milton. He was a strange fellow, a bit like Yahweh in the treatment of his daughters, but his command of language was wonderful. Suffice to say, I had no specific religious ideas in mind when I wrote the novel: but then again, there is such a thing as resonance, and that can be very enriching.
2. I’m interested in the moral bankruptcy of the organisations and authorities e.g. MINADEC. Do you see this scenario as a natural progression of humans continuing on the present path in relation to the natural environment?
Yes. We are digging our own grave. The earth has experienced 6 main extinctions in the past and we are simply accelerating another extinction. The pursuit of power and financial wealth and the ethic of ruthless competition and the willing acceptance of inequality are all mental states which stimulate this acceleration Some years ago I read the works of Ernst Schumacher which impressed me deeply, especially Small is Beautiful. To create a sustainable economic future we must adopt economic policies which do not degrade Nature and we much eradicate economic inequality. At the deepest level, we are one people and so lucky to have this lovely planet Earth to call home.
3. You have said that this is a book about nature. Do you see nature ultimately expelling exploitative humans as it does on Paradise?
Yes, but not in a punitive way. Changes in Nature are as unavoidable as gravity. It is the pace of change which will undo us. The book to read to understand all this is Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs (Pantheon book – Random House). However, that is not necessarily the end of the human story as I think consciousness extends beyond life. Hence Hera is always in contact with Paradise though she can not return. Human consciousness is a much larger issue and one which can not easily be debated as we know so little about it. I find the ideas developed in Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Science Delusion very persuasive. The Nature – note the N – which I celebrate is our means of regeneration and understanding, of identification and awareness. All you have to do is open your eyes and mind, dig in a garden, plant seeds, walk by the sea, watch the birds etc. to begin to see all that. And get yourself a microscope.
4. Mack is Australian. Were you thinking about the complex relationship settler Australians have with the land? Does Mack make the ultimate gesture of reconciliation? No, I made him Australian because I rather admire the pioneer spirit which I experienced when I was in Australia, even though I may not like some of the pioneers’ practices. When I was in Australia some years ago I went to Kalgoorlie. By chance I met up with a fellow whose idea of a holiday was to walk into the outback with just a blanket and a swag on his back. He had a deep respect for the aborigines. Talking to him was amazing. He was totally at his ease: very resourceful, knew how to survive, knew what to avoid and with a ready wit. I think Mac owes something to him. However, I also studied dowsing when I was young and am a handy-man by nature, and I had a mother who was forever quoting odd verses of poetry so there is a bit of me in there too. There is also something very primitive about Mac. He would be at home with my ancestors, the Neanderthals. I also think he has something of the ancient protectors akin to Hercules though this parallel should not be pushed too far.
I am not sure what you mean by ‘the ultimate gesture of reconciliation.’ Mack rejoices in his fate in becoming a Mackelangelo or a Mack the Reaper as he says, just as he rejoices in his love for Hera.
5. The indigenous species of Paradise don’t have a voice but they do have a collective will, physical potency and seem to operate as a collective consciousness. Was this a particular challenge and are you interested in the psychology of the human relationship with nature? I should explain, though I left the following slightly vague in the novel as the Planet has many mysteries. There is only one life form on Paradise, but it has many different physical manifestations Tattersall Weeds, Dendron, ‘Talking’ Jenny etc. It does not have what you might call a ‘will’ but it has sensibilities and can evolve. Also, on Paradise, thought can be considered as akin to a living thing, thus new creatures are always coming into being. Paradise also has an immense psychosphere which inspires love and desire in some humans i.e. in those who are susceptible. But Paradise in its turn is susceptible to the darker emotions of humanity against which it has no defence and hence the planet ends up at war with its self. At the risk of being obscure, I would say that Paradise does not know duality – until the humans arrive.
Who will win in the end? I do not know. Paradise may never be the innocent place it once was, and that is very sad because the strength of Paradise spread outwards, invigorating the whole of space. Perhaps it invigorated Earth. Then again, a fight back is taking place. Much has already been saved. The Dendrons are alive! Powerful and creative warriors such as Mack and Sasha are engaged in the rescue. Given time, Paradise might sort its self out and open up again.
One point which I do not bring out forcibly in the book is that truth is one of the ways in which Paradise can be helped. The truth as revealed by Hera Melhuish about what happened on Paradise is now out. The good wishes of humans in response to Hera and Olivia’s book can be seen as potent forces for the good of Paradise. In the back of my mind is the idea that all consciousness is linked, and since evil has a tendency to self-destruct (given time) the prospects are quite good. Yes. On balance I think Paradise will heal itself
6. You explore the emigrant experience. Do you think this will be more of a challenge in the future as fewer humans inherit the sense of place that comes from generations of connection to the land?
As soon as we have a genuinely holistic view of the world we live on, we will be able to tolerate differences in a celebratory way without any need to conquer or suppress or deny. At that time, no languages will be allowed to vanish. The wealth of the world will be shared…. and I could go on. Then, as the bible so succinctly puts it, ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.’ This may seem idealistic, but in some ways cooperation is already being forced upon us. Years ago I read a powerful phrase though where I read it I can not remember – It said, “Nothing is more cruel than a god just before it dies: it wants to take everything down with it.” It is not the god of the bible at issue here, but the gods of Materialism and Bigotry, self-interest and Fanaticism. I sometimes feel that we are at the darkest hour, right now – though do note that I am not a pessimist. When you reach the bottom, the only way is up. I am delighted to say that most people I have spoken to have left the book feeling uplifted rather than cast down – and that is how it should be. It is a nice paradox that the seemingly tragic can actually be uplifting.
7. Hera shares her name with the sister/wife of Zeus. Does she share some of her namesake’s characteristics? Is the Paradise plum a reference to the mythical pomegranate?
That is a nice thought, and I can see how it can be carried further but no, I did not develop the significance of her name in a deep way. Hera – (the Goddess) is of the Earth, and delights in love and sex and in furthering life. Hera has some of these attributes or discovers them in herself. However I chose the name intuitively and was not thinking of the attributes of the Goddess when I called her Hera. That is how the mind works is it not? Hera’s surname Melhuish too has significance as it is a Devon name and is linked to the idea of good land or land being fertile. The Paradise Plum had nothing intentional to do with the Pomegranate or the fruit which Eve nibbled. Both the pomegranate and the plum are a symbol of fecundity. Significant is that the plum in the D of Paradise is one of the seats of consciousness. Prof. Shapiro knows this and is addicted to the dreams that the plum gives him. But were he to die on Paradise, it would reject him. He knows this and it is why he says “Take me back to England etc” You can compare Shapiro with (say) Pietr Z or with Mac to understand those qualities which allow Paradise to offer its-self unreservedly.
I’ve tried to think of questions that haven’t been covered elsewhere. Feel free to answer as many or few as you wish and also to add any you’d particularly like to talk about.
I hope I have answered somewhat your questions. The important thing to know is that most of the book was not planned. Lack of planning means that the intuition rather than the intellect can come into play – and that is very important to me: not that I deride the intellect, far from it, but its function in the making of a novel comes later. I might also add that sometimes it is necessary to live with contradiction.
And this is now an end. I shall not be answering more questions. Let the book stand or fall on its own. As for me…, well, we began with Milton so we might as well end with him too. Like the ‘uncouth swain’ in Lycidas, I shall now seek out ‘fresh woods, and pastures new.’ I call my next book, The Head Man.