Monday, April 16, 2007

Marius' soliloquy

'In my darkest times,' I (Armand) said, 'it was always your words that upheld me. Oh, I don't mean during those centuries when I was in bondage to a warped creed and morbid delusion. I mean long afterwards, after I had come out of the cellar, at Lestat's challenge, and I read what Lestat wrote of you, and then heard you for myself. It was you, Master, who let me see what little I could of the marvelous bright world unfolding around me in ways I couldn't have imagined in the land or time in which I was born.'

[...] 'Master it was you (Marius) who said we were moving in a world where the old religions of superstition and violence were dying away. It was you who said we lived in a time when evil no longer aspired to any necessary place. Remember it, Master, you told Lestat that there was no creed or code that could justify our existence, for men knew now what was real evil, and real evil was hunger, and want, and ignorance and war, and cold. You said those things, Master, far more elegantly than I could ever say them, but it was on this great rational basis that you argued, you, with the worst of us, for the sanctity and the precious glory of this natural and human world. It was you who championed the human soul, saying it had grown in depth and feeling, that men no longer lived for the glamour of war but knew the finer things which had once been the forte of the richest, and could now be had by all. It was you who said that a new illumination, one of reason and ethics and genuine compassion, had come again, after dark centuries of bloody religion, to give forth not only its light but its warmth.'

'Stop, Armand, don't say any more,' he said. He was gentle but very stern. 'I remember those words. I remember all of them. But I don't believe those things anymore.'

I was stunned. I was stunned by the awesome simplicity of this disavowal. It was sweeping beyond my imagination, and yet I knew him well enough to know that he meant every word. He looked at me steadily.

'I believed it once, yes. But you see, it was not a belief based on reason and on observation of mankind as I told myself it was. It was never that, and I came to realize it and when I did, when I saw it for what it was - a blind desperate irrational prejudice - I felt it suddenly and completely collapse.

'Armand, I said those things because I had to hold them to be true. They were their own creed, the creed of the rational, the creed of the atheistic, the creed of the logical, the creed of the sophisticated Roman Senator who must turn a blind eye to the nauseating realities of the world around him, because if he were to admit what he saw in the wretchedness of his brothers and sisters, he would go mad.

[...] 'I know history, I read it as others read their Bibles, and I will not be satisfied until I have unearthed all stories that are written and knowable, and cracked the codes of all cultures that have left me any tantalizing evidence that I might pry loose from earth or stone or papyrus or clay.

'But I was wrong in my optimism, I was ignorant, as ignorant as I accused others of being, and refusing to see the very horrors that surrounded me, all the worse in this century, this reasonable century, than ever before in the world.

'Look back, child, if you care to, if you would argue the point. Look back to golden Kiev, which you knew only in songs after the raging Mongols had burnt its Cathedrals and slaughtered its population like so much cattle, as they did all through the Kiev Rus for two hundred years. Look back to the chronicles of all Europe and see the wars waged everywhere, in the Holy Land, in the forests of France or Germany, up and down the fertile soil of England, yes, blessed England and in every Asian corner of the globe.

'Oh, why did I deceive myself for so long? Did I not see those Russian grasslands, those burnt cities. Why, all of Europe might have fallen to Ghenghis Khan. Think of the great English Cathedrals torn down to rubble by the arrogant King Henry.

'Think of the books of the Mayas heaved into the flames by Spanish priests. Incas, Aztecs, Olmec - peoples of all nations ground to oblivion - .

'Its horrors, horrors upon horrors, and it always was, and I can pretend no longer. When I see millions gassed to death for the whims of an Austrian madman, when I see whole African tribes massacred till the rivers are stuffed with their bloated bodies, when I see rank starvation claim whole countries in an age of gluttonous plenty, I can believe all these platitudes no more.

'I don't know what single event it was that destroyed my self-deception. I don't know what horror it was that ripped the mask from my lies. Was it the millions who starved in the Ukraine, imprisoned in it by their own dictator, or the thousands after who died from the nuclear poisoning spewing into the skies over the grass-lands, unprotected by the same governing powers who had starved them before? Was it the monasteries of noble Nepal, citadels of meditation and grace that had stood for thousands of years, older even than myself and all my philosophy, destroyed by an army of greedy grasping militarists who waged war without quarter upon monks in their saffron robes, and priceless books which they heaved into the fire, and ancient bells which they melted down no more to call the gentle to prayer? And this, this within two decades of this very hour, while the nations of the West danced in their discos and swilled their liquor, lamenting in casual tones for the poor sad fate of the distant Dalai Lama, and turning the television dial.

'I don't know what it was. Perhaps it was all the millions - Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Kurdish, oh, God, the litany goes on without end. I have no faith, I have no optimism, I have no firm conviction in the ways of reason or ethics. I have no reproof for you as you stand on the Cathedral steps with your arms out to your all-knowing and all-perfect God.

'I know nothing, because I know too much, and understand not nearly enough and never will. But this you taught me as much as any other I've ever known, that love is necessary, as much as rain to the flowers and the trees, and food to the hungry child, and blood to the starving thirsting predators and scavengers that we are. Love we need, and love can make us forget and forgive all savagery, as perhaps nothing else can.'

extract from Anne Rice's novel, The Vampire Armand