On The Sufferings Of The Sunset Limited

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  • 27 Mar 2013 at 1:24 pm #3248


    On the sufferings on the world of The Sunset Limited
    So I’ve come lurking out of the woods once more. Rare it be. I apologize in advance for the incompleteness of thought and the abrupt cessation of it. I’ve been sitting on this for a while and figured I might as well post it in the hopes that someone else could improve upon it.
    I don’t know if this has been mentioned before but there seems to be an enormous amount of congruence between Schopenhauer’s ‘On the Sufferings of the World’ and the SL so much so that I think this chapter may have been the primary inspiration for the play. 
    The first thing I noticed was this paragraph,
    ‘If two men who were friends in their youth meet again when they are old, after being separated for a life-time, the chief feeling they will have at the sight of each other will be one of complete disappointment at life as a whole; because their thoughts will be carried back to that earlier time when life seemed so fair as it lay spread out before them in the rosy light of dawn, promised so much-and then performed so little. This feeling will so completely predominate over every other that they will not even consider it necessary to give it words; but on either side it will be silently assumed, and form the ground-work of all they talk about.’ 
        Indeed despite their differences each man takes for granted the ubiquity of human suffering and it is one of the core subjects in their discussion. They differ only in its handling. White seeking to obliterate pain with a healthy dose of speeding train and Black insisting, as does Schopenhauer, that pain must be endured, in my opinion to Sisyphean heights.
        It also seems to me that Black and White are a division of Schopenhauer’s psyche into positive and negative with the appropriate correspondence between Black and White respectively in which there is almost no overlap save for Black’s continuous conceding to White’s truths. 
        The most obvious case of this is White’s likening the world to a forced labor camp. Schopenhauer writes,
    ‘We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey.’
        And later in his powerful condemnation of the world,
    ‘So it is that in our good day we are all unconscious of the evil Fate may have presently in store for us- sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason.’
        For white this becomes,
        ‘Torment, loss, betrayal, pain, suffering, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness. And all of it with a single conclusion.’
        Contrarily Black, while he accepts all, feels that the communal pain is cause enough for enduring. He constantly seeks a community for White to belong.

    28 Mar 2013 at 5:55 am #3249

    Richard L.

    Nice interpretation.

    The tragedy here, of course, is that the two men are stuck in their respective positions, Beckettly  Sisyphean.  They are always going, but never go anywhere.  It is a bit like the bridge scene in It’s A Wonderful Life. . .except there’s no ‘Merry Christmas, you old savings and loan’ gratitude at the end.  Their arguments come down to Joyce’s yes and Beckett’s no, but not exactly as they have both taken the joy out of Joyce.



    30 Mar 2013 at 6:53 am #3255


    Hey thanks for the links Richard. I’m guessing now I’ve got to add Beckett to my reading list. Ah is there no end to them? 🙂

    01 Apr 2013 at 6:22 pm #3256


    Interesting idea, thanks for sharing. Chris Dacus, as I recall, found Schopenhauer to be resonant in McCarthy. I haven’t read enough of him to add much here, but I have a question I’ve been wondering about in regard to Professor White and that is do you think there is any information in the world that would change his mind about suicide? He’s obviously well read but is there some piece of information that he (and Black for that matter) lacks that could be presented to him that would change everything? I’m dubious, though curious if there might be something out there that could transform his thinking, maybe something opposite this Schopenhauerian pessimism. Dan Dennett wrote a piece about information/lack of information that made me think of how this could bear on White. Dennett says the article is not to be published but it’s available at his site.

    01 Apr 2013 at 10:09 pm #3257


    If I remember correctly, in the commentary to the HBO production Tommy Lee Jones asks something like, “How long has it been since White has touched anyone?” Cormac answers that it has been a long time. Maybe White just needs to get laid.

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