The boy's dream of the windup penguin

This topic contains 15 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Ken 2 years, 11 months ago.

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  • 17 Feb 2015 at 11:31 am #6570

    asoron0424
    Member

    Rereading The Road and seeing a big question mark in the margin from a previous reading where the boy, about 30 pgs in (I’ve got a mass-market so don’t wanna suggest pagination to those with trade), recounts for his dad the nightmare of the wind-up penguin rounding the corner without having been wound. And its winder isnt turning. Any thoughts on the significance of this?


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    17 Feb 2015 at 2:11 pm #6571

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    I always found that passage curious in a pretty unique sort of way. Although I can’t think of any myths or legends to which it might refer, I can tell you that “sphenisciform” is the technical term for “penguin shaped.” I offer this word up to anyone who actually does want to write seriously about the self-animating penguin dream.


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    17 Feb 2015 at 2:14 pm #6572

    robmcinroy
    Member

    I seem to think there has been some discussion on here before about this, maybe on the old site. Glass, was it you?


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    17 Feb 2015 at 3:07 pm #6573

    Mike
    Member

    I’ve always read that automaton toy penguin as being similar to the pump jacks that move like “mechanical birds”: beings and things moving without any purpose.


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    17 Feb 2015 at 7:09 pm #6574

    Glass
    Member

    Rob, yes.

    I’ve been enjoying your posts and hope to see you in Memphis this fall.


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    18 Feb 2015 at 2:47 am #6575

    efscerbo
    Member

    I like Mike’s take on this. The dream is reminiscent to me of the hermit in BM (“Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine.”) and Malkina fucking the car in The Counselor. The confusion between the animate and the inanimate. In Malkina’s case, her problem (presumably) is love for the inanimate. In the boy’s dream, it seems a different take on the same idea: Speaking biblically, we’re all “made of clay”. In that case, what is the difference between the inanimate animated (i.e., merely set into motion) and the inanimate made animate (i.e., given a spirit/soul/mind)? That’s what it makes me think of, anyway.

    And speaking of the hermit along these lines: I find it interesting that “machine” is used, in Hamlet of all places, to refer to the physical human body: Hamlet ends his letter to Ophelia (which Polonius reads aloud to Claudius and Gertrude) with “Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him. Hamlet.” I just learned this and thought it resonated interestingly with that passage.


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    18 Feb 2015 at 10:44 am #6576

    Mike
    Member

    efscerbo,

    Yes, and some could argue that many of our modern political-machinist that are kick-starting or pulling-the-chord or turning the key are just as nit-witted and bird-brained as Polonius, allowing the nothingness to ensue. Speaking of birds, adding to the idea of the inanimate, both the “mechanical birds” and and toy penguin are not flying, which is truly what gives purpose to “birds”, right?

    Mike


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by  Mike.
    18 Feb 2015 at 1:04 pm #6578

    Glass
    Member

    Good stuff. The idea of “not flying” recalls for me the man’s mournful recollection of the early years, when he hears the half-muted crankings of the migratory birds never to hear them again. One of the saddest lines for me in all of McCarthy. Another wildly speculative idea about this penguin and why he chose this bird for the strange dream has to with a mega-blockbuster penguin movie (March of the Penguins 2005) that came out about the time McCarthy may have taken his young son to the theater to see it, thus possibly putting penguins on both of their minds for a time. Maybe McCarthy’s son had a similar dream about windup penguins like the boy in The Road? McCarthy is on record saying he considers his son a co-author of The Road since many of the conversations in the book actually took between the author and his son, so why not a dream?

    Rick has me intrigued as usual. Wish I knew more about his idea.


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    18 Feb 2015 at 1:04 pm #6579

    efscerbo
    Member

    I hear more than a little bit of Cetology in that line of thinking, Mike. And while I personally don’t believe that ties into the penguin dream per se, I do see such ideas elsewhere in The Road. (“The last instance of a thing takes the class with it.”)


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    18 Feb 2015 at 1:42 pm #6580

    robmcinroy
    Member

    The plastic penguin feels to me like a very twenty-first century, McDonald’s-like disposal culture version of the Victorian automata with which hubristic, scientific man sought to play God and create artificial life.

    Peter, have you read Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears? It is about such an automota, a beautiful swan that can pick up and eat tiny little fish and then defecate them – that is, it recreated a life cycle, so bringing in ideas of creation (and the creator), along with notions of freedom, free will, the mysteries of life. It’s based on a real automata – I saw it on a TV programme not long ago and it is quite staggeringly beautiful.

    The reason why I thought of you in connection with this book is that Carey also plays with the notion of the mysterium tremendum, which I’m sure is something you’ve mentioned either on here or in a talk before. In the novel, the mysterium tremendum is the invention of the man who also created the swan automaton. It’s a wooden counting machine, clearly some sort of precursor of the computer. The use of the term mysterium tremendum to describe this thing which we now know will come to revolutionise the world is interesting. The original term was Otto’s to describe the mystery surrounding the numinous nature of the divine. It is a sense of fear that is of a higher degree than any ordinary, mortal fear. So the way Carey uses this loaded religious expression to describe arguably the highpoint of human technology is telling. As is the fact that the inventor of this device also created an automata, at one time regarded as works of the utmost genius, but now considered to be not much more than elaborate curiosities. The swan, at the time of its creation, might indeed have had a sense of the numinous about it, but now we know that its workings are only the product of human ingenuity.

    Might McCarthy be saying something similar but, by substituting a somewhat bathetic plastic penguin for the beautiful silver swan, be further castigating mankind for our hubristic folly?


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