THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. Welcome to the Home of Hyperopia.: On CENTENNIAL, the novel - Part 1 (and only)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On CENTENNIAL, the novel - Part 1 (and only)

Over the past several weeks, I had the very great pleasure of reading James Michener's novel, Centennial. It's one of my favorites of his books.

It was published in 1974.

I'm a little bit late showing up to that party, eh? Before I get into the substance of what I have to say about the book, I would just like to state for the record that my next book review blog entry will be published less than 30 years from the release of the subject of that review. In other words, Erin, I'll share my thoughts about the free, autographed copy of your book I will be delighted to receive in just a few short weeks very promptly.

Anyhoo ...

What an incredible book. Like most of my favorites of his, this one starts out millions of years ago. And has a bunch of geological history. Fun stuff. Which is not to say that I am the sort of guy who is enchanted by scholarly or scientific palaver regarding soils and tectonics. But I do like Michener's treatment of the topic (and I like the Earth Science Picture of the Day). (Hawaii and Alaska also have some great geological chapters in them. Hell, come to think of it, so does Chesapeake; maybe they all do.) And then he introduces plenty of drama, heroism, murder, intrigue, and basic history along the way as is his custom.

Interestingly, there is now a real city in Colorado named Centennial. Incorporated in 2000. Learn more about that here. Doesn't sound like remotely the same place. Shopping malls. Credit cards.

But I digress. Regarding the book, there was one clause from one sentence in particular that I want to discuss here. It's in the last third of the book or so. Michener is reviewing the various industries then active in the area of his fictional Centennial and the changes in population and services that developed alongside those industries. And he was talking about what the principals engaged in those various industries wanted from government. And he was noting that each of them (the rancher, the drylands farmer, the irrigating farmer) believed that he was an independent sort of fellow, who abhorred government intervention or meddling in his activities. And then he went on to note that although in word these folks avowed to prefer what I would consider a laissez-faire government, in deed they requested and in fact required quite a different arrangement. The rancher had tariffs on beef imports and the sugar beet farmer required high tariffs on cane sugar from central and south America, with the result that U.S. consumers had to pay more for their beef and sugar than would have been required in the absence of those interventions. So far so good. He's making an interesting point, I thought, about how no matter how honest we say we are with ourselves, we generally are not really that honest at all. There are very few people who really know themselves. There are very few people who can admit to themselves who they really are.

And then Michener got to the clincher. He said:

  • The character of a society depends more upon what men think of themselves than upon what they really are.

I paused. I reflected. And I am still curious about it. Is that right (what Michener said)? Could that possibly be true?

Competing ideas I am aware of we can use in evaluating this topic are:

  1. Buddha said (I'm told), "Our thoughts make the world."
  2. Jesus said (I believe), "If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains."
  3. Benjamin Franklin said (I just read), "What you seem to be, be really."

Each of these ideas suggests Michener is correct in what I perceive to be his assertion about the character of a society. (By that I mean that, of course, this clause I'm examining here is in a work of fiction. It's not at all certain that James Michener, the author, really believed this clause was true.) The farmer who believes he is an independent, tough-minded survivor will foster a society of people who respect themselves for their hardiness and ingenuity in the face of difficulties. Even if in truth their groveling Senators are wiping their backsides to protect them from true competition at the expense of the very people who look up to them for their imagined virtues.

But I disagree with all of that. I don't think that's true at all. I think people can successfully deceive themselves in the short run, but in the long run the truth wins out. In the long run, you become what you really are. The pressure of self-deceit builds with time. The economic dislocations of tariffs and governmental intervention compound. The water behind the dam grows ever higher. And it will be released.

Probably Jimi Hendrix said it best:

  • And so castles, made of sand, slips into the sea, eventually.

So that's that. Jimi Hendrix trumps Buddha Ben Jesus.


It is also possible, of course, that what Michener said is true, with respect to the character of a society. But that in time the society itself will succumb to the weight of the accumulated lies. To tell you kind folks the truth, this is what I actually believe. People's character depends on their perception of themselves, not what they really are. But the consequences of their actions (especially the consquences of the cumulative actions of all of the actors in a society) depend on what they really are, not on their perceptions of themselves.


Anyway, if you haven't read it, give Centennial a try. It's a phenomenal book. It's over 1000 pages long. Savor it. It's an enormously rewarding undertaking. You won't be disappointed.


Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

You certainly know how to court a girl, garrett.

3:09 AM, December 21, 2005  
Blogger Dongley Shlongford said...

What about the pelts?
Like half the book is about pelts and trading pelts and trapping pelts and shipping pelts and stealing pelts and protecting ones pelts and canoeing for miles and miles to find more pelt. Yet you didn't mention the word pelt once in your review? What is that?

Ms. O'brien, if I am selected to review your book, I will discuss its relative merit or lack therof vis a vis its use of pelts as a plot line.

6:49 AM, December 21, 2005  
Blogger PDD said...

What resonates with me the most is the idea of "The character of a society depends more upon what men think of themselves than upon what they really are."

What you think of yourself is what you become, provided it's a true and honest belief and not something that is driven by pride - That always comes out, because no matter how you break it down, one is always aware of his or her insecurities whether or not
the root from which it stems is understood.

And speaking of thoughts and how they make/shape the world; I do have to agree with that 100%, everything that exits today whether in theory or practicality is derived from thought. Any mathematical equation was once thought, any quantumn theory was once thought, language was once thought, the concrete from which we walk on was once thought. Everything and all derives from thought. Nothing just appeared (except for everything natural i.e., trees, grass, water, etc) Albert Einstein didn't have a hologram come to him in the middle of the night to tell him the theory of relativity, he figured through the building upon building of thoughts (or perhaps god told him in his dreams, we never know.) Any primitive tools that were constructed came from thought.
Excluding everything that existed on this planet before humans i.e., trees, grass, clouds, sun, moon etc., I can not think of anything that exists on this planet that couldn't have derived from human thought. (Perhaps even the sun, moon, stars, water, trees etc exists with and because of conciousness. who knows)

Now the question of who a man truly is vs what they think of themselves; I don't know how much one can truly know of oneself. I don't believe that any one person can say their true virtues or vices or what they would do in certain situations. If you could only determine your actions in a situation you've never been in, you are only left to suspect what you may do and therefore that is an example of what one thinks of oneself, but this is not neccessarily truth.

But who one truly is doesn't require one to know who one truly is. One just is, and so, sorry for the confusion.


"no matter how honest we say we are with ourselves, we generally are not really that honest at all. There are very few people who really know themselves. There are very few people who can admit to themselves who they really are."

I don't even know if I believe that there are very few people who can admit to themselves who they really are, since I don't believe there is anyone who really knows themselves to admit that or not.

12:27 PM, December 21, 2005  

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