False Idols

Throughout this novel, and particularly in the two volumes that complete the trilogy, language and writing are consistently presented as the defining mark of the properly human being. This is, I think we can agree, not always or even predominantly represented as a positive mark. In a very postmodernist vein, Atwood presents language as equally destructive as it is creative: pharmakon indeed! 

Yet, there is a moment at the end of this first volume where the shift is decidedly to the visual arts.

“Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall, in Crake’s view. Next they’d be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war. ” ~Margaret Atwood. “Oryx and Crake.”

There is so much packed into this little passage that we could dwell on it for some time. I am really struck by the implications for the visual arts in general, and what she might be implying about human artistic expressions as symbolic thinking. Then, of course, I remember that this is all Crake's viewpoint. "Good, kind Crake." Looking out over the Las Vegas strip from my hotel room, at the spectacle of it all, I wonder if Crake doesn't have a fair point.