A Doorstep Is The Size Of An Altar

I have just finished reading William Golding’s Free Fall, and among many other things that I should but will not write about here and that I will certainly talk about with anyone who wants to have coffee when I get back from PEI, there is a short sentence in a paragraph about how a child perceives the world. It reads, “A doorstep is the size of an altar,” and it reminded me of Heidegger’s discussion of the pain of the threshold, an idea that I have written about several times and have explored at length in several ways, including a longish poem.

What I like about Golding’s contribution to this idea is the attention to the physical similarity between the the doorstep and the altar step, where we are, in both instances, brought to the step before the threshold, to the uncrossable and yet constantly crossed threshold, but where we are most often prevented, unless we have some sort of special status, from crossing the altar step, are made to kneel on it instead, and it strikes me, not that this kneeling is too much reverence, that it should be done away with, but that our easy crossing of the doorstep should perhaps be more reverent, that we should be made to kneel, if not physically at least by word or gesture, as we pass the doorstep, because there is something sacred in it, a resemblance to the altar step that we no longer sufficiently recognize.

  1. John Jantunen said:

    I think you meant William Golding not Holding [now corrected]. And I’m finally reading The Power And The Glory. There’s a passage early on where Greene writes, There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in (a line which, now that I think about it, may actually have something to do with what you’ve written above- so much for my non sequitur). Regardless, it seems to sum up most of what I write about and does it so succinctly, and with such a slight dash of melancholia, that I have taken to searching the book for further portents and signs, but have yet to find any though I did find, Any dentist worth the name has enemies, which strikes pretty close to the heart of the novel, I think, for reasons perhaps we will discuss when you get back.

  2. Curtis said:

    This little quip has caused me to think very much on how the idea of ‘victim’ is lurking in the example.

    And it gets me wondering, in terms, how the concept between a person’s house, in say going to a party where you know the hose and how attending church should be in some form almost the same activity. In both cases it would seem, by whose house it is, the victim is very clear and chosen; yet church seems like we prepare cautiously, as though there’s still going to be a victim among us this Sunday, we avoid many things, we prepare to attend in the best way to blend in, to attain anonymity- we shelter ourselves outside the selection pool, that we might be spared, and in so doing, cast a vote for someone else, say a visitor who does not blend in.

    Where as, attending a friends, we react almost as if the host is already the victim and tend to relax, we prepare within that relaxation. And we’re willing to be spared few things if need be in order to have the event run smoothly, to carry the victims cross, at their leisure even, even to lose a point of pride that we might keep ourselves and our opinions under control- we will give up our rights almost egregiously for the smoothness of a party where there are people we value and someone has chosen to go on the rack for it. And yet, church is often the opposite…

    And while I understand this is a bit of generalisation… I wonder why, with this talk about the threshold as an alter, we are willing to genuflect as it were in heart, for someone’s home or the person in it, while, with a house that is supposed to be centralisation of those scattered sanctities, or attitudes, doesn’t get that gesture.

    The parallels are not to be different, they seem to insist that they are a very similar if not the same circumstance, the same action, the same context, at least they should be, between church and home company- and yet our attitudes are often so divorced one to the other. And then there’s that immaterial but amplified alteration of ‘whom’ or ‘what’ the victim is looming through out it. I hope this jaunty speculation is useful and relevant, it just got me thinking.

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