Shannon McCloskey Allain Interview – Part 2

[Part 2 of 3 of an email interview — see McCloskey Allain’s long review of ENGLISHMAN]

The symbol of the butterfly appears through the book in various manifestations such as death (departed soul), freedom from torment (Moberley’s view), and change in course of Henry’s life and outlook. Perhaps you mean it to be a symbol for life in general, changing to accommodate the beliefs/situations of each individual character. I looked up the writer of the haiku (Soseki) and was not familiar with this work. Can you comment on the significance of the poem to your story?

The symbol of the butterfly (and a typical “English-man”‘s relation to it) is meant to be fluid, yet the manifestations you mention are spot on. It means something different in relation to each of the characters, as you say, but it also stands for the final unknowability of life, that sometimes suffocating ineffability. Soseki’s Zen poem, for me, informs us of the folly of, in the words of a Zen koan, pointing at the moon and mistaking our finger for the moon itself (words are “shadows” not “flowers”).

On one hand, we have the representation of life that we get through metaphor, say, which we need as thinking creatures, and on the other there’s the crashing through that artifice to experience life immediately, unmistakably, unadulteratedly. Kinnell symbolizes this kind of transformation, or at least the individual on the road to that kind of enlightenment. When the butterfly consumes Henry in Henry’s dream, it’s a foreshadowing of his future consumption of life, his acceptance of what in fact IS. It’s frightening, this complete and entire giving of self.

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