Adam (not the lead singer from Maroon 5) Levin’s The Instructions professes to be a document called The Instructions, written by Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, which, in a Borgesian assignment, is translated from English into Hebrew and retranslated from Hebrew and back into English by Eliyahu of Brooklyn and Emmanuel Liebman, before being published by McSweeney’s. This religious document describes the days leading up to “the Damage Proper” and the events of the “Gurionic War” and ensuing “11/17 Miracle.” See, Rabbi Gurion is a ten-year-old boy who has been expelled from three Jewish prep schools because of acts involving extreme violence and messianic tendencies. Gurion may, or may not, be the next messiah, and this definitional question w/r/t to Gurion’s potential status as the anointed one, coupled with Gurion’s search for righteousness, drives The Instruction’s plot forward, ultimately culminating in a violent and unstoppable rebellion by students in the “Cage” (a special lockdown program for the most hopelessly troubled kids), against the “robots,” the faculty and staff at Aptakisic Junior High.
This blog is going to completely skip the first 1,000 pages and go straight to the novel’s end. In the process, we are going to omit things like how event Y followed event X, and we won’t even try to “recall Y followed X because Y, though unpredictable, was also inevitable, given X’s nature, and given the patterns established by the author (between A and B, J and K, R and S…) (1001), nor will I try to relate to you or try to “remember the sweep of the book; how A, itself, led eventually to Y, how each of the interceding events (B through X), if not wholly necessary to give rise to Y, worked to grant Y the resonance sufficient to cause you to supply the book its (unwritten) Z” (1001).
Gurion describes the end of The Instructions as “fractured, gapped, full of empty” (1003), and the reader realizes that the ending can have two possible interpretations, both of which are equally supportable by the events, A – Y, of the novel. Z is whatever you make of it, so here’s what happens. After the “Guironic War,” the violent, student led rebellion against the faculty of Aptakisic Junior High, Gurion and the Side of the Damaged, Gurion’s followers who believe that he is the next messiah, march out of the Aptakisic surrounded by hostages. They make their way to a ravine that divides a road from a beach, and it is here that Gurion delivers his sermon and performs the “11/17 Miracle.”
The facts are muddled and confused, but “It’s true that a valley had formed in the lake, that the valley was the width of our forty columns [of members of the Side of the Damaged], and its miles-high walls, half a foot thick, occluded by foam and sand and stones and baffled fish and swaying vegetation, were smooth as glass on their valley-facing sides …” (1017). It’s also true that the forty columns of students marched through the valley, and that they were followed by Gurion and his girlfriend, the beautiful Eliza June Watermark. “And it’s true,” Gurion claims, that, “the implications of what I’d said were that I was holding the valley open, and that the valley would close and drown all the scholars if I were to cease to hold it open—it’s true I implied I was performing a miracle. And it’s true I knew that’s what I implied, and true that’s what I intended to imply. It’s also true my implications were false, and true I knew my implications were false, and true as well, and finally true, that there wasn’t any miracle” (1018). Finally, it’s also true that all four columns, each twenty-five deep, walked through the valley onto the beach, and it’s true that once they were safely on the other side, the walls of the valley buckled and closed behind the Side of the Damaged.
The Instructions delivers an imaginative and concrete version of the language games out of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. PI’s main line concerns language and the problem of meaning. The basic problem, for Wittgenstein, is that we don’t know our way about language (55e); as a result, we struggle for clarity and concision when we try to communicate our thoughts to another human being. Wittgenstein tells us in PI that, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something—because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of their inquiry do not strike people at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck.—And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful” (56e). Levin exploits the above Wittgensteinean bind in The Instructions by constructing a plot that can be widely interpreted and constantly choosing words that hold multiple meanings. The reader is told that everything I relayed to you in the above paragraph is true, but the problem is that the reader can't know or understand the underlying causes of why or how the lake parted for the students. Gurion constantly reiterates that he is most definitely not the messiah, and he did not cause the lake to part; however, he is also kidnapped by a secretive, para-military group following the "11/17 Miracle." Like Broom, The Instructions doesn't have much in the way of closure, but that's kind of the point. One of the themes closely associated with the Wittgensteinean spirit of this novel concerns analytical thinking. The Instructions is obsessed with questions concerning morality, faith, and practicality, but none of the questions asked have an answer, and the novel depicts, in an over-the-top-exaggerated-form, the dangers of trying to philosophize about certain meanings. The answers aren't hidden in the mind and revealed through some serious analytical reasoning, but through application and use.