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I encountered the boldfaced expression while reading, and would like to know what it means:

And there, coming towards him, as if the rather antiquated expression had conjured him up was Alfred. But it was a different Alfred, pale, sweating, trembling, coming at a run toward. He took the wrist as the fist came at his chest and twisted it till Alfred was gritting his teeth and hissing through them. Secure in his knowledge of the cosmic nature of eating he grinned down at him.

  • William Golding, Pincher Martin, Chapter 6

I assume that, by "secure", the narrator felt that he was "confident" about his knowledge, but I just cannot grasp what "the cosmic nature of eating" would mean.

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    Nicely written first question.
    – James K
    Feb 17, 2022 at 9:11
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    The meaning and relevance of the cosmic nature of eating is very unclear even to a well-read native speaker. Feb 17, 2022 at 9:19

1 Answer 1

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You are right about "secure in his knowledge". It is an idiom meaning that he was certain about something.

The rest of the sentence is not a particular idiom, it means as much (and as little) in English as a literal translation into your language would mean.

Looking at analysis of this line, it seems that Golding uses "eating" as an extended metaphor in the book to relate to sexual and violent conquest.

Look at the previous paragraph in the book. It is all about "the cosmic nature of eating". Note the term "universal process".

The whole business of eating was particularly significant. They made a ritual of it on every level, the Fascists as punishment, the religious as rite, the cannibal either as a ritual, or a medicine, or as superbly direct declaration to conquest. Killed and eaten. And of course eating with the mouth was only the gross expression of what was a universal process. You could eat with your cock or your fists or your voice … (Golding, Pincher Martin Ch. 6)

Without that previous paragraph, it would be hard to understand what the character was thinking.

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    The Golding book seems to be on some curriculum somewhere unless the OP is the previous one under a new name. Rather a rich dish for a a non-native reader, I would have thought. Feb 17, 2022 at 10:06
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    Thank you very much for the answer. I really agree that "eating" here does not mean simply an act of eating; it would mean a way of sexual/violent conquest of other beings. So "cosmic" is in line with "universal," and "the cosmic nature of eating" would mean that this "eating" is, by nature, a cosmic/universal/general/common thing. So here, he certainly knew that eating is by nature a universal thing. Thank you very much; your explanation really deepened my understanding. Feb 17, 2022 at 15:02
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    Further to James K's excellent Answer, here's a link that shows how almost no-one could penetrate the meaning of that phrase, except through wider prior knowledge even than most natives have: books.google.co.uk/… Feb 18, 2022 at 0:40
  • @RobbieGoodwin, Thank you very much for the link. I really agree that this novel is steeped with symbolism and is not a work of literature which easily shows its meaning to readers... Maybe I really should read that book in the link in order to analyze this novel. Feb 18, 2022 at 5:34
  • With that previous paragraph, it's hard to understand what the character is thinking ...
    – mcalex
    Feb 18, 2022 at 7:06

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