Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ninety

Phillips says Proust always rewards rereading, but I don’t want to reread À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and I’m beginning to question whether I want to reread La Divina Commedia. One is a foundational text of modernism, and the other of Christianity, and I want to purge myself of all such fantasies and live in the real world before I die.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Eighty-nine

The latest issue of LRB arrived today. It contains a piece by Adam Phillips, on Proust, which I read immediately. I knew, even as I read it, that I was making a mistake; but it wasn’t the mistake Phillips wrote about.

Phillips says Marcel, the narrator of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, spends his youth fantasizing about aristocrats; but when he becomes an adult, and gets to know them, he discovers they’re not the glamorous people he’d imagined. According to Phillips, this teaches us it’s a mistake to gratify our desires. Whenever we get what we want, we always discover the reality is inferior to what we’d imagined. We should try to remain innocent, or ignorant (‘naïve’ is the word Phillips uses), in order to avoid being disillusioned. Perhaps this is what Proust taught Phillips, but it’s not what he taught me.

I defer gratification not because I fear reality won’t live up to what I've imagined, but because I want to prolong the pleasure of discovering the reality. I know it will be different from what I've imagined, and part of the pleasure for me is discovering how it differs. This is why I usually defer reading a piece by Phillips. He’s always a pleasure to read, stimulating even when I disagree with him.

This also seems to be one of the ways in which I differ from other people. Most of them want exactly what they imagine, which ensures reality will disappoint them.

Phillips seems to imagine Marcel is an Everyman who speaks for us all. In reality he’s one of those unreliable narrators, common in modernist novels, who know less than their readers do. Marcel discovers that every one of the aristocrats he admired as a boy is in reality merely a silly snob, but he can't see that he's one, too; and by the end of the seventh volume he’s discovered that every one of the apparently heterosexual characters is in reality either bisexual or homosexual, but he remains ‘closeted’ to himself.

People usually disappoint me, but not because I have illusions about them. I think I know most people better than they know themselves; and what I know is that they could do, should do, better. They disappoint me not because I have unrealistically high expectations of them, but because they have unrealistically low expectations of themselves.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Eighty-eight

But I don’t enjoy talking with Justin, any more than I enjoy talking with Leonard.  

I continue to talk with Justin because he’s learned not to express his racist sexist prejudices when talking with me; but I know he hasn’t changed. 

He feels obligated to talk with me because he knows I have no one else to talk with - no one I enjoy talking with - and I feel obligated to talk with him because he thinks he’s doing me a favor. 

I wouldn’t talk with Leonard if Jennifer, before she left, hadn’t asked me – begged me – to look after her father. 

I just finished writing another letter to Jennifer. She feels obligated to write to me because I’m looking after her father, and I feel obligated to write back.

I can no longer even imagine meeting someone I could respect, and enjoy talking with. I can't imagine that, in the unlikely event I did meet someone I could respect, s/he would enjoy talking with someone as misanthropic as I. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Eighty-seven

Apparently the whole world is following the US election campaign. Justin watched the Republican Party convention live in Melbourne and telephoned me immediately afterwards, still laughing at Donald Trump’s acceptance speech in which the bombastic narcissist described himself as “humble and grateful” to be nominated. 

Trump’s speech was broadcast live on most of the television stations here in the US as well, but I didn’t watch it. I avoid as much as I can the theatrics that pass for politics in this country, so Justin knows more about it than I do.

My knowledge of European politics is about equal to his, but I know more about Asian politics than he does. Justin has no more interest in Indian politics than I have in US politics, despite having lived in Bangaluru for a decade, so we talk about European politics.   
    
I’d prefer not to talk about politics at all, but we have nothing else to talk about. During our last conversation, I mentioned that I’m currently reading Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday and rereading Dante’s Inferno, but Justin said he’s never read the Inferno and never heard of Zweig.

I've come to enjoy talking with Justin, to the extent that I enjoy talking with anyone; but I’d prefer to be left alone.

I am alone. Everyone else - even Justin, who is more intelligent than most, and should know better - assumes that Trump is an extraordinary political phenomenon. They often say he could be another Hitler, not realizing that every ruler is potentially another Hitler. 

In times of crisis, people usually band together and help each other through it; but only at first. If the crisis continues, they start looking for someone stronger and wiser than they to tell them what to do. We're in such a crisis now, not surprisingly; we've been in one crisis after another ever since we created what we used to call civilization.

Sooner or later everything we build falls, because the foundation of what we used to call civilization is the enslavement and exploitation of one group by another, so it's unstable. People usually assume that rulers keep the ruled enslaved by force, but a minority – and the rulers are always a minority – can’t keep the majority enslaved by force alone. Only an idea – what Plato called a myth, and David Hume called opinion – can make the majority submit to a minority. We live not in the real world, but a world we’ve imagined. a prison of our own making.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Eighty-six

I’ve been limiting myself to a canto a day, so it’s taken a while for the effect to accumulate; but I now remember what troubled me about the Inferno when I first read it, as a child.

At first it seems ridiculous that almost everyone in Hell should be not just Italian, but Florentine. But Dante is not just settling old scores. He damns even those who never harmed him, who on the contrary were good to him, merely because who or what they were offends him.

Some people can’t endure being indebted to others. This may be why Dante condemns Brunetto Latini, his guardian and teacher, to Hell. Of course it’s not Dante, but god, who condemns these sinners. Dante pities them. Hate the sin but love the sinner is the alibi with which the faux religious justify their sadism.

Sadism is so common that it’s easily overlooked, especially when expressed in beautiful terza rima.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Eight-five

It's 6:40 P.M. on a Friday, and I just received a telephone call from the doctor. He called to tell me that the results of yesterday's lab tests show my condition has improved. He sounded very happy about it, happier than I am. I'm more astonished that a doctor would call a patient at 6:40 P.M. on a Friday.