Category Archives: Literature

Quels destins pour les enragés de la vie?

Œdipe et la Métaphore

24 octobre 2015

Si l’année passée, Euripide nous présentait la figure de l’humiliation et du rejet personnifiée par Médée et nous montre la logique qui va de l’humiliation à la barbarie, dans « Œdipe tyran » Sophocle présente la figure de la trahison ainsi que la logique qui va de la trahison à la rage.

Du don de vie à la trahison

Il y a un moment dans la vie où l’exigence d’amour inconditionnel est justifiée: c’est le début de la vie. La vie ne peut commencer que par un don: l’amour ne peut faire vivre que s’il est don d’amour, c’est à dire s’il est inconditionnel, sans condition. Toute condition, toute attente de retour sur investissement rend caduque le don de vie, puisqu’elle transforme l’acte du don en un contrat  et de ce fait, elle l ‘amortit, l’épuise, le vide, elle mortifie. En d’autres termes, c’est un don de vie qui mortifie, ou donc un don de vie qui trahit la vie, qui trahit. Le parent qui donne la vie, mais en même temps s’octroie le droit d’une exigence – quelle qu’elle soit, exigence de loyauté, de gratitude, de retour – trahit le don de vie.

Quand un oracle à Delphes avertit Laïos que si un héritier mâle lui naît, celui-ci tuera son père et épousera sa mère, Laïos, prudent, se garde alors de toute relation avec son épouse. Une nuit pourtant, sous l’emprise de la boisson, il fait l’amour avec Jocaste. De leur union naît un fils. Loin d’être fidèle à son don de vie, et de prendre le seul parti possible du côté de la vie, qui serait de prendre acte de l’oracle comme d’un mystère inquiétant, mais qui demande à être déchiffré, et donc de prendre le parti du fils, quoi qu’il en coute, il choisit de trahir son don de vie: pour conjurer l’oracle, il fait exposer l’enfant de trois jours sur le mont Cithéron. Pire, il lui fait percer les chevilles pour l’accrocher à un arbre.

De toute évidence, non seulement Œdipe n’est pas investi de l’amour qu’il est en droit d’attendre, mais, qui plus est, l’enfant est traité comme l’ennemi, la source potentiel du mal. Double trahison: trahison d’avoir mis au monde un enfant sans être prêt à se donner, trahison d’avoir mis au monde un enfant pour le jeter et le détruire ensuite. Pour l’enfant qui doit vivre, ne restent que deux options: la perte (c’est-à-dire, en effet la mort qui a vaincu), soit la rage, c’est à dire la rage de vivre. Si à trois jours on a pris la douleur de la terreur, la douleur des chevilles percées, la douleur de l’abandon, si à trois jours on a pris tout ça, c’est qu’on a pris sur soi la douleur insupportable pour vivre néanmoins: c’est à dire que quelque soit la douleur qu’il faudra plus en avant affronter, aucune douleur ne pourrait avoir un quelconque caractère de menace pour la vie, même si elle n’en est pas moins insupportable. Pour la vie l’enfant a choisi le parti de la douleur, il n’a pas choisi la douleur pour la douleur, il l’a choisi pour la vie: c’est exactement ça la rage de vivre.

Œdipe est en rage: cette rage est son ressort: c’est par cette rage qu’il agit, c’est par cette rage qu’il comprend, déchiffre et voit, c’est par cette rage qu’il avance avec puissance, qu’il est tyran et roi. Il tue celui qui lui marche sur les pieds ou le bouscule – il tue ce père qui n’avait déjà pas hésité à lui molester les pieds. Il résout les mortelles énigmes de la Sphinge comme s’il avait la science infuse. Et il écarte violemment tous ceux qui veulent l’empêcher de savoir et de comprendre la vérité, Tirésias, Jocaste, le berger. Œdipe en veut, Œdipe est la pulsion de vie à l’état pur, il est imparable.

La Sphinge est l’écho de la Pythie

D’où ce destin tragique? Quels destins pour les enragés de la vie?

Il y a un mystère: l’Oracle de Delphes et l’Enigme de la Sphinge, tous deux énoncés par des figures féminines, se répondent en écho: tous les deux sont des formules sortilèges et tous les deux annoncent le destin de l’homme, la condition humaine: boiteuse, et aux emprises avec les premiers enjeux d’amour et de haine – boiteuse parce qu’aux emprises avec les premiers enjeux d’amours et de haine. Qui plus est, tous les deux font appel au déchiffrage, à l’interprétation, à la lecture. Et le prix de la (non-)interprétation est singulièrement en miroir autour du précipice. Quand Œdipe résout l’énigme, la Sphinge se précipite vers sa perte, quand il ne résout pas l’oracle tout aussi énigmatique, c’est lui qui est précipité vers sa perte.

Le mystère est donc: pourquoi Œdipe est il d’une lucidité surhumaine à résoudre l’énigme de la Sphinge est d’un aveuglement pitoyable à interpréter l’oracle de Delphes? Car enfin, il faut saisir l’exploit de l’esprit d’Œdipe. En effet, les deux mystères de la Sphinge sont: « Quel être, pourvu d’une seule voix, a d’abord quatre jambes le matin, puis deux jambes le midi, et trois jambes le soir et qui, contrairement à la loi générale, est le plus faible quand il a le plus de pattes? » et « Quelles sont les deux sœurs dont l’une engendre l’autre et dont la seconde, à son tour, est engendrée par la première? » Œdipe trouve également la réponse à la seconde énigme: c’est la journée et la nuit (le mot « jour » est féminin en grec).

On ne peut s’en sortir qu’en se donnant la liberté de l’interprétation, et même, dans ce cas-ci de l’interprétation métaphorique. Remarquons que les deux énigmes concernent la représentation du temps: “linéaire et individuelle pour la première, qui trace la temporalité de l’humain, de sa condition, qui a une direction et de ce fait fonde l’histoire et la culture, et circulaire et universelle pour la seconde, puisque les cycles de la nature, et la course des astres est éminemment indifférente à l’histoire humaine”. La rage d’Œdipe le rend perspicace plus qu’un autre et il saisit les logiques de sa condition, du vivant et du monde.

La métaphore du Nom du Père

Pourquoi Œdipe ne se donne-t-il pas les moyens de l’interprétation de l’oracle qui concerne sa destinée singulière? Pourquoi quand il entend qu’il tuera son père, ne se dit-il pas: il est le destin d’un fils de survivre à son père. Je tuerai donc mon père: c’est à dire que par ma vie, j’annulerai les effets de sa vie, j’effacerai ses méfaits et dépasserai ses exploits : et mon nom remplacera le sien, quand on évoquera la lignée, ma renommée aura écrasée la sienne, je l’aurai tué – ? Pourquoi quand il entend qu’il épousera sa mère, ne se dit-il pas : il est le destin d’un fils d’être en amour de sa mère. J’épouserai donc ma mère: c’est à dire que l’épouse qui pourra susciter mon amour aura les traits de ma mère, elle en aura des traits physiques ou des traits psychiques, ou même les deux. Il est le destin d’un fils de retrouver dans l’intimité avec son épouse une secrète jouissance tirant son pouvoir d’une liaison d’amour archaïque puissante d’avec sa mère. Non, contrastant d’avec la liberté de penser impressionnante pour l’énigme de la Sphinge, il a une aliénation stupéfiante à la littéralité de l’oracle de Delphes.

C’est sur le versant du nom qu’il faut lire la prophétie concernant le père, et sur le versant du désir celle concernant la mère. C’est à dire que l’oracle qui incombe à Œdipe a la structure de ce que Lacan appelle ‘”la métaphore du nom du père” et qui est la métaphore qui incomberait à tout un chacun. Œdipe se targue de sa force et de son intelligence car il estime que ceux-ci sont fruits de sa nature, qu’elles lui ont été octroyé par élection, peut être même par la grâce des Dieux. Or, c’est d’abord Laïos qui avait déjà reçu l’oracle: il avait déjà été averti que si un héritier mâle lui naît, celui-ci tuera son père et épousera sa mère. De ce fait, l’oracle de Delphes a au moins déjà ceci de terrifiant: il inscrit Œdipe dans une chronologie, dans une histoire. C’est à dire que si Œdipe doit s’approprier son oracle au lieu de le fuir, cela implique qu’il doit saisir que même si sa rage est justifiée par rapport à la trahison inaugurale qui lui incombait, son père, certes lâche, n’a pas qu’agi par un arbitraire. Les actions du père, déjà, s’inscrivaient dans une histoire: il a abandonné et souhaité la mort d’Œdipe du fait de l’oracle, et il avait d’abord déjà voulu éviter d’être confronté au cas de figure, en s’abstenant aux jeux de l’amour, mais c’est Jocaste qui a su le séduire. Cet exercice-là: saisir en quoi la métaphore, qu’est le destin de notre vie singulière, est retraçable à la façon dont le nom du père a su (ou non) faire avec le désir de la mère, c’est la métaphore du nom du père de Lacan. Et la métaphore du nom du père de Lacan est la retranscription structurelle du complexe d’Œdipe de Freud.

La castration

S’imposer l’exercice de la métaphore implique de saisir que la rage de vivre, par exemple, ou tout autre sentiment dominant, a une histoire: l’exercice est irréversible, une fois entre-ouverte cette porte, on est précipité: de tyran on devient sujet, sujet de son histoire et sujet de l’inconscient. La porte s’entre-ouvre dès la première question: pourquoi ai-je cette rage ? Car la question, en soi, replace la rage dans une histoire, dont on peut saisir une logique – et anéantit l’assurance aveugle d’être, parmi tous, gratifié, élu des Dieux, plus fort que les Dieux. L’historisation crève donc la hubris, l’orgueil. L’exercice de la métaphore qui incombe à Œdipe par l’oracle, comme il incombe à tout sujet de la condition humaine, est l’exercice de l’historisation, de prendre la mesure de combien et en quoi l’on est sujet de son histoire, et cet exercice aboutit à la modestie, à l’humilité. Il y a la racine « hum » d’humain dans humilité, car l’histoire, la chronologie des contingences qui ont fait événement pour un sujet, et la façon dont on y retrouve les logiques qui articulent l’actualité singulière de ce sujet, est notre condition, la condition humaine. Elle s’oppose à la hubris, l’orgueil de se penser égal ou supérieur aux Dieux, ou de leur condition. Passer de l’hubris à l’humilité, c’est précisément la castration de la psychanalyse.

La castration à laquelle Œdipe est invité par l’oracle le terrifie. Il entrevoit qu’elle pourrait le déposséder de sa puissance d’action et de son intelligence, de sa clairvoyance. Puisqu’il a été trahi par ceux qui lui ont donné la vie, il a droit à sa rage, il s’en octroie (inconsciemment) le droit. Mais la condition humaine est modeste: même sa trahison inaugurale a une histoire, et il faut donc aussi faire le deuil de ce qu’elle le visait lui spécifiquement, puisqu’elle partait de ses parents, et de leur histoire, bien plus que ce qu’il n’était visé, lui. Or, cette idée le dépossèderait du droit aveugle à la rage. C’est la raison pourquoi il refuse l’exercice de la lecture métaphorique de l’oracle: non pas parce qu’il n’en est pas capable, il prouve son génie avec l’énigme de la Sphinge, mais parce que ce qu’il entrevoit le terrorise.

Le paradoxe est connu: c’est du fait même qu’il refuse l’interprétation métaphorique, du fait qu’il prend l’oracle à la lettre, que l’oracle se réalise: Œdipe a pris les mots à la lettre, et sans les interpréter, a pensé pouvoir les fuir. Il les a pris à la lettre, c’est à dire, sur leur versant d’objet, et c’est pour cette raison, que l’oracle devient res, chose, qu’elle se réalise. Pire encore, Œdipe n’évite pas la castration, mais elle aussi, du fait qu’elle n’a pu se faire sur le versant de la métaphore, doit se réaliser dans le corps, passe du sujet à l’objet, le corps, quand il se crève les yeux.

L’espérance de la condition humaine est alors celle-ci: faire basculer la douleur de son histoire de l’agir à la parole, car seule la parole permet la métaphore, et la métaphore est ce qui peut faire la différence entre une histoire qui précipite le sujet et celle qui lui donne un élan.

Médée – ce qu’Euripide nous dit sur notre actualité

Médée, Euripide – Théâtre en Liberté, au Théâtre de la place des Martyrs

Souviens-tois que je suis Médée, c’est le titre que donne Isabelle Stengers à son texte sur Médée (Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 1993). J’étais invitée à débattre de la pièce qui se joue actuellement au Théâtre de la place des Martyrs par la troupe du Théâtre en Liberté, débat avec entre autre aussi Lambros Couloubaritsis, mon collègue en philosophie à l’ULB et Daniel Scahaise, le metteur en scène. Texte intemporel et universel s’il en est, rendu avec beaucoup de respect pour Euripide par les acteurs de la troupe. J’aimerais reprendre les deux points que j’ai proposés dans le débat de cet après-midi.

D’abord, la question de la barbarie. Médée est une “barbare”, ce qui veut dire qu’elle provient d’un  ailleurs qui ne connaît pas “les bienfaits de la civilisation grecque”, ce pays lointain de Colchide. Elle est aussi descendante des Titans, alors que la civilisation Grecque, personnifiée en son mari Jason, est fondatrice des lois, de la cité et de l’ordre moral que Zeus a pu faire régner du fait de sa victoire sur les Titans. Médée s’inscrit dans cette citée, dans ce nouvel ordre moral, dans sa vie conjugale avec Jason, à qui elle donne des enfants. Or, l’histoire est connue: Jason la répudie pour pouvoir se marier avec la fille de Créon, le roi de  Corinthe. Cette répudiation, que Stengers décrit comme “la plus grande humiliation que puisse connaître une femme”, provoque la panique au sens du Dieu Pan, maître de la “panique”: “D’un seul coup, tout bascule comme si ce qui faisait lien entre les humains se révélait soudain susceptible de faire émerger un collectif tout autre, d’engendrer ce que l’ordre social semblait, par nature, exclure” écrit Stengers en faisant référence à Jean-Pierre Dupuy (La panique, 1991). La répudiation signifie la rupture du contrat moral: “Elle a passé contrat avec l’humanité et le contrat a été rompu” (p. 11). De quoi s’agit-il, quel est le “contrat avec l’humanité”? Je propose que dans les termes les plus généraux et les plus fondamentaux, le contrat moral ou social est le suivant: en échange de l’amour, je suis prêt à abandonner (un peu de) ma jouissance. Que cela veut-il dire? Faire naître l’infans à l’humanité, au sein de la famille, c’est interférer dans la jouissance absolue, immédiate et totale de ce que l’enfant a ou aspire à avoir avec sa première ou sa principale figure d’attachement, en y mettant des limites: ces limites sont frustrantes par rapport au tout auquel l’enfant se croit attitré, mais sont dans le même mouvement l’opportunité d’une ouverture: l’intérêt porté jusque là exclusivement sur la mère, perd l’exclusive pour se porter en partie aussi sur la figure intervenante. De “qui suis-je pour ma mère?”, la question devient “qu’a-t-il celui-là pour pouvoir me faire concurrence, pour capter l’intérêt de ma mère?”, en d’autres termes, l’enfant s’intéresse au tiers intervenant: il accepte de quitter son monde d’absolu pour s’ouvrir à la tiercité, c’est-à-dire au lien social et à ses règles. Mais quitter ce paradis de l’espérance d’un assouvissement total ne se fait pas sans douleur: l’enfant doit être bercé d’amour et  tendrement séduit à ce renoncement. Pas tous les enfants, d’ailleurs, feront le pas (et ce serait alors, la voie de la psychose). Voilà le premier pacte social: en retour de l’amour (et de la sécurité), le sujet humain abandonne (en grande partie) son monde fantasmatique jouissif et accepte “le principe de réalité”. C’est aussi le pacte moral de ce qui fait lien (entre les hommes, dans la cité): la cité (la civilisation) prend soin de ces citoyens, les traite avec respect, considération, soin et équité, et en retour les sujets qui la composent ne s’autorisent pas à “lâcher le monstre intérieur, la barbarie intérieure”. Car le monde jouissif est un monde qui ne s’embarrasse pas de pitié ni de considération pour la vie: il faut prendre ce qui assouvit et éliminer ce qui l’en empêche. Ce qui se joue pour Médée comme pour l’actualité est donc ceci: sans amour et sans espoir d’amour (d’intégration, de valorisation, de prise en charge), le contrat social est considéré rompu, et “ce qui faisait lien entre les humains se révélait soudain susceptible de faire émerger un collectif tout autre, d’engendrer ce que l’ordre social semblait, par nature, exclure”, c’est-à-dire, la barbarie.

Il y a un deuxième point que j’aimerais soulever, celui de ce que le texte nous apprend sur les rapports homme-femme. Lacan a pu dire qu’une femme peut être pour un homme un symptôme alors qu’un homme peut être un véritable ravage pour une femme. C’est aussi ce que ma clinique semble, jusque là, m’enseigner. Médée, par excellence, rend tangible le ravage que peut être la répudiation du partenaire, rend tangible ce qu’est la répudiation de Jason pour Médée. Médée, par son infanticide, donne la mesure de ce à quoi elle a à faire. Comment le comprendre et comment comprendre cette phrase de Lacan? Le pacte du couple a une logique sur certains points ressemblant au pacte social: la jouissance est mise en jeu en échange de l’amour. L’idée fondamentale est que, pour ce qui est de la jouissance intime, il n’y a pas symétrie entre homme et femme: tant l’homme que la femme, jouissent du corps de la femme, c’est-à-dire que c’est la femme qui doit être séduite à se faire objet, à se prêter à ce jeu, pour qu’il puisse y avoir jouissance. Elle n’est pas victime car elle aussi en jouit, et qu’elle est, par ailleurs, protégée par le pacte, c’est-à-dire par le lien, par l’amour souvent. Cependant, quand il y a rupture du pacte, l’asymétrie se fait jour dans sa monstruosité: l’homme peut continuer le chemin, attristé, effondré, solitaire; or la femme ne se retrouve pas simplement esseulée, abandonnée, dépossédée, mais dans la mesure où elle a consenti à se faire objet, elle se retrouve seule à faire avec cette position extrêmement délicate et potentiellement mortifère de son statut d’objet. Elle avait consenti à cet exercice d’équilibre périlleux pour sa santé psychique car séduite par l’amour; or sans les balises de l’amour, elle se retrouve seule face au gouffre vertigineux de sa jouissance. Voilà donc pourquoi on peut parler de l’abandon comme de “la plus grande humiliation que puisse connaître une femme”, soit encore comme un ravage. Dans le mythe, Médée, séduite, a consenti à se faire utiliser: elle a consenti à abandonner son pays, à trahir les siens, à tuer son frère par amour: Jason, en la répudiant, en la déshabillant de son amour, la livre décharnée à une hantise sans fin par cette vaine abnégation.

Or, de toutes les peines qu’un humain peut infliger à un autre humain, l’humiliation est la plus féconde de violences à venir. Le sujet humilié ne pourrait donner la mesure de la violence à laquelle il a à faire en attaquant l’autre, trop facile, trop bref, ni en s’attaquant lui-même, trop peu incisif pour les autres. Tuer Jason pour Médée ne pourrait lui donner satisfaction: une fois mort, il ne souffre déjà plus; se tuer n’est pas non plus une option: les quelques pleurs passés, tout serait oublié. Non, l’humiliation ne connait sa mesure que dans la destruction, la dévastation de la scène même où se joue cette humiliation, la scène de la cité, la scène de la vie. C’est pourquoi Médée tue ses enfants, qui sont aussi ceux de Jason. L’humilié(e) dit en substance: je suis déjà mort(e) (psychiquement), mais je ne partirai pas sans avoir fait le ravage autour de moi: je peux tout donner (donner tout mon corps) pour détruire la scène même de l’humiliation.

C’est aussi ce qu’Euripide nous apprend sur notre actualité.

Landschap met springwegen – Pieter De Buysser

Wat kan ontsnappen aan het geschrevene, aan wat de geschiedenis voorschrijft? We staan niet enkel op de schouders van reuzen, zoals Thomas van Aquino, we moeten het ook met hun oude stof doen, met hun oude schriftrollen om een leven te schrijven, om de steeds dunnere doorgang te vinden tussen wat geschiedenis mogelijk maakt en wat die vooraf vastlegt, om aan de tijd een leven los te rukken dat misschien niet algeheel ontglipt,
Want als het stof van de vorige eeuw en haar allesverblindend enthousiasme voor bemeestering zal zijn gaan liggen – toen we even dachten dat de wereld van de mooie ideeën zou zegevieren in het triomf van de rede en van de wetenschap, en dat de goede wil van de groep zou zegevieren in zelfregulatie  (Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself) – ook als we eventueel ontnuchterd zouden raken van die kale reis, dan nog blijft de verbijstering: welke revolutie, Pieter, welke revolutie, welke springweg bedenken uit wat enkel kan gemaakt worden van wat was?
Het geschiedene laat twee soorten sporen na. De eerste soort is die van de objecten. De erfenis verloopt over de dingen, de cultuurprodukten, de sedimenten die zich van ons lijfelijk bestaan hebben losgerukt en vanuit die autonomie doorwerken. In de wereld van de objecten staan, betekent onvermijdelijk dat we niet ontsnappen aan de waanzin van de magie die opereert vanuit die objecten, vanuit die opstapeling aan relikwieën. Het is gekheid, het is onrede, ongetwijfeld, maar het is nog steeds waanzin met een vorm, met een bespreekbare  want ‘uitwendige’ vorm. Taal werkt op dit niveau: de taalobjecten, de betekenaars, werken autonoom door. De tweede soort is die van het lijf. De erfenis verloopt over de lijfelijke inschrijving: het is de neiging tot transgressie. De geschiedenis raast door in het heimelijk vibrerende lijf van de man die zijn aandelen dankzij voorkennis op tijd kan verkopen, in het heimelijk vibrerende lijf van de vrouw die zich aan de drank overgeeft. Het drama hier is veel geweldiger, het is het drama van het noodlot: vaak is het pas als het einde onafwendbaar is, dat het volle besef komt dat het leven zich voorbij onszelf heeft afgespeeld, dat we het niet hebben bevat, dat het zich aan gene zijde heeft voltrokken… Deze waanzin is veel fundamenteler: het geledene heeft lijfelijke sporen geschreven, waarvan de vorm besloten ligt in het intieme van het singuliere genot. Het genot is zo de stomme razernij van de geschiedenis, dat wat in het lijf blijft woeden. Toch is het ook een vorm, en het is pas in de ontcijfering van die vorm dat de belofte van een springweg besloten ligt, maar die vorm heeft zich in het inwendige van de lichamelijke intimiteit ingeschreven en opereert stilzwijgend.
Zijn wij, mensen, dan veroordeeld, zoals Freuds’ demonische machine uit 1920 in Aan gene zijde van het lustprincipe? veroordeeld ons lijf tot strijdterrein voor onverleden oorlogen aan de geschiedenis uit te besteden, is onze levensadem veroordeeld tot verkankering?
Het orakel van Thebe bleek onafwendbaar voor Oedipus, en toch is een geslacht gesticht. Beschaving is de enige heil, maar daartoe moet het lijf zich eerst tot taal laten verleiden – daartoe moest het incestueuze genot zich eerst tot wet, tot stichtend verbod laten schrijven.
Dat is de onmogelijke taak die de jongen Zoltan – of is het zijn paard Abas? – op zich neemt. Want er is maar één manier om het genot van het lijf tot taal te verleiden, om woorden te ontfutselen aan de heimelijke vibrering van het weefsel binnenin. En die manier is: onbewogen, rotsvaste, gulle liefde, liefde zo groot en zo warm als een paardelijf, het paardelijf waaronder Francesca en Zoltan schuilen – en hun liefde, die Francesca even aan de tijd ontrukt.

Lanschap met springwegen” is het schitterende nieuwe stuk van Pieter De Buysser. Het is een feest voor de geest. Het haalt je triomferend uit elk nakende ontmoediging over de toestand van de wereld, uit elke neiging tot hopeloosheid. Iets is mogelijk!

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Moby Dick, Herman Melville

  • p.20-21: And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid, – what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthlly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!
  • p. 53: Yes, there is death in this business of whaling – a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth in my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the less of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.
  • p. 90: And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at north, been led to think untraditionnally and independently; receiving all nature’s sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language – that man makes one in a whole nation’s census – a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or by other circumstances, he have what seems a half willful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.
  • p. 98: I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects.  There was Queequeg, now, certainly, entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan; – but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say; and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
  • p. 243: There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. Ands as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.
  • p. 299: “as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play – this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

A tale of two cities, Charles Dickens (1859)

04.04.2013

  • .p. 74: “Notwithstanding Miss Pross’s denial of her own imagination, there was a perception of the pain of being monotonously haunted by one sad idea, in her repetition of the phrase, walking up and down, which testified to her possessing such a thing.”

Ari: Why this quote touched me is difficult to understand without the context. What touched me is that Dickens indicates that he infers from the way Miss Pross speaks, from the form of her speech (“repetition of the phrase, walking up and down”) some knowledge about Miss Pross – even if she denies this. The strict formal way of our speech betrays us, and there is no way around it: even in denial, even in lies, we can not do without choosing words to deny or to lie: and in these choices we can not but tell about ourselves…. That’s why psychoanalysis is possible: we don’t need conscious knowledge to grasp things, we just need the subject to speak. When he/she speaks, he/she betrays him/herself, can not but betray him/herself…

  • p.81: “Doctors who made great fortunes out of dainty remedies for imaginary disorders that never existed, smiled upon their courtly patients in the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors who had discovered every kind of remedy for the little evils with which the State was touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnest to root out a single sin, poured their distracting babble into any ears they could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur. Unbelieving Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words, and making card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked with Unbelieving Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, at this wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur.”

 Ari: If we recognize a sign of o u r times in this, this might mean that what we are living at the moment is more due to the fact that, like in 1789 when this scene is taking place, we are at the eve of a paradigm change (and the disinvestment from an old system) more than to the specificities of the system in and by itself.  DvB: You sound like a true Nietzschean, my dear: “What is great in man, declares Zarathustra, “is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under.”

 

  • p. 143: “All the women knitted. They knitted worthless things; but the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking; the hands moved for the jaws and the digestive apparatus: if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pinched.”.

Ari: The motor programs of hands and mouth are very close spatially in the motor cortex (Broca area) – together with the eye movement control, these three systems are the most elaborate motor systems on which we have fine motor control: mouth, hands and eyes. Eminently, these are the motor systems which generate consciousness. KH: Ariane, volgens mij was dat een erotische scene waar alle erotische fijngevoelige tactiele subtiele observaties en aanrakingen vertaald en gesublimeerd worden. The knitting of worthless things maakt net de erotische lading hoger juist omdat het worthless is. Ook eten en drinken, steken met de naald, opslokken en penetreren zijn erotische handelingen en zeker de verwijzing naar de maag die staat voor de vertering wat de totale overgave symboliseert.

The Circle; Our Betters; The Constant Wife, William Somerset Maugham

These three plays talk about love. They spare nothing or nobody, neither the men (stupid, hypocritical, quite unloving) nor the women (stupid also, strategic, idle). Utterly refreshing!

The Circle (1921)

17.03.2012

  • p. 71: “But you know men are very funny. Even when they are in love, they’re not in love all day long.”
  • p. 73: “One sacrifices one’s life for love and then one finds that love doesn’t last. The tragedy of love isn’t death or separation. One gets over them. The tragedy of love is indifference.”

 

Our Betters (1917)

17.03.2012

  • p. 103:  “My dear fellow, the degree of a nation’s civilization is marked by its disregard for the necessities of existence. You have gone so far as to waste money, but we have gone farther; we waste what is infinitely more precious, more transitory, more irreparable – we waste time.”
  • p. 129: “Pearl: “(…) As if anyone remembered an emotion when he no longer felt it!” Duchesse: “It’s true. I’ve been in love a dozen times, desperately, and when I’ve got over it and look back, though I remember I was in love, I can’t for the life of me remember my love.”

 

Ari: This last point is very well taken by WSM. Freud (1915) tells us in ‘The Unconscious’ that an experience is a complex of separable components, one of which is a representational component and the other one is an affective component. (This is  very much in line with the neurophysiological description of the ‘high road’ and the ‘low road’ of Joseph LeDoux.) The essential difference between both, Freud further tells us, is that the representational component leaves a ‘memory trace’ while the affect, being a mere ‘discharge process’, does not. I have proposed in my book (‘Des fantômes dans la voix’, 2007 – but probably others have proposed similar ideas) that the representational and the affective component essentially differ in the nature of their discharge or execution system. The representations have the voluntary striated muscles (the limbs, the articulation system etc.) as their execution system, the affects have the involuntary smooth muscles (delineating the inner body) as their execution system. The voluntary muscles system being so much finer organized than the smooth muscle system, this enables a finer inscription. This is why, while we can remember that we have felt a feeling, we can not remember the feeling, unless we live the feeling again – but then is it truly a memory?

 

The Constant Wife  (1927)

17.03.2012

This is a hilarious play, it is ferociously truthful.

  • p. 222. “Constance:”Now listen. If I think he’s awful we’ll just talk about the weather and the crops for a few minutes and then we’ll have an ominous pause and stare at him. That always makes a man feel a perfect fool and the moment a man feels a fool he gets up and goes.”. Mrs Culver: “Sometimes they don’t know how to, poor dears, and the earth will never open and swallow them up.”
  • p.  262: Constance: “My dear, any sensible man would rather play bridge at his club than with his wife, and he’d always rather play golf with a man than with a woman. A paid secretary is a far better helpmate than a loving spouse. When all is said and done, the modern wife is nothing but a parasite.”:
  • p. 287: John: “If you think what they call free love is fun you’re mistaken. Believe me, its the most overrated amusement that was ever invented.”
  • p. 289: Mrs Culver: “(…) Men were meant by nature to be wicked and delightful and deceive their wives, and women were meant to be virtuous, and forgiving and to suffer verbosely. (…)”

Cakes and ale, William Somerset Maugham (1930)

(novel inspired by the life of Thomas Hardy)

01-03.02.2012

  • p. 90-91: “We know of course that women are habitually constipated, but to represent them in fiction as being altogether devoid of a back passage seems to me really an excess of chivalry.”

Ari: I know nobody who is so deliciously politically incorrect as WSM.

Prose will save our souls, not poetry.

  • p. 93:  “I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. For me no poet made a falser statement than Keats when he wrote the first line of Endymion. When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of tis sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy, it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian’s ‘Entombment of Christ’, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to  beauty – sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love – because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection [such is human nature] holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: ‘Qu’est-ce que ça prouve?‘ was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.
  • p. 93: ‘From what I hear she was absolutely promiscuous.’ ‘You don’t understand,’ I said, ‘She was a very simple woman. Her instincts were healthy and ingenuous. She loved to make people happy. She loved love.’ ‘Do you call that love?’ ‘Well, then, the act of love. She was naturally affectionate. When she liked anyone it was quite natural for her to go to bed with him. She never thought twice about it. It was not vice, it wasn’t lasciviousness, it was her nature. She gave herself as naturally as the sun gives heat and she liked to give pleasure to others. It had no effect on her character, she remained sincere, unspoiled, and artless.’ Mrs Driffield looked as though she had taken a dose of castor oil and had just been trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth by sucking a lemon. (…) ‘She was like a clear, deep pole in a forest glade into which it’s heavenly to plunge, but it is neither less cool nor less crystalline because a tramp and a gipsy and a gamekeeper have plunged into it before you.’. Roy laughed again, and this time Mrs Driffield without concealment smiled thinly. ‘It’s comic to hear you so lyrical,’ said Roy. I stiffled a sigh. I have noticed that when I am most serious people are apt to laugh at me, and indeed when after a lapse of time I have read passages that I wrote from the fullness of my heart I have been tempted to laugh at myself. It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.”

Of human bondage, William Somerset Maugham, 1915

06/26.05.2012

“Of human bondage” is first and foremost a book about jouissance, jouissance in the Lacanian sense. How it shapes human nature, but is seldom spoken about or discussed in any great work of philosophy. How it takes over one’s life, or threatens to. How you can’t fight it, not by any means of will or reason. But how you learn to do with it, with time and with damage, but with perspective nevertheless.

of human bondage

  • p. 127-128: “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the ruthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy, for the books they read, ideal by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life. They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all hey have been told are lies, lies, lies (…). The strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself.”
  • p. 228: “The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I were a free agent. But when an action is performed it is clear that all forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it, and nothing I could do  could have prevented it. It was inevitable. If it was good I can claim no merit; if it was bad I can accept no censure.”

voir Freud à propos du bonheur “Tout l’ordre de l’univers si oppose” (Malaise dans la civilisation)

Freud (1929: 20) dans Malaise dans la Civilisation[1]: « L’univers entier – le macrocosme aussi bien que le microcosme – cherche querelle à son programme [celui du principe du plaisir]. Celui-ci est absolument irréalisable; tout l’ordre de l’univers s’y oppose; on serait tenté de dire qu’il n’est point entré dans le plan de la « création » que l’homme soit heureux. ».



[1] Freud, S. (1929/1970). Malaise dans la Civilisation. traduction de Ch. et I. Odier, Revue Française de Psychanalyse, Tome XXXIV, PUF : 9-80.

"As we see, it is simply the pleasure-principle which draws up the programme of life’’s purpose. This
principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the very beginning; there can be no doubt
about its efficiency, and yet its programme is in conflict with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much
as with the microcosm. It simply cannot be put into execution, the whole constitution of things runs counter
to it; one might say the intention that man should be happy is not included in the scheme of Creation. What
is called happiness in its narrowest sense comes from the satisfaction——most often instantaneous——of pent-up
needs which have reached great intensity, and by its very nature can only be a transitory experience. When
any condition desired by the pleasure-principle is protracted, it results in a feeling only of mild comfort; we
are so constituted that we can only intensely enjoy contrasts, much less intensely states in themselves"

Freud, S.(1929/2000-2005). Civilization and its discontents, Chrysoma Associates Limited.
  • p. 245:”(…) he felt himself a fool not to have seen she was attractive. He thought he detected in her a touch of contempt for him, because he had not had the sense to see she was there (…)”
  •  p. 261:”They danced furiously. They danced round the room, slowly, talking very little, with all their attention given to the dance. The room was hot, and their faces shone with sweat. It seemed to Philip that they had throw off the guard which people wear on their expression, the homage to convention, and he saw them now as they really were, some were foxy and some were wolflike; and other had the long, foolish face of sheep. Their skins were sallow from the unhealthy life they led and the poor food they ate. Their  features were blunted by mean interests, and their little eyes were shifty and cunning. There was nothing of nobility in their bearing, and you felt that for all of them life was a long succession of petty concerns and sordid thoughts. The air was heavy with the musty smell of humanity. But they danced furiously as though impelled by some strange power within them, and it seemed to Philip that they were driven forward by a rage for enjoyment. They were seeking desperately to escape from a world of horror. The desire for pleasure which Cronshaw said was the only motive of human action urged them blindly on, and the very vehemence of the desire seemed to rob it of all pleasure. They were hurried by a great wind, helplessly, they knew not why and they know not whither. Fate seemed to tower above them, and they danced as though everlasting darkness were beneath their feet. Their silence was vaguely alarming. It was as if life terrified them and robbed them of power of speech so that the shriek which was in their hearts died at their throats. Their eyes were haggard and grim; and notwithstanding the beastly lust that disfigured them, and the meanness of their faces, and the cruelty, notwithstanding the stupidness which was worst of all, the anguish of those fixed eyes made all that crowd terrible and pathetic.”
  •  p. 265: “It seemed to Philip […] that in the true painters, writers, musicians there was a power which drove them to such complete absorption in their work as to make it inevitable for them to subordinate life to art. Succumbing to an influence they never realized, they were merely dupes of the instinct that possessed them, and life slipped through their fingers unlived.”
  •  p. 306: “He had thought of love as a rapture which seized one so that all the world seemed spring-like, he had looked forward to an ecstatic happiness; but this was not happiness; it was a hunger of the soul, it was painful yearning, it was a bitter anguish, he had never known before”
  •  p. 314: “He could not tell why he loved her. He had read of the idealization that takes place in love, but he saw her exactly as she was. She was not amusing or clever, her mind was common; she had a vulgar shrewdness. […] Philip laughed savagely as he thought of her gentility […] she could not bear a coarse word […] and she scented indecency everywhere […] she thought it slightly indelicate to blow her nose and did it in a deprecating way. She was dreadfully anemic and suffered from the dyspepsia which accompanied that ailing. Philip was repelled by her flat breast and narrow hips, and he hated the vulgar way in which she did her hair. He loathed and despised himself for loving her. The fact remained that he was helpless. He felt just as he had felt sometimes in the hands of a bigger boy at school. He had struggled against the superior strength till his own strength was gone, and he was rendered quite powerless – he remembered the peculiar languor he had felt in his limbs, almost as though he were paralysed – so that he could not help himself at all. He might have been dead. He felt just that same weakness now. He loved the woman so that he knew he had never loved before. He did not mind her faults of person or of character, he thought he loved them too: at all events they meant nothing to him. It did no seem himself that was concerned; he felt that he had been seized by some strange force that moved him against his will, contrary to his interests; and because he had a passion for freedom he hated the chains which bound him. He laughed at himself when he thought how often he had longed to experience the overwhelming passion. He cursed himself because he had given way to it.[…] The whole thing was his own fault. Except for his ridiculous vanity he would never have troubled himself with that ill-mannered slut.”
  •  p. 316-317: (as he is trying to take distance from his humiliating love for Mildred) “One thing that struck him was how little under those circumstances it mattered what one thought; the system of personal philosophy, which had given him great satisfaction to devise, had not served him. He was puzzled by this. (…) His instinct was not to go near the hospital for a week, when the affair would be no more thought of, but, because he hated so much to go just then, he went: he wanted to inflict suffering upon himself. He forgot for the moment his maxim of life to follow his inclinations with due regard for the policeman round the corner; or, if he acted in accordance with it, there must have been some strange morbidity in his nature which made him take a grim pleasure in self-torture.”
  •  p. 328: “It’s not much fun to be in love with a girl who has no imagination and no sense of humor,’ he thought, as he listened [to her].
  •  p. 330: “Though he yearned for Mildred so madly he despised her. He thought to himself that there could be no greater torture in the world than at the same time to love and to contemn.”
  •  p. 332: “He foresaw what Mildred, with her genteel ideas and her mean mind, would become: it was impossible for him to marry her. But he decided only with his reason; he felt that he must have her whatever happened; and if he could not get her without marrying her he would do that; the future could look after itself. It might end in disaster; he did not care. When he got hold of an idea it obsessed him, he could think of nothing else, and he had a more than common power to persuade himself of the reasonableness of what he wished to do. He found himself overthrowing all the sensible arguments which had occurred to him against marriage. Each day he found that he was more passionately devoted to her; and his unsatisfied love become angry and resentful.” (…)of-human-bondage

Philip: “You will marry me, won’t you?”

Mildred: “D’you think we should be happy?”

Philip: “No. But what does that matter?”

  •  p. 356-358: “He had long come to the conclusion that nothing amused him more than metaphysics, but he was not sure of their efficacy in the affairs of life. The neat little system which he had formed as a result of his meditations at Blackstable had not been of conspicuous use during his infatuation with Mildred. He could not be positive that reason was much of help in the conduct of life. It seemed to him that life lived itself. He remembered very vividly the violence of emotion which had possessed him and his inability, as if he were tied down to the ground with ropes, to react against it. He read many wise things in books, but he could only judge from his own experience (…); he did not calculate the pros and cons of an action, the benefits which must befall him if he did it, the harm which might result from the omission; but his whole being was urged on irresistibly. (…) The power that possessed him seemed to have nothing to do with reason; all that reason did was to point out the methods of obtaining what his whole soul was striving for.

Macalister reminded him of the Categorical Imperative:

“Act so that every action of yours should be capable of becoming  a universal rule of action for all men.”

“That seems to me perfect nonsense (…) It suggests that one choose one’s course by an effort of will. And it suggests that reason is the surest guide. (…)”

“You seem to be a contented slave of your passions.”

“A slave because I can’t help myself, but not a contented one,” laughed Philip.

  • While he spoke he thought of that hot madness which had driven him in pursuit of Mildred. He remembered how he had chafed against it and how he had felt the degradation of it. (…) When he was under the influence of passion he had felt a singular vigour, and his mind had worked with unwonted force. He was more alive, there was an excitement in sheer being, an eager vehemence of soul, which made life now a trifle dull. For all the misery he had endured there was a compensation in that sens of rushing, overwhelming existence. (…) “Well, I can’t say anything about other people. I can only speak for myself. The illusion of free will is so strong in my mind that I can’t get away from it, but I believe it is only an illusion. But it is an illusion which is one of the strongest motives om my actions. Before I do anything I feel that I  have choice, and that influences what I do, but afterward, when the thing is done, I believe it was inevitable from all eternity.”
  •  p. 372: “If he had any sense he would stick to Norah, she would make him much happier than he would ever be with Mildred; after all she loved him, and Mildred was only grateful for his help. But when all was said the important thing was to love rather than to be loved; and he yearned for Mildred with his whole soul. He would sooner have ten minutes with her than a whole afternoon with Norah, he prized one kiss of her cold lips more than all Norah could give him. “I can’t help myself,” he thought, “I’ve just got her in my bones.” He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would rather have misery with one than happiness with the other.”
  •  p. 403: “I wonder what it is I see in you,” he smiled. “That’s a nice thing to say,” she answered. Her body was so thin that one could almost see her skeleton. Her chest was as flat as a boy’s. Her mouth, with its narrow pale lips, was ugly, and her skin was faintly green.”
  • p. 424: “He did not know what it was that passed from a man to a woman, from a woman to a man, and made one of them a slave: it was convenient to call it the sexual instinct; but if it was no more than that, he did not understand why it should occasion so vehement an attraction to one person rather than another. It was irresistible: the mind could not battle with it; friendship, gratitude, interest, had no power beside it. Because he had not attracted Mildred sexually, nothing that he did had any effect upon her. The idea revolted him; it made human nature beastly; and he felt suddenly that the hearts of men were full of dark places.”
  •  p. 425: “She had a genteel refinement which shuddered at the facts of life, she looked upon the bodily functions as indecent, she had all sorts of euphemisms for common objects, she always chose an elaborate word as more becoming than a simple one: the brutality of these men was like a whip on her thin wide shoulders, and she shuddered with voluptuous pain.”
  •  p. 433: “It was not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one’s own absurdity.”
  •  p. 435: “It makes him feel rather wretched, you know.” “I can bear the trifling inconvenience that he feels with a good deal of fortitude.”, said Philip. “He’ll do anything he can to make it up.” “How childish and hysterical! Why should he care? I’m a very insignificant person, and he can do very well without my company.”
  • p. 485: “Philip had cultivated a certain disdain for idealism. He had always had a passion for life, and the idealism he had come across seemed to him for the most part a cowardly shrinking from it. The idealist withdrew himself, because he could not suffer the jostling of the human crowd; he had not the strength to fight and so called the battle vulgar; he was vain, and since his fellows would not take him at his own estimate, consoled himself with despising his fellows. For Philip this type was Hayward, fair, languid, too fat now and rather bald, still cherishing the remains of his good looks and still delicately proposing to do exquisite things in the uncertain future; and at the back of this were whisky and vulgar amours of the street. It was in reaction from what Hayward represented that Philip clamored for life as it stood; sordidness, vice, deformity, did not offed him; he declared that he wanted man in his nakedness; and he rubbed his hands when an instance came before him of meanness, cruelty, selfishness, or lust: that was the real thing. In Paris he had learned that there was neither ugliness nor beauty, but only truth: the search after beauty was sentimental. Had he not painted an advertisement of chocolat Menier in a landscape in order to escape from the tyranny of prettiness?  But here [the pictures of El Greco] he seemed to divine something new. He had been coming to it, all hesitating, for some time, but only now was conscious of the fact; he felt himself on the brink of a discovery. He felt vaguely that here was something better than the realism which he had adored; but certainly it was not the bloodless idealism which stepped aside from life in weakness; it was too strong; it was virile; it accepted life in all its vivacity, ugliness an beauty, squalor and heroism; it was realism still; but it was realism carried to some higher pitch, in which facts were transformed by the more vivid light in which they were seen. He seemed to see things more profoundly through the grave eyes of those dead noblemen of Castille; and the gestures of the saints, which at first had seemed wild and distorted, appeared to have some mysterious significance. But he could not tell what that significance was. It was like a message which it was very important to receive, but it was given him in an unknown tongue, and he could not understand. He was always seeking for a meaning in life, and here it seemed to him that a meaning was offered; but it was obscure and vague. He was profoundly troubled. He saw what looked like the truth by flashes of lightning on a dark, stormy night you might see a mountain range. He seemed to see that a man need not leave his life to chance, but that his will was powerful; he seemed to see that self-control might be as passionate and as active as the surrender to passion; he seemed to see that the inward life might be as manifold, as varied, as rich with experience, as the life of one who conquered realms and explored unknown lands.”

 

  • p. 509: Toward the end of his second term as in-patient’s clerk,

a piece of good fortune befell Philip.

 

Ari: I think there are two occurrences of this little sentence ‘a piece of good fortune befell him’ in the book (I can’t find the other one) and they always go like that: ‘on this precise place and time’, ‘a (little) piece of good fortune befell him’, and it is something not that extraordinary at first sight (here, for example, it is when he first encounters someone who’ll become a close friend). But this little sentence, which would almost go unnoticed is, what saves Philip, what saves the book and what saves mankind: we are taken by jouissance, we are under the spell of some script which was written before and for us, but then not all is said and the play is not played before we have said our last word and before we have played the play till the end. Indeed, on some precise moment and on some precise place, unforeseen by the script, a little piece of good (or sometimes also bad) luck may befell us. This pertains also to Derrida’s difference between ‘futur’ and ‘avenir’ : the future is already written, the ‘avenir’ is what will fall upon us, unforeseen.

 

  •  p. 543: “Philip wondered what it was that made people do things which were so contrary to all their theories of life. (…) It looked as though men were puppets in the hands of an unknown force, which drove them to do this and that; and sometimes they used their reason to justify their actions; and when this was impossible they did the actions in despite of reason.”
  • p. 586: “Philip thought that in throwing over the desire for happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realized that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as all the other details of his life came in, to the elaboration of the design. He seemed for an instant to stand above the accidents of his existence, and he felt that they could not affect him again as they had done before. Whatever happened to him now would be more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached he would rejoice in its completion. It would become a work of art (…).”

Ari: Mind it, it is not happiness which people strive for. A human being can stand a huge amount of unhappiness and live just as well. But what is at stake in life, is that it might make sense, that it makes sense to live. No happiness can make up for sense, but sense can make up for quite some unhappiness. To go for happiness is to make the wrong bet. Voir aussi Romain Gary (La Vie devant soi, 1975): “Mais je tiens pas tellement à être heureux, je préfère encore la vie. Le bonheur, c’est une belle ordure et une peau de vache et il faudrait lui apprendre à vivre. On est pas du même bord, lui et moi, et j’ai rien à en foutre. J’ai encore jamais fait de politique parce que ça profite toujours à quelqu’un, mais le bonheur, il devrait y avoir des lois pour l’empêcher de faire le salaud. Je dis seulement comme je le pense et j’ai peut-être tort, mais c’est pas moi qui irais me piquer pour être heureux. “.

  • p. 599: “Phlip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than unending labor, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just to be accepted in the same spirit as one accepts the changes of the seasons. Fury seized him because it all seemed useless. He could not reconcile himself to the belief that life had no meaning and yet everything he saw, all his thoughts, added to the force of his conviction.But though fury seized him it was a joyful fury. Life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and he faced it with a strange sense of power.”
  • p. 600: “A feeling of disgust surged up in him at the thought of seeing her again. He did not care if she was in distress, it served her right whatever it was; he thought of her with hatred, and the love he had had for her aroused his loathing. His recollections filled him with nausea, and as he walked across the Thames he drew himself aside in an instinctive withdrawal from his thought of her. He went to bed, but he could not sleep; he wondered what was the matter with her, and he could not get out of his head the fear that she was ill and hungry; she would not have written to him unless she was desperate. He was angry with himself for his weakness, but he knew that he would have no peace unless he saw her.”
  • p. 623: “He almost regretted the penury which he had suffered during the last two years, since the desperate struggle merely to keep body and soul together had deadened the pain of living. In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread: it was not a curse upon mankind, but the balm which reconciled it to existence. But Philip was impatient with himself; he called to mind his idea of the pattern of life: the unhappiness he had suffered was no more than part of a decoration which was elaborate and beautiful; he told himself strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the design.”.
  • p. 679: “It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”