Tag Archives: hate

Mind At The Mercy of Multiplicity

Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It’s meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.
– Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days (65)

DSCI0018I was given this most interesting book by a very old woman that I work for. The meditations and musings of Florida Scott-Maxwell: born in 1883, she barely attended school and yet was a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote books and plays and even became, in her forties, an analytical psychologist studying under Carl Jung.  The Measure of My Days, was written when she was in her eighties; the subjects in her mind were aging, death, life, God, love, hate and meaning. Old people, as she put it, “are people to whom something important is about to happen.” (138)

I used to  find it difficult to talk to people newly met. Speech felt precipitate. A silent knowing should come first, sitting, smiling, holding hands, dancing perhaps without words, but talking is too committal for a beginning. (30)

The above quote arrested me, firstly for its succinct charm, summing up how many people, like myself, feel and second for her use of the words “used to.” I hate the difficulty in myself, but gradually I sometimes have a feeling that it is slowly falling away.  I love the confirmation that that could be true. Scott-Maxwell, writing at her ripe age, mostly worried about shocking people with what she considered her most passionate years.

To me the pigeons say, “Too true, dear love, too true” I listened, looked out on the trees beyond both windows and I was free and happy. (123)

I may never hear a pigeon any other way. A deeply religious woman, but also honest and human. She was not above feeling hate, shame, or love.  Above all, the most fascinating quality about this book is that she was a woman, and wrote as a woman, both overtly and instinctively. Which is not to say there are elements of maternal earth-mother or, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar stereotypes, rather it is an unusual absence of the male perspective that we are all trained to think under—a palatable freedom from the male paradigm. She was who she was. She wrote as she thought and didn’t ask, or expect, you to agree. But it is as if the syntax of the male dominated domain of the intellect is slightly off, and it is lovely.

My answers must be my own, years of reading now lost in the abyss I call my mind. (7I)

For good and bad, she acknowledges a kind of radical understanding that the things that delineate us, not just male/female but: income, race, religion, intelligence, and luck- these things  include inequalities, yet describe individuals. We are none of us alike. That is life.  But in every life, by every means of measurement, there is a profound gestalt.  Florida Scott-Maxwell achieves that and more in her beautifully powerful final book.

*title from page 19 – I am awareness at the mercy of multiplicity.

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Pessimism’s Cynosure

He no longer slept. His days were filled with aimless haste. In the evenings he would consider his pointless activity.
-Joseph Roth, The Spider’s Web (60)

DSCI0022In The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa there is a line that stuck itself in my memory: I’m not a pessimist, I’m sad. The German author, Joseph Roth on the other hand, at least based on the books I have read of his, is very much a pessimist. And never was pessimism so thoroughly justified as in the novella The Spider’s Web.

Theodore let them into the courtyard. Once in, they started shouting. They pushed against the walls, window panes tinkled pathetically. (49)

I found that sentence arresting. Here is one of the pinnacle moments of the story, when Theodore enjoys his act of “heroism” that his career publicly rests upon, and the window panes tinkle pathetically. The fragility of his persona, the silliness of ambition, and the depressing disgust of confronting such an odious man as Theodore is so completely expressed in those four words- it quite awes me.

He must not think too long. Reflection weakens decision. There is no time. (62)

I couldn’t help comparing Theodore to other contemptible men of literature while reading this book. Like Dosoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, Theodore is smart, but not so smart as to risk the reflection and contemplative philosophizing that is central to Crime and Punishment as well as to Raskolnikov’s final redemption. Yet, he is smarter and more power-hungry than Gorky’s protagonist in Life of a Useless Man, which makes him a lot scarier. The chilling combination of the historical time period of Germany, in the upward climb of Nazism, with a half-clever, ambitious sociopath is disturbing. The political atmosphere simply makes a riper ground for sprouting the ubiquitous depravity of human beings- speaking pessimistically, of course.

There are evenings, thought Theodore, when people must perforce be good, as if under a spell. (68)

Published in 1923, between wars, this book is a frightening bit of divination of the answer to- not so much:why, but, what?- what is the thought process of the truly hateful?

Roth creates the story with the rhythm and punctuation of the segments of a spider’s web. The sentences are short, concise, and well organized. The spider unthinkingly weaves his web, forgetting how vulnerable he really is, forgetting that there are one thousand and one more spiders ready to build on top of his stupid web at a moment’s opportunity. But Theodore won’t, can’t really, think about it. There’s no time.

Horribly awake, he saw all the events of the night before. He fought against them in vain. He tried to erase them. They simply had not taken place. He began to think of all sorts of unrelated matters. He conjugated a Greek verb. (13)

In this novel of betrayal, even one’s own mind is suspect.