Body Over Mind

I am going to talk at some length about my body. I am going to talk about it so much that you will think at first that I am neglecting the mind entirely. The omission is quite intentional; it is how it was. I don’t have the strength the lead a dual life, I said to myself. I’ll think about the life of the mind later, when I’m feeling better.

— André Gide, The Immoralist

I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself

I didn’t believe I had tuberculosis. I preferred to attribute my first haemorrhage to a different cause. To tell the truth, I didn’t attribute it to anything at all, I avoided having to think about it, did not, in fact, think about it much, and considered myself, if not cured, then at least well on the road to recovery . . . I read the letter, I devoured the books and the pamphlets. Suddenly it became frighteningly obvious to me that I had not been looking after myself as I should. Until then I had been drifting along, trusting in the vaguest hopes. Suddenly I saw my life under attack, vilely assaulted at its very heart. An active enemy was living and breeding inside me. I could hear it, observe it, feel it. I wouldn’t beat it without a fight . . . and I added out loud, as if to convince myself more fully: it’s a matter of willpower.

I placed myself on a war footing.

Dusk was falling. I planned my strategy. For the time being, my studies would concentrate solely on my cure, my only duty was to my health. I would identify as good only those things that were salutary to me, forget, reject anything that did not contribute to my cure. By supper-time I had made resolutions concerning breathing, exercise and diet. [. . . .]

I couldn’t sleep that night, so stimulated was I by the thought of my new-found virtues. I think I had a touch of fever. I had a bottle of mineral water by the bed. I drank a glass, then another; on the third occasion, I drank straight from the bottle, emptying it on one go. I went over my new resolve in my head, as if learning a lesson: I honed my hostility, directed it at all and sundry. I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself.

Finally, I saw the sky lighten; the day dawned.

It had been my vigil before the battle.

The next day was Sunday. I must confess that, prior to that, I had taken no interest in Marceline’s religious beliefs. Whether out of indifference or embarrassment, I had thought that it was none of my business; besides, I didn’t attach any importance to the matter. That day Marceline went to mass. I learned when she came back that she had prayed for me. I looked her in the eye, then, as gently as I could, said:

‘There’s no need to pray for me, Marceline.’

‘Why not?’ she asked, a little troubled.

‘I don’t like special favors.’

‘You would reject God’s help?’

‘I would have to be grateful to him. It creates obligations, and I don’t want any.’

Though we made light of it, neither of us was in any doubt about the seriousness of what we said.

‘You won’t get better on your own, my poor darling,’ she sighed.

‘Then so be it . . .’ Then, noticing her sad expression, I added, less abruptly, ‘You will help me.’

— André Gide, The Immoralist


The dance of sex: If one had no other reason for choosing to subscribe to Freud, what could be more charming than to believe that the whole vaudeville of the world, the entire dizzy circus of history, is but a fancy mating dance? That dictators burn Jews and businessmen vote Republican, that helmsmen steer ships and ladies play bridge, that girls study grammar and boys engineering all at the behest of the Absolute Genital? When the synthesizing mood is upon one, what is more soothing than to assert that this one simple yen of humankind, poor little coitus, alone gives rise to cities and monasteries, paragraphs and poems, foot races and battle tactics, metaphysics and hydroponics, trade unions and universities? Who would not delight in telling some extragalactic tourist, “On our planet, sir, males and females copulate. Moreover, they enjoy copulating. But for various reasons they cannot do this whenever, wherever, and with whomever they choose. Hence all this running around you observe. Hence the world”? A therapeutic notion!

— John Barth, The End of the Road

Cincinnatus’s Lawyer and the Lost Trifle

And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell. It was plain that he was upset by the loss of that precious object. It was plain. The loss of the object upset him. The object was precious. He was upset by the loss of the object.

— Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading

The Last Laugh of the Medusa

At the end of a more or less conscious computation, she finds not her sum but her differences. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking.

— Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975, 1976)