I was on Facebook earlier this evening and saw the avatar of Luke Anderson, one of my best friends. He committed suicide almost three years ago, but apparently no one has notified Facebook that he has passed. So his profile lingers on, an eerie log of the last year or two of his life.
Reading through our wall-to-wall, I came across this post, which was probably the best indictment of me circa 2007.
“hey im dave michael. oh, shoot, instead of watching that movie tonight, im going to edit 5 papers that people asked me to review because i dont know how to say no. then i am going to read camus until my head explodes.”
-Updike, From “Endpoint”
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
“I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.” —Auden, from “In Praise of Limestone”
[via Gary Shteyngart’s story, Lenny Hearts Eunice.]
Roger Ebert, from his blog entry on Twitter.
Though I don’t spend nearly as much time on the internet as Ebert, I do think my ability to concentrate, and be soothed, by books has diminished as a result of the internet.
Jeffrey Eugenides recently published a great short story in the New Yorker that revolves around two students who fall in love after meeting in a theory class at Brown. Eugenides pretty much pegs every undergrad student of continental philosophy or lit crit that I’ve ever met:
Leonard was kissing her. When she could bear no more, Madeleine grabbed him savagely by his ears. She pulled Leonard’s head away and held it still to show him the evidence of how she felt (she was crying now). In a hoarse voice edged with something else, a sense of peril, Madeleine said, “I love you.”
Leonard stared back at her. His eyebrows twitched. Suddenly, he rolled sideways off the mattress. He stood up and walked, naked, across the room. Crouching, he reached into her bag and pulled out “A Lover’s Discourse.” He flipped the pages until he found the one he wanted. Then he returned to the bed and handed the book to her.
I Love You
je-t’-aime / I-love-you
As she read these words, Madeleine was flooded with happiness. She glanced up at Leonard, smiling. With his finger, he motioned for her to keep going. The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal, but to the repeated utterance of the love cry. Suddenly Madeleine’s happiness diminished, usurped by the feeling of peril. She wished she weren’t naked. She narrowed her shoulders and covered herself with the bedsheet as she obediently read on.
Once the first avowal has been made, “I love you” has no meaning whatever.
Leonard, squatting, had a smirk on his face.
It was then that Madeleine threw the book at his head.
When I read this, I was reminded of Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening,” which like the Barthes passage Eugenides’s character quotes, has the same sort of deflating turn, and which, were I the character of Leonard, would have been what I would have quoted:
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror?
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.