The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy

by Mark Dorset


The Soul

Robert Musil on the dawn of the perception of the soul:

“He presses on through life and leaves lived life behind . . . and his path in the end resembles the path of a woodworm: no matter how it corkscrews forward or even backward, it always leaves an empty space behind it.  And this horrible feeling of a blind, cutoff space behind the fullness of everything, this half that is always missing even when everything is a whole, this is what eventually makes one perceive what one calls the soul.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
(translated by Sophie Wilkins)
“Pseudoreality Prevails” Chapter 45

Georges Perec on the craft of making visible the invisible path of the woodworm:

“Grifalconi shook his head.  In one of the attics in Château de la Muette he had found the remains of a table.  Its oval top, wonderfully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, was exceptionally well preserved; but its base, a massive, spindle-shaped column of grained wood, turned out to be completely worm-eaten.  The worms had done their work in covert, subterranean fashion, creating innumerable ducts and microscopic channels now filled with pulverized wood.  No sign of this insidious labor showed on the surface.  Grifalconi saw that the only way of preserving the original base—hollowed out as it was, it could no longer support the weight of the top—was to reinforce it from within; so once he had completely emptied the canals of their wood dust by suction, he set about injecting them with an almost liquid mixture of lead, alum, and asbestos fiber.  The operation was successful; but it quickly became apparent that, even thus strengthened, the base was too weak, and Grifalconi had to resign himself to replacing it.  It was after he had done this that he thought of dissolving what was left of the original wood so as to disclose the fabulous arborescence within, this exact record of the worms’ life inside the wooden mass: a static, mineral accumulation of all the movements that had constituted their blind existence, their undeviating single-mindedness, their obstinate itineraries; the faithful materialization of all they had eaten and digested as they forced from their dense surroundings the invisible elements needed for their survival, the explicit, visible, immeasurably disturbing image of the endless progressions that had reduced the hardest of woods to an impalpable network of crumbling galleries.
  Georges Perec
  Life: A User’s Manual

Diderot on the soul as a dark cavern:

“It was [Diderot’s] impression (broadly Freudian, one might say) that every tendency was to be found in the heart: noble, base, healthy, perverse, exalted, lustful and homicidal.  Thus virtue was a matter of self-censorship.  This, he once told Mme Necker [in a letter written in the autumn of 1770], was the ‘secret history’ of the soul.  ‘It is a dark cavern, inhabited by all sorts of beneficent and maleficent beasts.  The wicked man opens the cavern door and lets out only the latter.  The man of good will does the opposite.’ ”
P. N. Furbank, Diderot: A Critical Biography

Milan Kundera on the soul and sentimentality:

“Homo sentimentalis cannot be defined as a man with feelings (for we all have feelings), but as a man who has raised feelings to a category of value.  As soon as feelings are seen as a value, everyone wants to feel; and because we all like to pride ourselves on our values, we have a tendency to show off our feelings. . . . No one revealed homo sentimentalis as lucidly as Cervantes.  Don Quixote decides to love a certain lady named Dulcinea, in spite of the fact that he hardly knows her (this comes as no surprise, because we know that when it’s a question of wahre Liebe, true love, the beloved hardly matters).  In chapter twenty-five of Book One, he leaves with Sancho for the remote mountains, where he wishes to demonstrate to him the greatness of his passion.  But how to show someone else that your soul is on fire?  Especially someone as dull and naïve as Sancho?  And so when they find themselves on a mountain path, Don Quixote strips off all his clothes except for his shirt, and to demonstrate to his servant the immensity of his passion he proceeds to turn somersaults.  Each time he is upside down, his shirt slides down to his shoulders and Sancho gets a glimpse of his sex.  The sight of the knight’s small, virginal member is so comically sad, so heartrending, that Sancho, in spite of his callous heart, cannot bear to look at it any longer, mounts Rosinante, and gallops off. . . . It is part of the definition of feeling that it is born in us without our will, often against our will.  As soon as we want to feel (decide to feel, just as Don Quixote decided to love Dulcinea), feeling is no longer feeling but an imitation of feeling, a show of feeling.  This is commonly called hysteria.  That’s why homo sentimentalis (a person who has raised feeling to a value) is in reality identical to homo hystericus.”
Milan Kundera, Immortality

Peter Leroy on the soul as an inflatable gas bag:

“Beauty was my pump of choice, the ultimate blow job.  It filled me with helium and nitrous oxide, lifting gas and laughing gas, lifted me out of time for a while, and filled me with joy.  So I sought beauty.  I relished it; it blew me up; I was, as the song says, a fool for it.  I sought it in art and music and sunsets and moonlight.  Some people said that the capacity for being amazed and delighted by beauty resided in “the soul,” so I supposed that I had begun to develop a very fine soul, and I seemed to feel it swelling in my chest when under the influence of beauty. 
    “However, at some point toward the end of my adolescence I became embarrassed by my affection for beauty and by my tendency to become so quickly and fully inflated in the presence of it.  I felt that I was in danger of becoming an aesthete, one of those people who is inflated by his own marvelous susceptibility to inflation, one, ultimately, who inflates himself, a blowfish. 
    “So I trained myself to play the cynic in the presence of beauty.  I sneered at it and at the swooning blimps who rhapsodized about it and at the inflationary works that pumped them full of it.  If I had a soul, it seemed to me to be a liability.  Applying the wisdom behind the slang of blow up, I concluded that the soul must be an inflatable bladder full of hot air, something I neither needed nor wanted.”
Inflating a Dog, Chapter 20

P. G. Wodehouse on what is required to achieve a fusion of souls:

If Muriel had hoped that a mutual esteem would spring up between her father and her betrothed during this week-end visit, she was doomed to disappointment. The thing was a failure from the start. Sacheverell’s host did him extremely well, giving him the star guest room, the Blue Suite, and bringing out the oldest port for his benefit, but it was plain that he thought little of the young man. The colonel’s subjects were sheep (in sickness and in health), manure, wheat, mangold-wurzels, huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’; while Sacheverell was at his best on Proust, the Russian Ballet, Japanese prints, and the influence of James Joyce on the younger Bloomsbury novelists. There was no fusion between these men’s souls. Colonel Branksome did not actually bite Sacheverell in the leg, but when you had said that you had said everything.
     Muriel was deeply concerned.
     “I’ll tell you what it is, Dogface,” she said, as she was seeing her loved one to his train on the Monday, “we’ve got off on the wrong foot. The male parent may have loved you at sight, but, if he did, he took another look and changed his mind.”
     “I fear we were not exactly en rapport,” sighed Sacheverell. “Apart from the fact that the mere look of him gave me a strange, sinking feeling, my conversation seemed to bore him.”
     “You didn’t talk about the right things.”
     “I couldn’t. I know so little of mangold-wurzels. Manure is a sealed book to me.”
P. G. Wodehouse, Mulliner Nights, “The Voice from the Past”
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Herb ’n’ Lorna
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Reservations Recommended
Reservations Recommended
Little Follies
Little Follies
Where Do You Stop?
Where Do You Stop?
What a Piece of Work I Am
What a Piece of Work I Am
At Home with the Glynns
At Home with the Glynns
Leaving Small's Hotel
Leaving Small's Hotel
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Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric Kraft

A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author

Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.