by Mark Dorset
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.”
“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.
“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.’ ”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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|Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric
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.
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