Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nutshell by Ian McEwan


Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space--were it not that I have bad dreams.   Shakespeare, Hamlet


So here I am, upside down in a woman.


Let me summon it, that moment of creation that arrived with my first concept. Long ago, many weeks ago, my neural groove closed upon itself to become my spine and my many million young neurons, busy as silkworms, spun and wove from their trailing axons the gorgeous golden fabric of my first idea, a notion so simple it partly eludes me now. Was it me? Too self-loving. Was it now? Overly dramatic. Then something antecedent to both, containing both, a single word mediated by a mental sigh or swoon of acceptance, of pure being, something like--this? Too precious. So, getting closer, my idea was To be. Or if not that, its grammatical variant, is. This was my aboriginal notion and here's the crux--is. Just that. In the spirit of Ex muss sein. The beginning of conscious life was the end of illusion, the illusion of non-being, and the eruption of the real.


Instead, he hopes to succeed by kindness and self-effacing sensitivity to her needs. I hope to be wrong, but I think he'll doubly fail, for she'll go on despising him for being weak, and he'll suffer even more than he should.


We'll always be troubled by how things are--that's how it stands with the difficult gift of consciousness.


But here's life's most limiting truth--it's always now, always here, never then and there.


Adversity forced awareness on us, and it works, it bites us when we go too near the fire, when we love too hard. Those felt sensations are the beginning of the invention of the self.

God said, Let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.


"Seizing the law into your own hands--it's old hat, reserved for elderly feuding Albanians and subsections of tribal Islam. Revenge is dead. Hobbes was right, my young friend. The state must have a monopoly of violence, a common power to keep us all in awe."

Words, as I am beginning to appreciate, can make things true.


Only satisfied desire could have freed him.

Each of us, from each different point of view, is gripped by what's not being said.


But it won't end, the bad will be endless, until ending badly will seem a blessing.


The man who obliterates my mother between the sheets obeys like a dog. Sex, I begin to understand, is its own mountain kingdom, secret and intact. In the valley below we know only rumors.


A toast to love and therefore to death, to Eros and Thanatos. It appears to be a given of intellectual life, that when two notions are sufficiently far apart or opposed, they are said to be profoundly linked. Since death is opposed to everything in life, various couplings are proposed. Art and death. Nature and death. Worryingly, birth and death. And joyously iterated, love and death. On this last and from where I am, no two notions could be more mutually irrelevant. The dead love no one, nothing. As soon as I am out and about I might try my hand at a monograph. The world cries out for fresh-faced empiricists.


However close you get to others, you can never get inside of them, even when you're inside of them.

But it's hard to be separate from her when I need her. And with such churning of emotion, need translates to love, like milk to butter.


Lovers arrive at their first kisses with scars as well as longings. They're not always looking for advantage. Some need shelter, others press only for the hyperreality of ecstasy, for which they'll tell outrageous lies or make irrational sacrifice. But they rarely ask themselves what they need or want. Memories are poor for past failures. Childhoods shine through adult skin, helpfully or not. So do the laws of inheritance that bind a personality. The lovers don't know there's no free will.


a wonderful passage on revenge, which you need to read in context.


No one exclaims at the moment of one's dazzling coming-out, It's a person! Instead: It's a girl, It's a boy. Pink or blue--a minimal improvement of Henry Ford's offer of cars of any color so long as they were black. Only two sexes. I was disappointed. If human bodies, minds, fates are so complex, if we are free like no other mammal, why limit the range?

A strange mood has seized the almost-educated young. They're on the march, angry at times, but mostly needful, longing for authority's blessing, its validation of their chosen identities.

I'll feel, therefore I'll be.

Feeling is queen. Unless she identifies as king.


She's memorising her memories.


A voice on the radio once told me that when we fully understand what matter is we'll feel better. I doubt that. I'll never get what I want.


And I'm thinking about our prison cell--I hope it's not too small--and beyond its heavy door, worn steps ascending: first sorrow, then justice, then meaning. The rest is chaos.

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