The transcendent petty vs. the tantalizing escapism of the grim truth tellers

Philosophical romanciers and romantic philosophers: my mode of consumption is the same for for both. Stern analyses of the functioning of inner selves and outer realities should somehow prepare one to briskly engage with the world, but there’s nothing like these sort of  severe existentialisms (find them in your more literary 19th c. philosophical volumes [German, Danish]; find them in lengthy novels of ideas [German, Russian]) but a mode of thumbsucking seclusion seems to be what they foster in me.

Truth pursuit, bubblebaths, holy fools, pots of tea.

Schopenhauer once again gets a special mention.  The sternest exhortations to ego transcendence, but it goes so well with pajamas and chamomile (and a grim expression).

Noteworthy that reading Schopenhauer in one’s (metaphorical) pajamas actually becomes a central theme in some of his somewhat more recent followers: Bernhardt (decaying aristocrats reading Schopenhauer in reclusion in their decaying castles[Gargoyles]) and Houellebecq (midlife-crisised Frenchmen with Schopenhauer in one hand, the print edition of the 3 Suisses lingerie supplement in the other, and a mouthful of Tunisian pastries [all of it]).

But to get back to my blog’s recent preoccupation with Henry James, though–James feels like Zen gardening by comparison: hyperdisciplined, slower-than-real-time picking apart of the finest transitions in emotional and interpersonal states: ones specific to the fictional characters’ often petty concerns; any broader existential sweep perhaps a side effect. This regardless of the subject matter of social slights and small scale marital contretemps.   “Pause” is such a frequent word.  Everything slows or stops at some moment and that moment’s crossing influences (social, psychological) are picked apart and examined and painstakingly compared and contrasted.  Golden Bowl, The wealthy industrialist with many levels of internal conflict over his daughter’s marriage (Note the pauses within pauses: he pauses to remember the instants and miniepiphanies stacking up on each other and finally the vistas in the fireplace):

Before such a question, as before several others when they recurred, he would come to a pause, leaning his arms on the old parapet and losing himself in a far excursion. He had as to so many of the matters in hand a divided view, and this was exactly what made him reach out, in his unrest, for some idea, lurking in the vast freshness of the night, at the breath of which disparities would submit to fusion, and so, spreading beneath him, make him feel that he floated. What he kept finding himself return to, disturbingly enough, was the reflection, deeper than anything else, that in forming a new and intimate tie he should in a manner abandon, or at the best signally relegate, his daughter. He should reduce to definite form the idea that he had lost her—as was indeed inevitable—by her own marriage; he should reduce to definite form the idea of his having incurred an injury, or at the best an inconvenience, that required some makeweight and deserved some amends. And he should do this the more, which was the great point, that he should appear to adopt, in doing it, the sentiment, in fact the very conviction, entertained, and quite sufficiently expressed, by Maggie herself, in her beautiful generosity, as to what he had suffered—putting it with extravagance—at her hands. If she put it with extravagance the extravagance was yet sincere, for it came—which she put with extravagance too—from her persistence, always, in thinking, feeling, talking about him, as young. He had had glimpses of moments when to hear her thus, in her absolutely unforced compunction, one would have supposed the special edge of the wrong she had done him to consist in his having still before him years and years to groan under it. She had sacrificed a parent, the pearl of parents, no older than herself: it wouldn’t so much have mattered if he had been of common parental age. That he wasn’t, that he was just her extraordinary equal and contemporary, this was what added to her act the long train of its effect. Light broke for him at last, indeed, quite as a consequence of the fear of breathing a chill upon this luxuriance of her spiritual garden. As at a turn of his labyrinth he saw his issue, which opened out so wide, for the minute, that he held his breath with wonder. He was afterwards to recall how, just then, the autumn night seemed to clear to a view in which the whole place, everything round him, the wide terrace where he stood, the others, with their steps, below, the gardens, the park, the lake, the circling woods, lay there as under some strange midnight sun. It all met him during these instants as a vast expanse of discovery, a world that looked, so lighted, extraordinarily new, and in which familiar objects had taken on a distinctness that, as if it had been a loud, a spoken pretension to beauty, interest, importance, to he scarce knew what, gave them an inordinate quantity of character and, verily, an inordinate size. This hallucination, or whatever he might have called it, was brief, but it lasted long enough to leave him gasping. The gasp of admiration had by this time, however, lost itself in an intensity that quickly followed—the way the wonder of it, since wonder was in question, truly had been the strange DELAY of his vision. He had these several days groped and groped for an object that lay at his feet and as to which his blindness came from his stupidly looking beyond. It had sat all the while at his hearth-stone, whence it now gazed up in his face.

Excruciating sometimes, brilliant sometimes, its self-possessed unaccommodating nature forcing me out of myself and so the opposite of the Schopenhauer contingent’s inescapable, involuting vortices.

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One comment on “The transcendent petty vs. the tantalizing escapism of the grim truth tellers
  1. […] expressed a fondness for the intimate psychologizing of Henry James but similar efforts can feel suffocating […]

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