the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

on the battlefield of self-definition

Posted by rigorousm on November 29, 2012

The woman thought a moment; her voice came up through her bandaged face afflicted with subterranean melodies:

“I’m sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle.”

“To your vast surprise it was just like all battles,” he answered, adopting her formal diction.

“Just like all battles.” She thought this over. “You pick a set- up, or else win a Pyrrhic victory, or you’re wrecked and ruined — you’re a ghostly echo from a broken wall.”

“You are neither wrecked nor ruined,” he told her. “Are you quite sure you’ve been in a real battle?”

“Look at me!” she cried furiously.

“You’ve suffered, but many women suffered before they mistook themselves for men.” It was becoming an argument and he retreated. “In any case you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.”

She sneered. “Beautiful words,” and the phrase transpiring up through the crust of pain humbled him.

“We would like to go into the true reasons that brought you here —” he began but she interrupted.

“I am here as a symbol of something. I thought perhaps you would know what it was.”

“You are sick,” he said mechanically.

“Then what was it I had almost found?”

“A greater sickness.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.” With disgust he heard himself lying, but here and now the vastness of the subject could only be compressed into a lie. “Outside of that there’s only confusion and chaos. I won’t lecture to you — we have too acute a realization of your physical suffering. But it’s only by meeting the problems of every day, no matter how trifling and boring they seem, that you can make things drop back into place again. After that — perhaps you’ll be able again to examine —”

He had slowed up to avoid the inevitable end of his thought: “— the frontiers of consciousness.” The frontiers that artists must explore were not for her, ever. She was fine-spun, inbred — eventually she might find rest in some quiet mysticism. Exploration was for those with a measure of peasant blood, those with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, on every inch of flesh and spirit.

— Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, ch 39

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