Tuesday, 16 November 2010


That's Rilke in the lower right, Lou Andreas beside him.

I love and, to a degree, sympathise with these two quotes of Walter Benjamin's: (1.)'Every time I've experienced love, I've undergone a change so fundamental that I've amazed myself' and (2.) 'A genuine love makes me resemble the woman I love.'

As I'm writing and conceiving of a novel (Heartbreak City) with a female protagonist, I've also been thinking a lot about Jung's idea of the anima--or the unconcious female within all men (women, according to Jung, have an equivalent male animus). This hidden, often disassociated version of oneself.

'Speak to yourself, speak--perhaps she will answer you as you yourself'--Elias Canetti, Notes from Hampstead

Months back, I actually had this idea about Janus faces, only with one face pointed outward, the other within: our public face, the one we try to project, the one we recognize in the mirror. And our inner-face, of the opposite sex, which looks in rather than out. How startling it might therefore be when we catch glimmers of that inner-face in those we are attracted to, those we desire, because they show us who we are, really. Then I discovered that Jung had already had this idea.

I've also been toying with a comedic short story in which a man awakes, Samsa-like, and suddenly realises he's become his wife. It may be too Philip Roth, though:

It was a November morning when Paul awoke to find that he had turned into someone else.

First the warmth of the sheets, the un-sunken feel of the mattress. He rolled across the bed, clutching at the emptiness where his wife typically slept beside him. Cold mornings like this, he had always counted on her. They tended to drift and cleave together, like tectonic plates, for a few minutes before rising. Always her back to his front. But on this day she was no longer there, there was nothing where she should be; his hands, tugging at the sheets, delimited the contours of a twin-sized mattress.

There was a foreign taste in his mouth too and he was having trouble focussing. Was he drunk, he wondered? He winced and awaited certain pains to throttle him out of bed. His bad knee. The crick in his back.

No, he was groggy, his head was full of unfamiliar sensations, a style of dizziness, but he wasn’t unwell. In fact, he felt lighter than usual, cosier in himself, as if bundled up. He was not only wearing pyjamas, he noticed, but also socks. The suppleness of his body in this warmth felt like temptation itself. He pawed and clutched and groaned his wife’s name.

The sound of his voice immediately felt both wrong and familiar, like a distant echo pre-empting its source. It seemed to come from higher up in his face, resounding less in his throat than at the back of his jaw.

She was here, he thought. Her voice, her smell, her presence—but it was all confused, distorted. It felt to him like being forced to look at someone too close in the face, unable to step back.

He growled and, sitting up, immediately felt the bodily difference. Hair fell fuzzily, weightily over his shoulders. He was more compact: there was less to him, and yet so much more. Breasts, though small, imbalanced his posture. Then the absence in his groin sent him stumbling for the shower—but the room was all wrong too. He stumbled over things—books, shoes—not his own, not even his wife’s as far as he could tell. He upset a small wooden box on a low table, spilling paperclips and a strip of condoms. Unfamiliar pictures decorated the walls around him: a Morandi poster, a pre-Raphaelite maiden staring askance at him.

A calendar? Who put a calendar up in their bedroom?

He kept shouting his wife’s name and hearing her shout for him. The part of him that typically spoke was now missing and in its place he found nothing but his wife.

The bathroom was that of a young woman—boxes of tampons, a horde of make-up, perfume, creams and ablutions—and it wasn’t until he looked in the mirror that he realised whose bathroom it was.

His wife was suddenly staring back at him (with a shocked look on her face that made him want, immediately, to protect her, to hold her, to put things right), but this was not the wife he knew. Not exactly: this was the wife he’d only seen in photo albums. A foreigner, a stranger: his wife before he knew her. Sarah before she knew Paul. Somehow, her ghostly non-existence was now his own.

Paul did not exist. And if Pual did not exist, everything he had ever gotten wrong, done stupidly, had now been expunged from reality. He was free of himself and the history his own body described.

It goes on from there...He basically ends up treating his wife's body like a carnival ride, intending to have sex with it (not with a man, of course, but a lesbian) and fails miserably. He also experiences the predatory gaze of men and other humiliating things along the way. Finally, he goes to check to see whether his own past-self is still living with his parents, perhaps even embodied by his wife as he has embodied her. He finds this younger version of himself, living in the old apartment, eating a pear and reading a book out on the fire escape, basically being well looked after. And the discrepancy between these two worlds--his libidnous mishandling of his wife, her caretaking of him--is too much to take and he has a little breakdown there on the street. Then his wife (in his old body) hears him (crying in his wife's body) and she calls down to him, maybe throws him a little note or a set of keys--I don't know. But it ends happily, redemptively.

Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don't know them.
Learn, inner man, to look on your inner woman,
the one attained from a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.--Rilke, "Turning Point"

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