laughter and forgetting

October 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

image from Sally Underwood

Part One: Lost Letters

p5: To shift gears, Mirek had to let go of the steering wheel.

p6: When he asked her why she was so silent, she told him she had not been satisfied with their lovemaking. She said he had made love to her like an intellectual.

p7: For one reason or another, Zdena was displeased with him, and just as she was capable of imbuing the most abstract relationship (the relationship with Masturbov, whom she didn’t know) with the most concrete feeling (embodied in a tear), so she was capable of giving the most concrete of acts an abstract significance and her own dissatisfaction a political name.

p30: Is that possible? Yes. And why not? Can’t a weak boy feel true love for an ugly girl? He told her he was in rebellion against his reactionary father, she inveighed against intellectuals, they got blisters on their buttocks, and held hands. They went to meetings, denounced their fellow citizens, told lies, and were in love.

Part Two: Mama

p66: That movement, usually measuring fifteen centimeters at most, was as long as three decades.

p67: Stretched out on an armchair, he contemplated the two women lying before him on the wide daybed. During that brief rest period, it wasn’t Mrs. Nora he was seeing but his old girlfriends, his life’s witnesses Marketa and Eva, and he felt like a great chess player who has conquered opponents simultaneously on two chess boards. The comparison pleased him enormously, and he couldn’t help laughing and shouting: “I’m Bobby Fischer! I’m Bobby Fischer!”

Part Three: The Angels

p81: Just as someone in pain is linked by his groans to the present moment, so someone bursting out in such ecstatic laughter is without memory and without desire, for he is emitting his shout into the world’s present moment and wishes to know only that.

Part Six: The Angels

p221: Variation form was Beethoven’s favorite toward the end of his life. At first glance, it seems the most superficial of forms, a simple showcase of musical technique, work better suited to a lace maker than to a Beethoven. But Beethoven made it a sovereign form (for the first time in the history of music), inscribing in it his most beautiful meditations. Yes, all that is well known. But Papa wanted to know how it should be understood. Why exactly choose variations?

p225: In one of his pensees, Pascal says that man lives between the abyss of the infinitely large and the abyss of the infinitely small. The voyage of variations leads into that other infinitude, into the infinite diversity of the interior world lying hidden in all things.

p226: That the infinitude of the exterior world escapes us we accept as natural. But we reproach ourselves until the end of our lives for lacking that other infinitude.

p227: It is not surprising that in his later years variations became the favorite form for Beethoven, who knew all too well (as Tamina and I know) that there is nothing more unbearable than lacking the being we loved, those sixteen measures and the interior world of their infinitude of possibilities.

Part Seven: The Border

p281: The woman he had loved most (he was thirty at the time) would tell him (he was nearly in despair when he heard it) that she held on to life by a thread. Yes, she did want to live, life gave her great joy, but she also knew that her “I want to live” was spun from the threads of a spiderweb. It takes so little, so infinitely little, for someone to find himself on the other side of the border, where everything–love, convictions, faith, history–no longer has meaning. The whole mystery of human life resides in the fact that it is spent in the immediate proximity of, and even in direct contact with, that border, that it is separated from it not by kilometers but by barely a millimeter.

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