Monday, July 21, 2008

Libertinage & libertarianism, individualism & society, the Marquis & me - 2

My first experience of this kind was at sixteen or seventeen. I fell for the ex-girlfriend of a friend, and instinctively felt, being a timid type but not without pretentions to genius, that I would make my best impression via the written word. This was particularly brought home to me after my first visit to her home. I’d gotten her address from my friend, and dug up the enormous courage required to knock on her door. The usual scenario pertained, I walked up and down her short street, appraising her house, examining the windows, wondering which one belonged to her bedroom, if she was in there, or in the living room with her family, or having a bath…
She was surprised and a little disconcerted at my appearance on her doorstep – we knew each other socially of course, but not enough for her ever to expect a visit – and invited me into the kitchen where a group of her friends had gathered. I’d seen none of them before, and I didn’t say a word for the rest of the visit. I went away feeling a gross failure, and, after brooding awhile on my plight, decided to write her a letter as full of energy and bounce as my visit had been full of dead weight. Naturally I tried to disguise while obliquely emphasizing the romance at its heart, aiming to flatter her perspicacity rather than her beauty. In fact she was no great beauty but she had style and a spontaneous brightness I longed to possess and play with.
I was on tenterhooks afterwards, but I felt it would be rude not to follow this letter up quite quickly with a visit, in case explanations were needed, or awkward mysteries had been created. On this occasion she was alone – apart from her family of course – and, it being a balmy night, she sat out on the porch with me, in her dressing gown. I thought that this was a more successful visit, but I was probably wrong. I’d imagined perhaps that, after the letter, my presence would be sufficiently awe-inspiring, and felt little need to embellish it with conversation. I was obviously more comfortable with the silences than she was.
As always on looking back, these amatory excursions have an inevitability about their ending. I soon reflected that my presence was a disappointment, and resolved again to reveal my real self through another letter, and then another, until the return to sender stamp set me to rights and seared my heart.
The point is that, though my personal preoccupations were quite different from those of Kafka, there was a similarity in my motive for writing – to pour out the material of my pent-up musings to a real, particular person, to fashion them to please her, and hopefully, though it was ever a very small hope, to have them reflected back at me in a fruitfully unexpected fashion. To genuinely communicate.

I would’ve done better to have chosen women who liked writing. I was almost cured by this first failure, and it was more than twenty years before I tried again.



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