Friday, May 27, 2005

Thorbergur Thordarson = best name ever

I am ashamed, but that is largely why I chose to read In Search of My Beloved, a slim little Icelandic work clocking in at 116 pages.
     "A love struck young man worships the soul of his beloved. He considers her soul to be more gifted, more noble, more loving than all other souls. But why does he worship her soul?"
     "Because the soul is the most noble part of a man."
     "I don't think it is because of this... the main reasion is that the young man doesn't know her soul well enough. Therefore he worships it. Just as men worship God in Heaven. We never worship anything other than that which we do not know and understand. (48)"
Emily Dickinson agrees -
A charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld.
The lady dare not lift her veil
For fear it be dispelled.

But peers beyond her mesh,
And wishes, and denies,
Lest interview annul a want
That image satisfies.
Are worship and understanding truly mutually exclusive? Thordarson, who narrates the story, seems to think so. In order to combat heartache, he retreats into the mind - "I'll... bury myself in studies next winter and drown all these miserable pangs of love in the well of sexless knowledge. (43)" And there are definitely examples of this occuring in life and art – the harlot that has had sex so many times that it ceases to mean anything for her (Scott explores this in Vollmann's The Royal Family), or the professional that gets bored of a job that he'd fantasized about having since he was young. Or how about the literature professor (from a book, I don't know which) who understands everything about literature except how to enjoy it?

But there are people who beg to differ. The entire body of lit studies, for one thing. An English teacher, R., spent time telling me one day that all life is “is looking for patterns.” When I protested at the sterility of living one's life this way, he argued back (I paraphrase, of course):
You make it sound like it's a clinical experiment. But it's not - you're not dissecting something, making it lifeless. It's more like you're peeling back the folds, seeings things in new ways so that they come alive. That's where wonder is.
Perhaps these two viewpoints aren't so different after all. Both agree that worship/wonder is important. Mr. Thordarson is afraid to peel back the layers because he's afraid that there's nothing under there to wonder at (understandable, in the case of his particular Beloved). R. prefers to peel back the layers until he can't anymore; he wonders about that part instead. Maybe the reason Thordarson finds knowledge “sexless” is because he isn't digging deep enough. Maybe the moral of the story is that when you have the right text, be it a person or a book, you shouldn't ever have to worry about completely understanding it and losing your sense of worship – if it's art, it will always have more layers for you to peel back.