Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quoting Favorites IV (or: on Wharton, and Sameness, and Restlessness)

You see, Monsieur, it's worth everything, isn't it, to keep one's intellectual liberty, not to enslave one's powers of appreciation, one's critical independence? (...) Ah, good conversation - there's nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.
(The Age of Innocence, Book 2, chapter 20)

I avoided The Age of Innocence at college. It just sounded so tedious... (I chose to read The Great Gatsby for my American Literature class instead.)
However, on my weekly quest for new books, I stumbled across this simple edition of The Age of Innocence at a bookstore last year; I grabbed it, coldly and only slightly interested. But I'd already read all the books I had at home, and was basically on withdrawal - I just had to read anything. (Anything, obviously, did not include Marley and I, you gotta draw the line somewhere.)
I started reading it over lunch - and found it completely unputdownable. I took it with me wherever I went for two days, two much too short days. It was an enticing, exceedingly well-written story; but there was more than that. I felt Newland Archer.

Opening your eyes. You can always choose not to open them; but once you're able to see, you can never close them back again. The good old "red pill, blue pill" thing.
One of the worst parst of opening your eyes (getting a brain?) is realizing that you are probably alone in this. In a world of blindness, seeing creates this unfathomable abyss between you and those among whom you must live.But one cannot set himself apart fom society as a whole. So you stay exactly where you are, with the poor satisfaction of being free from those shackles that seem to bond everybody else. But every second of your stay comes at a high price: the stillness of ideas around you just makes you realize the stillness of life you've forced yourself into. 

He was out of spirits and slightly out of temper, and a haunting horror of doing the same thing every day at the same hour besieged his brain.
"Sameness - sameness!" he muttered, the word running through his head like a persecuting tune (...).
(The Age of Innocence, Book 1, chapter 10)

What do you do when you feel restless in a world where Sameness is sovereign?
You crave for fresh air. You try to open the windows in the room - what if those around you just simply don't see the point in that? 

"Newland! Do shut the window. You'll catch your death!"
He pulled the sash down and turned back. "Catch my death!" he echoed; and he felt like adding: "But I've caught it already. I
am dead - I've been dead for months and months." (...)
"Poor May!" he said
"Poor? Why poor?" she echoed with a strained laugh.
"Because I shall never be able to open a window without worrying you" he rejoined, laughing also.
For a moment she was silent; then she said very low, her head bowed over her work: "I shall never worry if you're hapy."
"Ah my dear; and I shall never be happy unless I can open the windows!"

"In this weather?" she remonstrated; and with a sigh he buried his head in his book.
(The Age of Innocence, Book 2, chapter 29)

Finally, you come to the sad realization that you'll have to adapt. Smooth around the rough edges. 

...the first six months were always the most difficult in marriage. "After that I suppose we shall have pretty nearly finished rubbing off each other's angles" he reflected; but the worst of it was that May's pressure was already bearing on the very angles whose sharpness he most wanted to keep.
(The Age of Innocence, Book 2, chapter 20)

And once these edges are smoothed right out of you, your hopeful desires are gone. That tingling in your belly. (Mass, if you ever get around to reading this, that last sentence was definitely for you! =P) 

Life's all about not being smoothed out of yourself.

4 comments:

Jamie Jenson said...

One of my favorite books (and movies)!

Rml said...

One of my fave books as well! I haven't seen the movie, but I've been told it's really good.

ambiguous_angel said...

i never heard about this but i think i should..

Rml said...

@ambiguous_angel: well, I can't say anything about the movie, but the book's just amazing! If u get the opportunity, u should totally read it!