A Plea for Eros

A Plea for Eros by Siri Hustvedt Read Free Book Online

Book: A Plea for Eros by Siri Hustvedt Read Free Book Online
Authors: Siri Hustvedt
are not constantly trampling over home territory in my mind, however. Often the source of the image is less clear.
Middlemarch
is a book I’ve read several times, and when Dorothea is in Rome with Casaubon, I always have the same picture of it. This is significant, because I read the book both before and after I actually visited Rome, and the real city didn’t disturb in any way the imaginary one I had provided for Dorothea. Eliot’s Rome in
Middlemarch
is for me essentially a stage set. The walls of the empty and dead city are built of cardboard that has been painted to look like stone. While the image is wrongheaded in some way, what I see is architecture as metaphor. Dorothea’s terrible mistake is that she sees truth and power in what is false and impotent, and my artificial Rome extends the discovery of her wedding trip to the city where it occurs. Every time I read anything, I loot the world with luxurious abandon, robbing from real places and unreal ones, snatching images from movies, from postcards and paintings and even cartoons. And when I think of a book, especially one that is dear to me, I see those stolen places again, and they move me. There is a reason, after all, why Paul imagined the elaborate social intercourse and moral drama of Austen in his parents’ living room. It was clearly the site for him of similar exchanges. Things happened in that living room. As for why Ferdinand’s final refuge in the country belongs to my grandparents’ house, it is for me the place of my father, and after that poor boy’s ridiculous and heartbreaking adventures, he finds comfort at last from a paternal figure—his uncle.
    The place of reading is a kind of yonder world, a place that is neither here nor there but made up of the bits and pieces of experience in every sense, both real and fictional, two categories that become harder to separate the more you think about them. When I was doing research for a professor as a graduate student, a job that paid my tuition and fees, I read excerpts from diaries recorded during Captain Cook’s legendary voyages. On the expedition, both captain and crew saw a volcano. This volcano was described separately by Cook himself and by a young man aboard ship. The difference between those descriptions astonished me. Cook reports on the volcano in the cool, scientific prose of the Enlightenment, but the young man describes the same sight in rapturous tones already coded by Romanticism. The two looked in the same direction, but they didn’t see the same event. Each had his own language for seeing, and that language created his vision. We all inherit vision just as they did—two men who stood side by side but were nevertheless separated by an intellectual chasm. It is almost impossible for us as residents of the Western world to imagine a pre-Romantic view of nature. My feeling for mountainous western Norway, undoubtedly shaped by the history of my family there, is also influenced by Romanticism. People simply don’t see mountains as annoying impasses anymore. They breathe in the air and beat their breasts and drink in the beauty of the rugged landscape, but where does this come from, if not from the Romantics, who took up crags and cliffs as the shape of the sublime? No place is naked. It may be that in infancy we experience the nakedness of place, but without memory it remains inaccessible.
    After my daughter was born, I flew around the apartment where I lived, in the grip of a new mother’s euphoria. I couldn’t look at my darling’s tiny face enough, couldn’t see it enough, and I had to creep into her room when she napped just to stare down at her in stupefied awe. But when I looked at her, I often wondered what the world was like from her point of view. She didn’t know where she began or ended, didn’t know that the toes she found so entertaining belonged to her. But connections come fast for babies. Meanings are made early through the presence and absence of the mother,

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