Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.
I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.
There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty - unless she is wed to something more meaningful - is always superficial.
Are you happy here?" I said at last. He considered this for a moment. "Not particularly," he said. "But you're not very happy where you are, either.
There are such things as ghosts. People everywhere have always known that. And we believe in them every bit as much as Homer did. Only now, we call them by different names. Memory. The unconscious.
Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things - naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror - are too terrible to really grasp ever at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself - quite to one's surprise - in an entirely different world.
For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow, unhesitating, relentless. It is not a quality of intelligence that one encounters frequently these days. But though I can digress with the best of them, I am nothing in my soul if not obsessive.
Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem.
It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!.
It's funny, but thinking back on it now, I realize that this particular point in time, as I stood there blinking in the deserted hall, was the one point at which I might have chosen to do something very much different from what I actually did. But of course I didn't see this crucial moment for what it actually was; I suppose we never do. Instead, I only yawned, and shook myself from the momentary daze that had come upon me, and went on my way down the stairs.
There was a horrible, erratic thumping in my chest, as if a large bird was trapped inside my ribcage and beating itself to death.
It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.
Henry’s a perfectionist, I mean, really-really kind of inhuman — very brilliant, very erratic and enigmatic. He’s a stiff, cold person, Machiavellian, ascetic and he’s made himself what he is by sheer strength of will. His aspiration is to be this Platonic creature of pure rationality and that’s why he’s attracted to the Classics, and particularly to the Greeks — all those high, cold ideas of beauty and perfection.
They understand not only evil, it seemed, but the extravagance of tricks with which evil presents itself as good.
I liked the idea of living in a city — any city, especially a strange one — liked the thought of traffic and crowds, of working in a bookstore, waiting tables in a coffee shop, who knew what kind of solitary life I might slip into? Meals alone, walking the dogs in the evenings; and nobody knowing who I was.
I hate Gucci,' said Francis. 'Do you?' said Henry, glancing up from his reverie. 'Really? I think it's rather grand.' 'Come on, Henry.' 'Well, it's so expensive, but it's so ugly too, isn't it? I think they make it ugly on purpose. And yet people buy it out of sheer perversity.' 'I don't see what you think is grand about that.' 'Anything is grand if it's done on a large enough scale,' said Henry.
And the nights, bigger than imagining: black and gusty and enormous, disordered and wild with stars.
The dead appear to us in dreams because that's the only way they can make us see them; what we see is only a projection, beamed from a great distance, light shining at us from a dead star...
They all shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least but had the strange cold breath of the ancient world : they were magnificent creatures, such eyes, such hands, such looks - sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat.
They too, knew this beautiful and harrowing landscape; they'd had the same experience of looking up from their books with fifth-century eyes and finding the world disconcertingly sluggish and alien, as if it were not their home.
We don't like to admit it, but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. All truly civilized people – the ancients no less than us – have civilized themselves through the wilful repression of the old, animal self.
If I had grown up in that house I couldn't have loved it more, couldn't have been more familiar with the creak of the swing, or the pattern of the clematis vines on the trellis, or the velvety swell of land as it faded to gray on the horizon . . . . The very colors of the place had seeped into my blood.
Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channeling the primitive impulses he's worked so hard to subdue. Otherwise those powerful old forces will mass and strengthen until they are violent enough to break free, more violent for the delay, often strong enough to sweep the will away entirely.
Are you always up this early?' I asked him. 'Almost always,' he said without looking up. 'It's beautiful here, but morning light can make the most vulgar things tolerable.
And as we leave Donne and Walton on the shores of Metahemeralism, we wave a fond farewell to those famous chums of yore.
That night I wrote in my journal: "Trees are schizophrenic now and beginning to lose control, enraged with the shock of their fiery new colors. Someone -- was it van Gogh? -- said that orange is the color of insanity. _Beauty is terror._ We want to be devoured by it, to hide ourselves in that fire which refines us.
He sailed through the world guided only by the dim lights of impulse and habit, confident that his course would throw up no obstacles so large that they could not be plowed over with sheer force of momentum.
It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from all the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one's burned tongues and skinned knees, that one's aches and pains are all one's own. Even more terrible, as we grow older, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that's why we're so anxious to lose them...
She was a living reverie for me: the mere sight of her sparked an almost infinite range of fantasy, from Greek to Gothic, from vulgar to divine.
There is to me about this place a smell of rot, the smell of rot that ripe fruit makes. Nowhere, ever, have the hideous mechanics of birth and copulation and death -those monstrous upheavals of life that the Greeks call miasma, defilement- been so brutal or been painted up to look so pretty; have so many people put so much faith in lies and mutability and death death death.
The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant - the idea was so truly heavenly that I'm not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.
I had said goodbye to her once before, but it took everything I had to say goodbye to her then, again, for the last time, like poor Orpheus turning for a last backward glance at the ghost of his only love and in the same heartbeat losing her forever: hinc illae lacrimae, hence those tears.
But one mustn't underestimate the primal appeal—to lose one's self, lose it utterly. And in losing it be born to the principle of continuous life, outside the prison of mortality and time.
You want to know what Classics are?" said a drunk Dean of Admissions to me at a faculty party a couple of years ago. "I'll tell you what Classics are. Wars and homos.
The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.
It was if the charming theatrical curtain had dropped away and I saw him for the first time as he really was: not the benign old sage, the indulgent and protective good-parent of my dreams, but ambiguous, a moral neutral, whose beguiling trappings concealed a being watchful, capricious, and heartless.
Out in the country it was not uncommon to discover that she had slipped away, alone, out to the lake, maybe, or down to the cellar, where once I found her sitting in the big marooned sleigh, reading, her fur coat thrown over her knees. Things would have been terrible strange and unbalanced without her. She was the Queen who finished out the suit of dark Jacks, dark King, and Joker.
Sometimes, when there’s been an accident and reality is too sudden and strange to comprehend, the surreal will take over. Action slows to a dreamlike glide, frame by frame; the motion of a hand, a sentence spoken, fills an eternity.
Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channeling the primitive impulses he’s worked so hard to subdue.
How was it that a complex, a nervous and delicately calibrated mind like my own, was able to adjust itself perfectly after a shock like the murder, while Bunny’s eminently more sturdy and ordinary one was knocked out of kilter?.
Well, whatever one thinks of the Roman Church, it is a worthy and powerful foe. I could accept that sort of conversion with grace. But I shall be very disappointed indeed if we lose him to the Presbyterians.
I blinked at her. My shades were down and the hall was dark and to me, half-drugged and reeling, she seemed not at all her bright unattainable self but rather a hazy and ineffably tender apparition, all slender wrists and shadows and disordered hair, the Camilla who resided, dim and lovely, in the gloomy boudoir of my dreams.
She looked up at me, her eyes large with compassion, with understanding of the solitude and incivility of grief.
For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow, unhesitating, relentless.
Sometimes when I saw him at a distance – fists in pockets, whistling, bobbing along with his springy old walk – I would have a strong pang of affection mixed with regret. I forgave him, a hundred times over, and never on the basis of anything more than this: a look, a gesture, a certain tilt of his head.
Viewed from a distance, his character projected an impression of solidity and wholeness which was in fact as insubstantial as a hologram; up close, he was all motes and light, you could pass your hand right through him. If you stepped back far enough, however, the illusion would click in again and there he would be, bigger than life, squinting at you from behind his little glasses and raking back a dank lock of hair with one hand.