Monday, August 21, 2006

From Daniel Deronda

For Shashi

"It happened that the very vividness of his impressions had often made him the more enigmatic to his friends, and had contributed to an apparent idefiniteness in his sentiments. His early-awakened sensibility and reflectiveness had developed into a many-sided sympathy, which threatened to hinder any persistent course of action: as soon as he took up any antagonism, though only in thought, he seemed to himself like the Sabine warriors in the memorable story--with nothing to meet his spear but flesh of his flesh, and objects he loved. His imagination had so wrought itself to the habit of seeing things as they probably appeared to others, that a strong partisanship, unless it were against an immediate oppression, had become an insincerity for him. His plenteous, flexible sympathy had ended by falling into one current with that reflective analysis which tends to neutralize sympathy. Few men were able to keep themselves clearer of vices than he; yet he hated vices mildly, being used to think of them less in the abstract than as a part of mixed human natures having an individual history, which it was the bent of his mind to trace with understanding and pity. With the same innate balance he was fervently democratic in his feeling for the multitude, and yet, through his affections and imagination, intensely conservative; voracious of speculations on government and religion, yet loath to part with long-sanctioned forms which, for him, were quick with memories and sentiments that no argument could lay dead. We fall on the leaning side; and Deronda suspected himself of loving too well the losing causes of the world. Martyrdom changes sides, and he was in danger of changing with it, having a strong repugnance to taking up that cue of success which the order of the world often forces upon us and makes it treason against the common weal to reject. And yet his fear of falling into an unreasoning narrow hatred made a check for him: he apologized for the heirs of privilege; he shrank ioth dislike from the loser's bitterness and the denunciatory tone of the unaccepted innovator. A too reflective and diffuse sympathy was in danger of paralyzing in him that indignation against wrong and that selectness of fellowship which are the conditions of moral force; and in the last few years of confirmed manhood he had become so keenly aware of this that what he most longed for was either some external event, or some inward light, that would urge him into an definite line of action, and compress his wandering energy. He was ceasing to care for knowledge--he had no ambition for practice--unless they could be gathered up into one current with his emotions; and he dreaded, as if it were a dwelling-place for lost souls, that dead anatomy of culture which turns the universe into a mere ceaseless answer to queries, and knows not everything, but everything else about everything--as if one should be ignorant of nothing concerning the scent of violets except the scent itself for which one has no nostril. But how and whence was the needed event to come? --the influence that would justify partiality, and making him what he longed to be yet was unable to make himself--an organic part of social life, instead of roaming in it like a yearning disembodied spirit, stirred with a vague social passion, but without fixed local habitation to render fellowship real? To make a little difference for the better was what he was contented to live without; but how make it? It is one thing to see the road, another to cut it. He found some of the fault in his birth and the way he had been brought up, which had laid no special demands on him and given him no fixed relationships except one of a doubtful kind; but he did not attempt to hide from himself that he had fallen into a meditative numbness, and was gliding farther and farther from that life of practically energetic sentiment which he would have proclaimed (if he had been inclined to proclaim anything) to the best of all life, and for himself the only life worth living. He wanted some way of keeping emotion and its progeny of sentiments--which make the savours of life--substantial and strong in the face of a reflectiveness that threatened to nullify all differences. To pound the objects of sentiment into small dust, yet keep sentiment alive and active, was something like the recipe for making cannon--to first take a round hole and then enclose it with iron; whatever you do keeping fast hold of the round hole. Yet how to distinguish what our will may wisely save in its completeness, from the heaping of cat-mummies and the expensive cult of enshrined putrefactions?"

2 comments:

srt said...

This is a gorgeous excerpt and I thank you for sharing it.

I'm not entirely what to say or make of it, except to say that the piece performs ther very inverting, retrospective, internal clashes that are characteristic of my most self-enclosed moments. There is much here that I can see in myself and much that I do not, but that dual sight itself is characteristic of the mode of being examined here.

If nothing else, this is an insight into the persona that others percieve to be me; I am always curious to learn how the strange mishmash of myself is understood.

Hilary said...

"To make a little difference for the better was what he was contented to live without; but how make it? It is one thing to see the road, another to cut it. He found some of the fault in his birth and the way he had been brought up, which had laid no special demands on him and given him no fixed relationships except one of a doubtful kind; but he did not attempt to hide from himself that he had fallen into a meditative numbness, and was gliding farther and farther from that life of practically energetic sentiment which he would have proclaimed (if he had been inclined to proclaim anything) to the best of all life, and for himself the only life worth living".

Shashi aestheticized. Gorgeous.

Hilary