Learning to live


I wanted to say some more about Evelyn Scott -- and to share some more passages from Escapade.

The aromatic smell of the leaves was sharp and sweet in my nostrils. I wondered why the birth of a child appealed so little to the imagination of the artist. Why were all the great realistic novels of the world concerned with only one aspect of sex? This surely was the last -- the very last thing -- one needed to know before one came to conclusions about life.

There is, of course, the easy answer to her question -- but I think that answer can be passed over in silence. What she says at the end of this passage is so interesting to me -- again because of Montaigne. So many philosophers and intellectuals attempt this investigation into living -- the right way to live, the best way to live -- and, as I wrote at the start of the summer, there are often some truly worrisome notions that work their way into treatises on the art of living. When I spoke of Montaigne before, I noted that he emphasizes the importance of solitude, as does Aristotle at the end of the Nicomachean Ethics, and this emphasis seems to me to be deeply flawed. Montaigne knows as well as any great thinker the importance of self-study -- it is the only project he ever claims for himself. When he writes that he cares not whether his books are read, there is an authenticity about it -- these essays are true to themselves -- they are attempts to work one's way through one's self --

Painting myself for others, I have painted my inner self in clearer colors than were my first ones.

And --
Whatever I may be, I wish to be elsewhere than on paper.

It is for these thoughts that I continue to return to Montaigne (and for his humor and his erudition), but I worry. I worry about the emphasis on solitude which I cannot entirely agree with. And I worry about what Scott notices -- about the utter silence on the events of pregnancy and childbirth. Why has this been ignored? What could we discover by thinking about this, imagining this, writing of this?

These women live in a house filled with their own subjective emanations, and they never go out of it. Even if they walk in the street they carry with them an atmosphere which encloses them like the atmosphere of a dream. And they will die in the same dream, a long dream of little things. After all they are much nearer fundamentals than the people outside. Men come into the House to them. It is in the House that all matters of birth and death are attended to. I wonder if in their 'pettiness' is not, after all a juster sense of proportion than most of us exhibit in careening through space.


This passage recalled Donoso's Obscene Bird of the Night -- I thought off the grotesque old women in the beginning who spend their life collecting small scraps and treasures and then hide them under beds and in corners. When they die their little scraps are found and squabbled over -- small dusty treasures. But more than that simple connection, when I read this I thought of those ever-present discussions of the simple life -- they reoccur again and again in conversation, in artist's letters, in novels -- some civilized intellectual always wishing to turn his back on the world and watch lemon trees grow on the rocky coast of some Greek island.