To become God

Is it becoming obvious that Scott's Escapade was an incredibly rich and rewarding read? It was, I highly recommend it. She writes so well of the self, of love and of vanity. Of the self she captures the dangers of feeling so vastly separate and different from the world -- or so alienated and misunderstood -- the dangers of falling into a tyrannical sort of self-love. This comes out in Escapade but she studies it closely in Narcissus.

One of the central features in Escapade is her relationship with John, the married man with whom she has an affair and runs away from Tennessee to Brazil. They have a child together in Brazil and are stranded there, in increasing poverty, while war and social mores keep them from returning home. She writes of their love --

In recalling my adolescence I can remember no true understanding or sympathy from any source; John has given me both. He is the only person I ever knew who was really capable of love, who, without any of the cant and falsity of sacrifice, considers in the most delicate sense the inward happiness of another being.

This is the first of several passages about John's incredible caring and respect -- Scott never writes of this love in a saccharine way, she is stark and frank in her descriptions of their love and how vastly different it is from the romantic ideals that must have abounded in her education and upbringing in the Deep South at the turn of the century. She writes of their suffering and their struggles, of how their love changes through various trials -- but in every clear-eyed description it is clear that what remains is a deep and convincing sense of truth about their relationship. It is only in this one relation that she feels recognized -- only in this that she feels acknowledged.

After their son is born, she writes differently of love and of herself. She writes of the pain after childbirth and how obliterating it is, and also of motherhood itself, and how obliterating it is --

This gorgeous death of happiness. The ugliness will only begin when I try to cut the soft color with the bitter glassy edges of myself -- with clothes, food, responsibilities, my relation to other people -- the hard little facts that make up the routine of individual life. There is nothing frightening about death, I am sure. The horror is in being forced to come back to old things again. Having destroyed the illusion of the personal, one has to recreate it with terrible effort.

There is a recognizable anxiety that begins to creep in after Jackie's birth and as the worries and poverty increase. A tension also surfaces -- she begins to write almost longingly of sleep, abandon and annihilation -- but she also speaks of love as the luxurious indulgence and assertion of one's self. She describes life as sightless sleep and love as a kind of benevolent tyranny.

These tensions are vividly present in Narcissus, a novel from 1922. She quotes Blake in her epigraph:

Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to thought
A greater than itself to know.

This is an incredible story of self-involvement, vanity and the horrible destruction wreaked by such self-infatuation. The writing is often tense and taut and so crystalline. There is nothing of love in this novel -- nothing of what is described in Escapade -- neither the relationship she shares with John, nor the different love for her son, her pets and herself. There isn't even self-love -- what these characters describe cannot be amour-propre, for if it were it would not be so destructive, it would not be so all-consuming. To want one's self so much -- to be so tangled up in it -- so beset by it -- so lost in it that one craves to hurt others just to maintain the grip on one's secret self -- that is not love.

She reveals much in her characters though -- the men are all obsessed with what they can do -- with what they might do -- and they make all of the women in their lives feel small and ineffective. The women are all lost, so obsessed with the vagueness within, the shadowy something that seemed to lurk always and yet was ever unnoticed and misunderstood. The women all made idols of that shadowy thing -- the self, undeveloped as it was, a small fledgling something. The women were all so obsessed with not doing -- with the impossibility of doing anything that they were ferocious about guarding whatever scrap of self to which they could cling.

When one became God, one destroyed in order to accomplish one's godhead. By destruction one brought everything into one's self. But she was heavy with everything that she had become. It was too much. Only Laurence remained outside her. He would not have her. He was more than she, because he would not take her and become her. Love could not annihilate him. She understood the strategy of crucifixion, but could not accomplish it.

There was no love -- neither self-love nor romantic love -- only a series of lost people, stubborn people, asserting pride in something which was at most, a ghost. It was a sad book. I thought of Duras' Ravishing of Lol Stein and how it was likewise so sad. I thought of Lol's friend, I forget her name, and of the golden field and the long black hair and the waiting and the hurt that everyone dealt to everyone. These people went to such great ends for innocent, unwitting cruelty -- the cruelty of vanity and blindness.