Hamlet says, “For Hecuba!/ What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,/
That he should weep for her?” That’s a good question. I have asked it in different ways in different contexts. What, for example, was Henry James to me or me to Henry James that I should have spent so much time reading and trying to make sense of his stuff? But nothing at all but contingency. A desire to understand what I hadn’t understood, a teacher who liked what I wrote, being unemployed and having the time to write it. Or was there some elective affinity.
But that’s what I wrote my Master’s Dissertation on. Of course I had to do it the hard way and wrote about a hundred and 120 pages of ill-organized philosophical rumination and turned that in and the Professor, god bless his heart, just said, go to the library, check out a dissertation, and see how they organize these things. So I did that and found that usually people would write a chapter on this novel and a chapter on that novel and so forth with an introduction and conclusion. I was a bit relieved; I was making it out to be harder than it was, and so threw away my 120 pages and started over.
But what was I doing with James and his hyper-refined, super-subtle fry, as he called them. Suffocating and suffocating people. I got the feeling that if one of them could just curse, or yell fuck, or hit somebody, or maybe even a wall or just plain fart or have an attack of gas that James’ whole fucking novelistic universe would deflate like a balloon. But maybe that was the point and one not unrelated to myself, his people lacked bodies, horribly repressed one might say, but more epistemologically to be one of his detached observers one has got to pretend one is not there and has no influence on what one is seeing.
So the hero of the Ambassadors is shocked to find his nephew, I believe it was, and this super-suble French woman are having an actual physical liaison. It’s not that he is horrified by that but that his actual being there himself, in the flesh, may have caused them to change their movements, to go out of town, as it were to get it on. His just being there got in the way, and had they really known him, they would not have hidden, but lacking any sense of his influence on people, he didn’t know how his “innocence” would affect them or, to add insult to injury, even that they saw him as innocent and tiptoed around trying to protect him from himself.
So maybe that’s the elective affinity since I too have always had trouble understanding my influence, if any, upon other people. Maybe that’s why I like to make people laugh because when they laugh I do know, but other than that I mostly don’t and never have, mostly because I didn’t have room just to be or maybe became I pretended not to be, like a fly on the wall, to stay out of range of the yelling and screaming and general psycho-violence of the family. Sometimes when the mood really comes over me, I will tiptoe around my own house because I am afraid the neighbors will hear and know I am there.
When you build a fortress around yourself sometimes you can’t see over the walls.