Other People

In one of his earliest stories, G. wrote: “there’s nothing so difficult and delicate, so sacred even, as human individuality; nothing can equal the rapacity of secret connections that arise, faint and purposeless, between strangers, only to bind imperceptibly with a terrible chain.”

People that (we think) shouldn’t matter to us, do. Being slighted or ignored by a clerk or some anonymous person on the subway can ruin you for hours, sometimes. G. noted that having something he wrote criticized by some anonymous person was far more stinging than having a book savaged by a noted reviewer, because the smaller the shoe, the more it hurts.

It is particularly humiliating to want or need the approval of people who are “inferior” to us — that is, inferior in age, in station, in experience. It can produce a deformation of perception, whereby younger people seem much older, poorer people much richer, and so on. The power of the inferior and the “immature” over the superior and the mature is one of G.’s main themes. But this humiliation contains the seeds of something transcendent.

G. writes: “Allow a child, a puppy, a half-wit to seduce you.” That he spent his life mixing with people of different classes and ages is one of the most inspiring things about him. His gang of young friends in Buenos Aires. The young Canadian student he met and married during the last years of his life. It would be easy to compartmentalize him as a writer of the midlife crisis. A recurring theme in his fiction is middle aged men trying to orchestrate contact with youth. And indeed, much of his Diary is an extended meditation on youth and the way age feeds and depends on it.

Acknowledgement of the “inferior.” Declining to it willingly, allowing it to support you. It is like an underlying water to the universe. A water below the water. (I am thinking now of the Talking Heads line, “There is water at the bottom of the ocean” from that great midlife crisis song “Once in a Lifetime.”) Through intense and honest contact across divides of age and station, we can achieve a broader reinterpretation of our humanity.

(G. never would have called other people “hell,” like Sartre did.)

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