Almost all the French men who populated my intimate life only a few years ago (five to ten years?) have come to be like entirely other people in the ensuing years. All men who vowed they would never have children now have unplanned but very welcome infants and toddlers running around. All men who claimed they would be ‘terrible fathers’ are now the most doting and madly-in-love parents of all. All men who are older, and avoided young parenthood, completely contradict the assertions of their youth and middle years. Did they really change; were they suppressing their true selves and desires or did they simply adapt to circumstances mostly beyond their control?
I am reminded of this as I finish up the wearisome and dully pretentious novel, L’égoïste romantique by Frédéric Beigbeder. I’d never have grabbed this book myself, but one of these aforementioned French men gave it to me back before he had his daughter, when he probably imagined himself (or even fashioned himself) a bit like the antihero of this book – a sex-obsessed, louche writer – a bit self-important, a bit navel-gazing (to use a term others use but I don’t. I never saw a reason until I sat down and read this).
I keep picking up books that are 800+ pages long, and feel a bit disappointed in myself for starting them. I am building up my tolerance and attention span for that kind of heft after years of not reading much of anything. But even the mental toil and time that those books require does not compare to the mind-numbing feeling of reading this tedious book – made all the more annoying by the fact that it’s not in my native language. It’s light reading, not lengthy, not profound in any way. But it’s still an effort, which I only decided to make because I had read about a quarter of it years ago and never finished (obviously because it was boring, eye-roll worthy) and because it had been a gift, so I feel obligated, despite receiving it so many years ago and not even being in touch with the giver any longer.
Reading statements like, “Les femmes veulent transformer leurs amants en maris, ce qui revient à les castrer”, I roll my eyes and think, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Is this really a profound or even a cool observation/thought? Was it worth the paper it was printed on? Still, in the interest of equality, it continues, “Les hommes ne sont pas meilleurs: ils métamorphosent leurs maîtresses en femmes de ménage, et les vamps en mères de famille.”
Or “Je stagne sentimentalement.
En Amérique, ceux qui sont dans ma situation disent:
-I am in a transitional stage.”
Funny that something very brief can ignite an outsized reaction – at lunch yesterday I read Borges’s “The Aleph” – so short but infinitely more rewarding than these rambling epics and masturbatory drivel I’ve otherwise been reading. Is it effortless complexity and casual passion – all these contradictions – in Borges that stir the brain and make curiosity and questioning bubble to the surface? While the sense of “when will this end?” returns again and again with these other efforts.
It is perhaps this same brevity that so alarms us, wakes us up, in life experiences as well. Brief but intense.
Book: L’égoïste romantique – Frédéric Beigbeder and “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges
Film: La Belle Personne (via MUBI)
TV: Both Underground and Hap & Leonard are back!
Soundtrack du jour: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings