Diotima’s Soul

Diotima is unhappy in her marriage to section chief Tuzzi, even though he has made possible her glamorous salon. What is she missing?

In her misery she read a great deal, and discovered that she had lost something she had previously not really know she had: a soul.

What’s that? It is easy to define negatively: it is simply that which sneaks off at the mention of algebraic series.

But positively? it seems successfully to elude every effort to pin it down. There may once have been in Diotima something fresh and natural, an intuitive sensibility wrapped in the propriety she wore like a cloak threadbare from too much brushing, something she now called her soul and rediscovered in Maeterlinck’s batik-wrapped metaphysics, or in Novalis, but most of all in the ineffable wave of anemic romanticism and yearning for God that, for a while, the machine age squirted out as an expression of its spiritual and artistic misgivings about itself. (I,106)

Tuzzi was schooled in the art of love at brothels.

Thus Diotima learned to know love as something violent, assaultive, and brusque that was released only once every week by an even greater power. This change in the nature of two people, which always began promptly on time, to be followed , a few minutes later by a short exchange on those events of the day that had not come up before and then a sound sleep, and which was never mentioned in the times between, except perhaps in hints and allusions–like making a diplomatic joke about the “partie honteuse” of the body–nevertheless had unexpected and paradoxical consequences for her. (I,108)

On the other hand, however, this broad rhythm of marital contact had developed, purely physiologically, into a habit that asserted itself quite independently and without connections to the loftier parts of her being, like the hunger of a farmhand whose meals are infrequent but heavy. With time, as tiny hairs began to sprout on Diotima’s upper lip and the masculine independence of the mature female woman mingled with the traits of the girl, she became aware of this split as something horrible. She loved her husband, but this was mingled with a growing revulsion, a dreadful affront to her soul, which could only be compared to what Archimedes, deeply absorbed in his mathematical problems, might have felt if the enemy soldier had not killed him but made sexual demands on him. (I,108)

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