Body and Soul

The first session of the Collateral Campaign has just concluded and all the invitees have left Diotima’s apartment, except Arnheim. Diotima is feeling the beginnings of love for him, but she cannot articulate it. She is confused by an unforced metaphor.

And suddenly her chaste mind was troubled by a bizarre notion: her empty apartment, in the absence of even her husband, seemed like a pair of trousers Arnheim had just slipped into. There are such moments, when chastity itself may be visited by such abortive flashes from the pit of darkness, and so the wonderful dream of a love in which body and soul are entirely one bloomed in Diotima. (I,195)

But Arnheim has never been in love. For him pants are sometimes just pants.

Arnheim had no inkling of this. His trousers made an impeccably perpendicular line to the gleaming parquet; his morning coat, his cravat, his serenely smiling patrician head, said nothing, so perfect were they. (I,195)

What exactly is soul?

How to describe it then? Whether one is at rest or in motion, what matters is not what lies ahead, what one sees, hears, wants, takes, masters. It forms a horizon, a semicircle before one, but the ends of this semicircle are joined by a string, and the plane of this string goes right through the middle of the world. In front, the face and hands look out of it; sensations and strivings run ahead of it, and no one doubts that whatever one does is always reasonable, or at least passionate. In other words, outer circumstances call for us to act in a way everyone can understand; and if, in the toils of passion, we do something incomprehensible, that too is, in  its own way, understandable. Yet however understandable and self-contained everything seems, this is accompanied by an obscure feeling that it is only half the story. Something is not quite in balance, and a person pressed forward, like a tightrope walker, in order not to sway and fall. And as he presses on through life and leaves lived life behind, the life ahead and the life already lived form a wall, and his path in the end resembles the path of a woodworm: no matter how it corkscrews forward or even backward, it always leaves an empty space behind it. And this horrible feeling of blind, cutoff space behind the fullness of everything, this half that is always missing even when  everything is a whole, this is what eventually makes one perceive what one calls the soul. (I,196)

We always include it, of course, in our thoughts, intuitions, feelings, in all sorts of surrogate ways and according to our individual temperament. In youth it manifests itself as a distinct feeling of insecurity about whether everything one does is really the right thing, after all; in old age as a sense of wonder at how little one has done of all one had really meant to do. In between, one takes comfort in the thought that one is a hell of a good fellow, even if every little thing can’t be justified; or that the world is not the way it ought to be either, so that one’s failures come to represent a fair enough compromise. Then there are always some people who think beyond all this of a God who has their missing pieces in His pocket. Only love has a special position in this; in this exceptional case the missing half grows back; the beloved seems to stand where ordinarily something was always missing. The souls unite “dos-à-dos,” as it were, making themselves superfluous in the process. This is why most people, after the one great love in their youth is over, no longer feel the absence of their soul, so that this so-called foolishness fulfills a useful social function. (I,196-197)


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