He Ponders the Mind-Body Duality

Ulrich is taking a ride in the country with Diotima. They are sitting close to one another.

Independently of what their faces were talking about, the motion of the car on those long drives rocked the two cousins so that their clothes touched, overlapped a bit, and moved apart again. One could only see this from their shoulders, because the rest of them was enveloped by a shared blanket, but the bodies felt this contact, muffled by their clothing, as delicately indistinct as things seen in moonlight. Ulrich was not unreceptive to this kind of flirting, without taking it too seriously. The overrefined transmission of desire from the body to the clothes, from the embrace to the obstacles, or, in short, from the goal to the approach, answered to his nature, whose sensuality drove him toward the woman; but its critical faculties held him back from the alien, uncongenial person it suddenly, with relentless lucidity, perceived her to be, and this made for a lively tug-of-war between inclination and aversion. But this meant that the body’s sublime beauty, its human beauty, the moment when the spirit’s song rises from nature’s instrument, or that other moment when the body is like a goblet filling up with a mystic potion, was something he had never known, leaving aside those dreams of the major’s wife that had for the longest time put an end to such inclinations in him. (I,306)

 He had felt this attraction-revulsion from the moment he had met Diotima.

So on trips with Diotima, Ulrich not infrequently remembered their leave-taking after his first visit. He had taken her mild hand, an artfully and nobly perfected, weightless hand, to his own as they gazed into each other’s eyes. They both undoubtedly felt some aversion, and yet it occurred to them that they might nevertheless fuse to the point of extinction. Something of this vision had remained between them. Thus two heads above cast a horrible chill on each other while the bodies below helplessly melt together as white heat. There is in this something nastily mythical, as in a two-headed god or the devil’s cloven hoof, and it had often led Ulrich astray in his youth, when he had experienced it fairly often; but with the years it had proved to be no more than a very bourgeois aphrodisiac, in exactly the same way that the unclothed body substitutes for the nude. Nothing so inflames the middle-class lover as the flattering discovery of the power to drive another person into an ecstasy so wild that to be the cause of such changes by any other means one would have to become a murderer. (I,307)

But is this the body of our mind, our ideas, intimations, plans, or–the pretty ones included–the body of our follies? That Ulrich had loved those follies and still to some extent had them did not prevent him from feeling not at home in the body they had created. (I,308)


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