Saturday, November 25, 2006

Trading Whores for Sorrow


I had a lovely experience over the Thanksgiving holiday: starting and finishing a book that has nothing to do with my dissertation. After reading my friend Casey's review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores a few months ago, I decided to read it myself. It was strange, and strangely inviting -- often dark, but always in the context of lush, descriptive language. The story of a ninety-year-old man who desires an evening with a young virgin, the novella is very much about the fear of aging and of being old, and the things we consider doing in order to entertain the possibility (or the illusion) of youth even for a moment. But it's also about torment, I think, and about the tendency of some people to entertain, even feed, their own personal torments, their own well-cultivated sorrows. At one point, the old man realizes that he is dying of love for the young virgin, but he also realizes that the contrary is true: that he "would not have traded the delights of my suffering for anything in the world" (84). I think I know people like this -- people who relish and prolong their sorrows more than their joys; perhaps I have caught even myself doing such a thing. But what is rare is to hear someone say, "This, this sorrow, is what I desire, is what keeps me alive, is what becomes my joy."

5 comments:

Casey said...

I like the end of this post, Monica--could we call it "romantic masochism?" You're right about how rare it is to find someone who admits to this attraction to sorrow.

Monica said...

Hmmm . . . romantic masochism -- I like that. I do, though, think that while some people are just drawn to sorrowful or tumultuous romantic relationships, others are drawn to sorrow and conflict in general because they have some use for it. Maybe some artists are like this.

nedric said...

This, and Casey's review as well, brought to mind Kierkegaard's aethete ("A") who longs for something permenant in ever intense change of sensory experience. But suffering here is a misfortune, not the thing itself - as it is for Marquez's narrator.

I am a bit confused, is the sorrow itself his joy or does he transform the sorrow into joy? If the latter, how?

Monica said...

Hmmm, hadn't thought of the Kierkegaard connection -- interesting. With Marquez's narrator, I think the sorrow is his joy; there's really no transformation. Once he reaches the height of the sorrow/joy he is ready to die. When I read this, though, the idea that some people really, on some level, would rather have the pain than the pleasure (emotionally speaking) became interesting to me.

nedric said...

I am hearing echoes of an early Tori Amos song - Little Earthquakes...

I don't know if I can believe someone chooses pain over pleasure. But that is probably a paraphrase of something I read in Plato - we always choose the good; we just are often confused about what really is good for us. Can pain be good for us? But going that direction takes the element of "joy" out of it. Sorry.