Dog's Dinner

"You're not loved because you're lovable, you're lovable 'cause you're loved."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Love of Food

is not the root of all evil, but ever since college, after a Jughead-like youth of nonstop pigging-out without any consequences whatsoever, it's been a source of some dramatic tension: I've had an Oprahesque tendency to blimp out and then shrink back into some semblance of shape every year and a half or so. The blimping has at times been associated with a certain complacency and comfort in relationships, while on one occasion it was not unrelated to a sense of deep unhappiness. The trimming-down (actually it was more filling-out the first time, when I gained muscle weight; another time it didn't involve any conscious attempt to lose weight, but just happened) has been spurred on by jealous rage, or has coincided with falling madly in love, or sometimes with wanting to live life to the proverbial fullest. I'm just now getting back into the routine of daily exercise again, so I'm at that point where at the end of each workout I feel this exhilarating sense of momentum, but the next day it's once again a struggle getting myself on the bike and staying there.

Whilst lying in bed recently reading about Sartre's sense of his own body in an essay on his collaboration with John Huston on the film Freud in Peter Wollen's delightful book Paris Hollywood, I sensed a certain kinship with the "little ball of fur and ink." Those of us who live most of our lives in a world of words, whether writers, teachers or unemployed schizophrenics, are often tempted to deny the reality of our physical bodies to a somewhat disturbing degree. And with Jean-Paul and I both this vertiginous narcissism reaches back to a childhood penchant for play-acting:

Endlessly reading, and taken also to the cinema, the child Sartre played out the roles of knight-errant, swashbuckler, vagabond, outlaw. Finally, aged about eight, these imaginary Poulous crystallized around the figure of Pardaillan, the adventure hero created by the popular novelist Michael Zevaco: a swashbuckler on the side of the people, fighting against tyrants, who 'made and unmade Empires, and, in the fourteenth century, predicted the French Revolution.' Soon Sartre began to write, imitating and exaggerating Zevaco.

[...] Pardaillan would never quite go away. He became one aspect of the writer, the knight who 'had never taken orders from the king'... Gradually, Sartre claims, the writer overcame the knight; he became an 'ex-Pardaillan'. Illusory victory: on the last page of [Sartre's autobiography, Les Mots], he admits 'Pardaillan still inhabits me'.

[...] Right at the end of his life, in the interviews Simone de Beauvoir published under the title Adieux, Sartre returned, unexpectedly, to the image of Pardaillan. DeBeauvoir asked him about his always being 'uncomfortable' in his own body and he replied: 'Yes, but this is more complex, and it will lead us to Pardaillan.' She pressed him further: "You spoke of Pardaillan. What did you mean?' Sartre replied that he had long ago developed 'an imaginary body'-- that of Pardaillan, the swashbuckler, which gave him the feeling of being 'a powerful warrior'.

[...] He described how, before he could even read, he saw himself climbing up into blazing houses to rescue young girls by carrying them out on his back. [...] He talked about his denial of age, his wish to be young, and finally, most revealingly of all, his work-related addiction to amphetamines, to speed: 'I perceived myself through the motion of my pen, my forming images and ideas. I was the same active being as Pardaillan, neglecting...' 'The real body,' DeBeauvoir cut in, 'which was in the act of destroying itself and against which you always had an almost aggressive attitude.'

Well said, Simone.

When I look in the mirror, I always see the dashing cavalier of my twenty-second year, despite the unimpeachable evidence of my now rather massive girth. Yet some compromise must eventually be bartered with reality.


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