Monday, September 10, 2012

Anatomy of Melancholy Part X

You have to know I would stop doing this if I could. Do you think I like being a figure of fun to real art people (by which I mean the general idea of my type)? Of course I do not. (And before it can be countered that I flatter myself that real art people could ever be bothered to give the likes of me any consideration at all, I do not even mean the people at the absolute heights of the creative life, but those who have managed to find employment as sort of the gatekeepers to that exalted world; professors, critics, agents, editors and people of that ilk. It is they who will find the greatest delight in thinking on my true station). Would I could think of anything else the successful execution of which could both be a possibility and a source of real contentment. I would take it up at once. How I envy  those people whose lives have an order, a purpose, a theme, a governing aesthetic about them. They may not always have a lot of sexual tension in their day-to-day lives but they probably could have even that if they made it a priority. For me, every positive thought or feeling ultimately has to emanate from my literary output and status, which have been themselves been scant in the most recent years. There is scarcely even any foundation left on which to attempt to reconstruct a man, should a master psychiatrist desire to do so.

This should be the last book report post for a while. I would stop doing those too--I am working to modify my notes on future reports--but as in most areas of my life, they form a kind of support from the greater world to my endeavors.

After examining symptoms and examples of love-melancholy in part IX, we have moved on now to possible cures, the easiest and most obvious of which is the possibility of your desires being fulfilled. "Petrarch, that had so magnified his Laura in several poems, when by the Pope's means she was offered onto him, would not accept of her." Doubtless because he knew himself, and knew he was not really man enough to fulfill her needs as a lover or a husband. If he had been, he obviously would have taken her for one or the other long before.

Another good cure recommended, provided you can swing it, is the old trick of stringing along two girls at once, as "he that goes from a good fire in cold weather is loath to depart from it, though in the next room there be a better which will refresh him as much..." Indeed! Of course in most instances the choice is not between two robust fires, but between kneeling and rubbing one's numb hands over a tiny space heater that it is hard to tell whether it is working or not or being confined to the unheated woodshed with a bed of straw and a dirty wool blanket that only covers about three quarters of your body. Though if you are a man who has some things to offer it is good advice.

Montaigne fans will be pleased to know that that master had a remedy of his own for this affliction, though it seems a rather odd one, as it involves seeing the object of one's love naked. It is not that this is not effective in certain circumstances, but it is usually not a practicable option for the class of men that would stand to benefit the most from its implementation. It is true that men who actually see a variety of naked women--in person and on the woman's eager volition with regard to the individual man's pleasure--on a regular basis are rarely the dupes of passion. But this level of experience unfortunately cannot be replicated beyond the top 10-15% or so of the male population.  

There is a long catalog of body parts and other endowments that would be used in the construction of the perfect woman, whom you would still tire of after a few years of being with. I liked the portion of the catalog that took a geographical turn: "...let her head be from Prague, paps out of Austria, belly from France, back from Brabant (Southern Netherlands & Northern Belgium; Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven), hands out of England, feet from Rhine, buttocks from Switzerland, let her have the Spanish gait, the Venetian tire (attire), Italian component and endowments..."

"I am to be married to-day, which sounds to me like saying, 'go home and hang yourself!'" This is quoted from a Roman author (Ter. And.--probably Terence someone or other, but I don't remember). I hate to pass up an ancient marriage joke. Here's another one: "...a mouse in a trap lives as merrily, we are in a purgatory some of us, if not hell itself."

Sample of Austrian beauties. This sort of view is what populates the typical evenings of a lot of guys'--most of those whose lives count for something I imagine--youthful travels on the continent. If I were not for various forms of media, I probably would never have been aware that life existed in such a form anywhere. And as it is, I know very little of what goes on in such scenes; such glimpses as are occasionally afforded those of us on the outside of this heaven that is the possession of a potent sensualism are usually astounding enough to crush the spirit for several days afterwards.

"...Pope Gregory, when he saw 6,000 skulls and bones of his infants taken out of a fishpond near a nunnery, thereupon retracted that decree of priests' marriages, which was the cause of such a slaughter, was much grieved at it, and purged himself by repentance." This shocking--on account of the extremely high number of corpses cited--story is repeated in other places. I cannot readily make out which Pope Gregory is referred to, but I am guessing it is the First, who held the position from 590-604, was famous as a reformer, and has generally a high reputation in the history of the church, however much stock you want to put in that. I cannot readily find confirmation regarding his repealing the edict requiring priestly celibacy, though it appears another Gregory, the 7th, found it necessary to reinstate it as official policy in the 11th century. I have no further comment on it, I guess.

"...James Rossa, nephew to the King of Portugal, and then elect Archbishop of Lisbon, being very sick at Florence, "when his physicians told him that his disease was such, he must either lie with a wench, marry, or die, cheerfully chose to die." What kind of disease, pray tell, was this? And if he had picked 'lie with a wench', would the doctor have then had one wheeled into the room for him?

Off topic, but I always like being reminded of these once-great names and offices and lives. I tend to forget about groups like the medieval Portuguese aristocracy (the James Rossa anecdote is dated 1419), but they were no doubt a meticulously civilized crew after their fashion, and each of their membership a giant in the world they inhabited with the backing of a familial lineage and mythology already dating back centuries. And the extent to which they are remembered now is all dependent on how interesting their depictions in books and artworks are.

"...for scarce shall you find three priests of three thousand, that are not troubled with burning lust." Of course priestly lust is not a subject of mirth, because of the forms it must take. It seems not to consist of the same harmless quality that makes nerd-lust so comical.

On page 948 I wrote: "I am glad I read it, but I couldn't comfortably recommend it. You have to know if you need to read it or not."

"For to what end is a man born? why lives he, but to increase the world? and how shall he do that well, if he do not marry?" Paging 'Ol Dirty Bastard?

Since Burton always argues forcefully on both sides of every issue, it is to be expected that he devotes ten pages to strongly insistent arguments on the necessity of marriage and procreation, though these lean heavily on a kind of supposition that man is the measure of all things:

"Earth, air, sea, land eftsoon would come to naught,
The world itself should be to ruin brought."

This if man did not marry and fill the earth with human children. The poignancy that can be surmised from such discredited conceits still resonates with me.

The next topic taken up is jealousy. I love this story:

"R.T.(?), in his Blazon (?) of Jealousy, telleth a story of a swan about Windsor, that finding a strange cock with his mate, did swim I know not how many miles after to kill him, and when he had so done, came back and killed his hen; a certain truth, he saith, done upon Thames, as many watermen and neighbour gentlemen can tell."

"England is a paradise for women, and hell for horses: Italy a paradise for horses, hell for women, as the diverb (an antithetical saying or proverb) goes."

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