The Summer Without Men – Siri Hustvedt

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Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital. He did not say I don’t ever want to see you again or It’s over, but after thirty years of marriage pause was enough to turn me into a lunatic whose thoughts burst, ricocheted, and careened into one another like popcorn kernels in a microwave bag.

A cruel crack of hope.

 

The trouble with me was that the inside had touched the outside.

 

The words seemed true, but when I tried to elaborate, all further commentary seemed merely decorative.

 

When I listened idly to their talk during the minutes before we began and after I had dismissed them, I often felt the girls’ speech was interchangeable, without any individuality whatsoever, a kind of herd-speak they had all agreed upon, with the exception of Alice, whose diction was not infected with as many likes and sos, and yet even she fell into the curious, moronic dialect of Early Female.

 

… and you were always stepping around his feelings, trying not to upset him.

 

… the passionate exclamation scraped like sandpaper on his soul.

 

My mercurial fluctuations in the course of a single evening made me feel as if I had a character made of chewing gum.

 

My mother, however, insisted that the man was “quite all right in his mind”; it was the rest of him that needed restraining.

 

Perception is never passive. We are not only receivers of the world; we also actively produce it. There is a hallucinatory quality to all perception, and illusions are easy to create.

 

… we carried them, our parents, with us to each other.

 

There is no answer to the riddle, no documentation—just the flimsy, shifting tissue of remembering and imagining.

 

Did he ever do a domestic chore in his life besides the dishes? Did he or did he not tune you out regularly as if you were a radio? Did he not interrupt you in mid-sentence countless times as if you were an airy nothing, a Ms. Nobody, a Missing Person at the table?

 

There is a wistful sadness when fertility ends, a longing, not to return to the days of bleeding, but a longing for the repetition itself, for the steady monthly rhythms, for the invisible tug of the Moon herself, to whom you once belonged: Diana, Ishtar, Mardoll, Artemis, Luna, Albion, Galata—waxing and waning—maiden, mother, crone.

 

Later I came to understand that Boris responded far more directly to the indirect; that is to say, his real emotions surfaced only when mediated by the unreal.

 

Not telling is as interesting as telling, I have found.

 

The renowned Greek physician Galen believed that female genitalia were the inversion of the male’s and vice versa, a view that held for centuries: “Turn outward the woman’s, turn inward, so to speak, and fold double the man’s and you will find the same in both in every respect.”

 

“While it is true that the mind is common to all human beings,” wrote Paul-Victor de Sèze in 1786, “the active employment thereof is not conducive to all. For women, in fact, this activity can be quite harmful. Because of their natural weakness, greater brain activity in women would exhaust all the other organs and thus disrupt their proper functioning.

 

The contemporary literary imagination, it seems, emanates a distinctly feminine perfume. Recall Sabbatini: we women have the gift of gab.

 

The story they all took home on Friday was not true; it was a version they could all live with, very much like national histories that blur and hide and distort the movements of people and events in order to preserve an idea.

 

What once was the future is now the past, but the past comes back as a present memory, is here and now in the time of writing.

 

A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment.
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