"Gratuitous or motiveless curiosity (which is what afflicts the erudite) turns us into puppets, shakes us up and hurls us about, weakens our will and, worse, divides and disperses us, makes us wish that we had four eyes and two heads or, rather, several existences, each of them with four eyes and two heads."
Protagonist Deza of the many first names makes this observation while ripping through the usually tidy study and extended book collection of his host while the rest of the house sleeps. He is staying the night after a party that was apparently orchestrated to test his suitability for intelligence work. He picks up a book only to discard for another as one idea or fact forges a natural cognitive leap to another, an irresistible leap. He is, as suggested by the quote above, quite at the mercy of a consciousness that flows out of his control, of powers of perception that spring from an unidentified well that appear to exclude an in-depth self-knowledge.
Before reading this, I said that I was interested in the frequent comparisons between this work and Proust, and this quote defines those differences for me in an odd four eyed and two headed kind of way. The sentences of both Proust and Marias might bear a similarity in length but not in precision in any way. Which is not at all a slight aimed at Marias. It is a reflection of two very different protagonists - one whose world is highly scripted and whose personal certainty is a product of occasionally hilarious self-delusion and one whose observations of the unpredictable and sometimes chaotic world around him flow from an unscripted ability and must be coaxed from him. There are other points of comparison, but none as prominent to me. Except the frequent use of the word "languid" by both authors and its numerous variations that suggest a physical barbiturate that does nothing to slow the unease of the mind.
And so the book unfolds like Deza's mind unfolds on the page. There is not so much that really "happens" - Deza is estranged from his family that lives in Spain, he is living in England working in journalism until he is drafted into intelligence work, he is only called upon to deliver his perceptions of people he is asked to observe in that service. That is about it. He is encouraged by his new employer to allow his thoughts to flow freely. "Words distract sometimes, you see, and hearing only the melody, the music, is often fundamental. Now tell me what you think."
Well, I think that this music will either suit you or it won't. How is that for saying nothing? There is a melody to this work that appeals to me, a look into the consciousness of a protagonist that I connected with and flowed right along with it in all its occasionally disjointed reality. And I have interest in following his path to certainty that might flow through the next two volumes of the work. Enjoy the thought that his gift of perception yields certain knowledge in a world that no longer prizes certainty.
"People hate certainty; and that hatred began as a fashion, it was deemed trendy to reject certainties, simpletons put them in the same bag as dogma and doctrine, the dolts (and there were a few intellectuals amongst them too), as if they were synonymous. But the idea has proved a tremendous success, it's taken root with vengeance. Now people hate anything definite or sure, and, consequently, anything that is fixed in time; and that is why people partly detest the past, unless they can manage to contaminate it with their own hesitancy, or infect it with the present's lack of definition, which they try to do all the time. Nowadays people cannot bear to know that something existed; that it existed and in a particular way. What they cannot bear is not so much knowing that, as the mere fact of its existence."
Very much looking forward to more Your Face Tomorrow.
Thanks to Richard for suggesting the group read. Find other opinions at these links: