Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the mysterious obsession

I just finished listening to The Mysterious Flame of Queen of Loana by Umberto Eco. This concerns a 60-year-old man who has a stroke and loses all of his personal memories but remembers everything he ever read in books. It has its moments. But the ending was badly written (actually I suspect it consisted, quite intentionally, entirely of brief quotations from other authors strung together) and it annoyed me. The narrator gets much of his memory back but as he is dying he obsesses over one thing he still can’t remember, the face of the first girl he ever loved. She was his obsession during his junior year of high school, but she dated older boys and he never spoke to her except for a few very casual words. He filled a notebook full of poems about her. But then her family moved away and he never saw her again. He gradually reconstructs his lifelong obsession with her, realizing that he picked his wife and all of the other women he dated because they reminded him of her.

I just don’t get this obsession with female faces. I mean, they’re nice enough, but no prettier than mountains or puppies or flowers. The glory of women is talking to them -- you can gaze longingly at a mountain but you can't share your soul with one. To the extent that I do concern myself with the appearance of women I care at least as much about bodies as faces. Are there really many men like Eco's narrator, or is this mainly a literary trope? Can one spend a lifetime obsession about a woman just because she is beautiful? Why? The narrator relates that his priest told the teenage boys that they should distract themselves from impure thoughts by contemplating the perfect beauty of the Virgin Mary, reminding themselves that sin might keep them from every really beholding her. And this is certainly something a priest might have said.

It’s crazy, and I just don’t get it.

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