Friday, October 9, 2015

Moravia’s Contempt

In an article in the TLS about Alberto Moravia (“In the beginning was boredom,” 9/25/15) Ian Thomson writes, “As a novelist, Moravia was concerned with psychologically abnormal, unhappy, diseased, thwarted or unpleasant people (amongst them, perhaps himself). His books are psychodramas masquerading as novels.” Here for example is Molteni, the screenwriter protagonist of Contempt (later made into a Godard movie starring Bridget Bardot and Michel Piccoli) writing about himself: “I realized that a man who is despised neither can nor ought to find peace as long as the contempt endures. He may say like the sinners at the Last Judgment: ‘Mountains, fall on us, and hills, cover us; but contempt follows him even into the remotest hiding-place, for it has entered into his spirit and he bears it about with him wherever he may go.” It might be asked, why write about such self-hatred and hopelessness? Why make a career dealing with outcasts who suffer from boredom and bottomless anxiety? Thomson quotes, Moravia about one of his other characters, “the feckless Michele of Gli Indifferenti" thusly, “For him, faith, sincerity, a sense of the tragic no longer existed; everything, seen through the veil of boredom, appeared pitiful.” Thomson goes on to cite another novel The Two of Us which deals with “a man’s unhappy relationship with his penis.” Why deal with talented people like Molteni, who throw everything away? Why deal with those who squander their gifts? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to write about a truly unfortunate character felled by poverty or the elements of nature than someone who is merely aimless or listless, someone like Hamlet who maintains a thoroughly negative view of the value of human life—someone, in short, who has seen the abyss? This also is reminiscent of the question that some out of towners ask when they see a Pollock for the first time. Why? Here is what Molteni writes when he comes home to find his wife Emilia has finally left for good, “all was in disorder, but it was an empty, blank disorder; no clothes, no shoes, no toilet articles, nothing but open, or half-open, empty drawers, gaping wardrobes with bare dangling coat hangers, vacant chairs.” When you’re not able to be happy, you can at least write about it—something which is comprised of its own pleasures, rewards and yes even the happiness of being able to write such a perfect description of dispossession.

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