Thursday, March 23, 2023

Marriage of the Minds

 Rachel Aviv (Frypie)

Rachel Aviv’s “Marriage of the Minds” (The New Yorker, 3/13/23) is an extraordinary and unusual piece. In a way it reads like autobiographical fiction in which the major characters, in this case the University of Chicago philosopher Agnes Callard (who happens to be autistic), Arnold Brooks (a grad student who marries Callard) and Ben Callard (the former husband) are avatars. This is not to say that Aviv’s life is anything like Callard’s. However, the piece is personal and reflective of the authorial disposition. It sets down new protocols and ways of considering human relationships. “It’s like the philosophy-is-a preparation for death thing,” Arnold says. “Maybe marriage is a preparation for divorce.” In fact, Callard has not been previously unhappy in her marriage, which she decides to end overnight. In her new marriage, her former husband, who is part of the family, adjudicates when the newlyweds fight. Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage is invoked, along with a number of other "pregnant" citations. Susan Sontag is quoted as saying “Marriage is ‘an institution committed to the dulling of the feelings.’” The author herself introduces the idea of “immaculate divorce…a divorce without grief or sorrow or pain.” When Aviv describes the Callard household to a friend, the friend says “she was reminded of a ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,’ a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin about a utopian city where everyone’s happiness depends on the suffering of one child, who is locked in a dark cellar, abandoned and starving.’” Janet Malcolm's “The Journalist and the Murderer,” revolutionized the form she was working in a way that went beyond the “Gonzo journalism” practiced by Mailer, Wolfe and Hunter Thompson. “Marriage of the Minds” doesn’t hold a  mirror up to itself, the way the Joe McGinniss/Jeffrey MacDonald piece did, rather it offers a "paradigm shift" in terms of both journalism and life where the pieces on the board, the subjects, the frames of reference are all inimitably curated. Aviv is also the author of a book entitled Strangers to Ourselves, which includes her unforgettable piece about a Harvard student who attempts to get off the regimen of psychiatric drugs.

read "Deconstructing Harriet" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and listen to "I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding

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