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Record My Mind: Banal Records of a Pedestrian Life

Suffering and evil overwhelm me and I stew in my own juice. 

Monday, March 14, 2005

3/14/2005 01:20:00 am - The Art of Suffering


Alphonso Daudet suffered from a form of syphilis that caused his back to waste away. (What's with writers and venereal disease? Maupassant had syphilis. Tolstoy was treated for venereal disease when he was 22. Hasty Generalization?)

Julian Barnes writes:

His response, both personal and literary, to his condition was admirable. "Courage... means not scaring others," Larkin wrote. Numerous witnesses attest to Daudet's exemplary behaviour. His last secretary, André Ebner, remembered Daudet sitting with a friend one morning, eyes closed, barely able to speak, martyred by pain. The door-knob gently turned, but before Mme Daudet could enter, her husband was on his feet, the colour back in his cheeks, laughter in his eye, his voice filled with reassurance about his condition. When the door closed again Daudet collapsed back into his chair. "Suffering is nothing," he murmured. "It's all a matter of preventing those you love from suffering."

This is a difficult, correct (and nowadays unfashionable) position. It led Daudet to familiarity with all the ironies and paradoxes of long-term suffering. Surrounded by those you love, and unwilling to inflict pain on them, you deliberately talk down your suffering, and thus deprive yourself of the comfort you crave. Next, you discover that your pain, while always new to you, quickly becomes repetitive and banal to your intimates: you fear becoming a symptoms bore. Meanwhile the anticipation of indignities to come - and the terror of disgusting those you love - makes suicide not just tempting but logical; the catch is that those you love have already insisted that you live, if only for them.


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