Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Contempt

This brilliant book, amongst other things, is a good example of how intellectualism can mess up your life. The perpetual questioning of things that seem alright, questioning of the slightest inflection and intonation, questioning of an inconsequential moody denial. Questions about:
Why did she not want to come out with me, why is she suddenly comfortable with spending time by her self, why does she sleep on the sofa, why didn't she make up after our last fight, are her confidences genuine? Is her love dying?
An insistent urge to analyze every tiny bit, every deviation from consistency or every possible deviation from consistency. An insatiable desire to discuss these doubts with her and clear every question. To that point where she begins to question it herself -
Yes, there must be something wrong. Have I stopped loving him. Yes, that's right, I must have if he feels it so. Why did I stop?
- and then finding a reason somewhere.
This is what a modern-day scriptwriter does to his relationship. Continuously analyzing, agonizing, speculating reasons for what he thinks is a contemptuous attitude from his wife. He meets a producer who is his promise to a better future, but when the producer begins to make subtle and and then overt advances towards his wife, he is caught in doubt about how he must react.
The agonizing has a lot to do with his intellectualism. But the agony indirectly also raises questions on how a modern man is supposed to balance his id and superego, (or rather) the expectations from his id and superego. When another man tries to court his wife within social confines, is he expected to play the game and ignore the attempts, or like the provincial man challenge him to a duel of honor. As he worries in indecision, his id rebukes him, he begins to experience contempt for his inaction, and believes that his wife must hate him for it. A feeling that soon becomes contagious and spreads to the wife and rest of his social circle.
In a brilliant parallel, Moravia draws Ulysses into the story - the film-makers begin to make a modern-day adaptation of Odyssey (not the 'debasement' that Joyce did, by making great heroes into morose losers. as a character proclaims), but an adaptation which showed the Odyssey as Ulysess' attempts to stay away from his wife and her contempt. I am not sure if Moravia is cracking a joke on the psychoanalysts or is he too far gone to actually start analyzing every tale with a parameter of human consciousness. In either case, it lends an interesting touch to the book, especially by placing a parallel between a great hero and his regular protagonist.
Moravia's writing is excellent - in it there is much thought and consciousness, which though destructive in real life, is engaging. He seems to get into even the woman's head - without ever narrating the story from her perspective. As he describes her actions, they seem to carry an acute awareness of her thoughts and sentiments.
I saw the film adaptation Le Mepris immediately after reading the book. It is much different in form, but faithfully follows the theme. Godard has summarized the story events in 2-3 days, and more than agonizing, has followed the confusion over action and inaction - provincial and modern. The movie is beautifully subtle and silent against Moravia's excessive thought. I liked it a little less than the book, but adaptations always suffer from this malady.

6 comments:

NightWatchmen said...

Interestingly enough DevD has Chanda reading the same book (though at that point she is staying at her grandmother's and has not yet become Chanda). Me and a freind were discussing exactly why that book was inserted by the director, I think we have found the answer now.

P.S : Have you read Anna Karenina ?

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

I don't know what to call this feeling. It happens to me every time as in I get attracted or really moved by something and then within a few hours or days the opposite of it unfurls right in front of me. The other day while browsing I happened to read about 'Tuesdays with Morie' and the beautiful concept of shunning one's introspective side and thus learn to trust the other completely to develop a deep relationship and here you have introduced me to the quite opposite:

Why did she not want to come out with me, why is she suddenly comfortable with spending time by her self, why does she sleep on the sofa, why didn't she make up after our last fight, are her confidences genuine? Is her love dying?

Thanks for introducing new books. I’ve decided to read ‘A Bend in the River’. Your post about the novel was so persuasive.

Madhuri said...

Nightwatchmen, I have not seen DevD yet, so don't understand the context, but if my post helps you understand a prop, I am glad. I glanced through your review of the movie - did not want to read it and know everything before I watched the movie - you seem to think well of the movie, and it sounds like a good one (Bergmanesque and all). And yes, I have read Anna Karenina and was quite moved by it - I just don't know why you ask it here.

Arun, thanks for your kind comments. You will not regret reading A bend in the river, or Contempt - both of them are brilliant works.

Tarun Goel said...

A good one.

Alok said...

Sorry, I haven't kept up with all your blogs recently. Been busy and also away from the internet (part of it intentionallY!)...

This was one great discovery for me as well even though I had seen the movie before. The tone and emphasis of both are really very different...Godard brings in lots of his own interests and ideas into the movie (the hilarious opening scene for example in which Godard makes fun and a serious comment as well about how women's bodies are objectified in cinema)...

I agree with you on what you say about "intellectualism" but the other alternative - living an unexamined life is even worse. Actually that's one of the challenges of life...thinking and self-analysis may not always lead to self-knowledge and even can have the opposite effect - make it all more complex and darker and uninterpretable. The more he thinks about his wife's behavior the more mysterious and unexplainable it becomes. But as readers we do get to come close to his own psyche and understand how he got into the position that he is in - making compromises for money, even prostituting himself and (even though unintentionally) even his wife or at least that's how she perceives it or may be he only thinks it is how she looks at it... quite complex itsn't it? I also loved the whole subplot about the "modern" version of greek myth...and how things were simple in myths when heroes weren't so self-conscious. It is really amazing and very enlightening.

I also read his short novella Conjugal Love which is pretty similiar to this. I also need to finish his Boredom which I left at home...


About Dev D I don't think there was any connection or significance. in a scene the girl is shown reading the book with Bardot on the cover and her grandmother remarks that she is always reading such "dirty" books!!

Madhuri said...

Alok, nice to see you break your long silence :)
I agree that living an unexamined life is a worse alternative. Self-analysis more often than not leads to misery, yet we like to be thinking people, knowing people.Or at least our heroes are always the ones who chose the red pill.
I am currently reading his The woman of Rome. I have recently watched both [i]Vivre Sa Vie[/i] and [i]Notti di Cabiria[/i] - so seems like a good extension of the same theme.