Sunday, June 28, 2020

Saul Bellow's Dangling Man Would Understand Just How We Feel

At a time when many of us, especially the older and necessarily more cautious of us, have come to realize that the surest way to keep ourselves safe from Covid-19 infection is to venture from home as little as possible, it is still difficult not to grow bored by the whole process. Four months of this level of isolation, be it self-imposed or government-mandated, is starting to leave its mark on all of us. What remains to be seen is whether that mark will be indelible or erasable.

That's why I had to chuckle to myself a bit this afternoon when I read this passage from Saul Bellow's 1944 novel, Dangling Man. These are the thoughts of the novel's main character, a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown because his whole life has been placed on hold while he waits to be drafted into the military during World War II: 

        "But what such a life as this incurs is the derangement of days, the leveling of occasions. I can't answer for Iva, but for me it is certainly true that days have lost their distinctiveness. There were formerly baking days, washing days, days that began events and days that ended them. But now they are undistinguished, all equal, and it is difficult to tell Tuesday from Saturday. When I neglect to look carefully at the newspaper I do not know what day it is. If I guess Friday and then learn it is actually Thursday, I do not experience any great pleasure in having won twenty-four hours."

Those last two sentences are particularly true. If I mistake a Friday for a Saturday, I can't get excited at all when I realize that Saturday is still to come, that it's not already half over. After all, there is no difference anymore between a weekday and a weekend day. Nothing is open and there's no place to go because, at least for the moment, I have all the groceries and medicine I need.

I find it rather serendipitous when I stumble on connections like this one between June 2020 and a novel written 76 years ago. It's a reminder that books are treasure chests - and that you don't know what's in them until you open them up. Pity the poor non-readers out there.

6 comments:

  1. That quote certainly feels like the time we're living in! So apropos. Days really do feel undistinguished right now.

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    1. They really do. Except for my mood swings, every day is like the one before it or the one to come.

      I am still angry today from going to the grocery store this morning, Kroger, and seeing three of the four cashiers wearing their masks below their nose, the store manager doing the same, three stockers not even having theirs that high up on their face, and several customers not wearing them at all despite masks being mandatory in this county right now. I'm fast losing faith in my fellow man.

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  2. It's all very strange isn't it? I think this time will have a profound effect on people of our age, I'm not sure life will ever be quite the same again. I'm now starting to think of events as 'Before lockdown' or 'After lockdown', and to wonder if we will ever be able to do some of those things again. At least... 'safely'. And of course I'm also wondering whether, if we get a second peak, my husband will need to sheild properly, whereas before he was not really in the highest risk category, more the next one down. All questions we will have to ask when we return to the hospital soon. Isn't life fun?

    What's happening with your dad, Sam?

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    1. I've come to the conclusion, Cath, that people our age (at least in the West) don't get a whole lot of respect. We are generally invisible to people two generations younger and down, and they could not care less that their selfish herd behavior is putting us at such a high degree of risk. People are either too lazy or too stupid to do the right thing. They just can't be inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Wearing a mask is just too much to ask of them.

      I hope your husband recovers well before a second wave hits the world - you just know it has to be coming. I have friends who have literally not been out of the house since mid-March because of health issues (one is a recent liver transplant patient, for example). They are already going stir crazy, and I can't imagine what it will be like for them if this goes on another year.

      Dad is not doing well. His mind is permanently damaged and he's in a lot of pain. I got a phone call last night (one a.m.) telling me that he had fallen earlier in the evening when he grew so confused about his location that he tried to get out of his chair. He took another hit to the side of his head by falling into a bedside table. He seems OK this morning, though they tell me he is bruised pretty badly.

      You're definitely right; it's all very strange.

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  3. I've tried to set up ways to distinguish between the days, but not much success there. What an appropriate quote for the times.

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    1. I wake up three or four days aa week thinking it's Saturday. It weirds me out every time that happens, especially when it's only Wednesday or Thursday. :-)

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