|J. M. Coetzee [timesunion]|
‘Very well. You find me attractive, I can see that. Perhaps you even find me beautiful. And because you find me beautiful, your appetite, your impulse, is to embrace me. Do I read the signs correctly, the signs you give me? Whereas if you did not find me beautiful you would feel no such impulse.’
He is silent.
‘The more beautiful you find me, the more urgent becomes your appetite. That is how these appetites work which you take as your lodestar and blindly follow. Now reflect. What — pray tell me — has beauty to do with the embrace you want me to submit to? What is the connection between the one and the other? Explain.’
He is silent, more than silent. He is dumbfounded.
‘Go on. You said you would not mind if your godson heard. You said you wanted him to learn about life.’
‘Between a man and a woman,’ he says at last, ‘there sometimes springs up a natural attraction, unforeseen, unpremeditated. The two find each other attractive or even, to use the other word, beautiful. The woman more beautiful than the man, usually. Why the one should follow the other, the attraction and the desire to embrace from the beauty, is a mystery which I cannot explain except to say that being drawn to a woman is the only tribute that I, my physical self, know how to pay to the woman’s beauty. I call it a tribute because I feel it to be an offering, not an insult.’
He pauses. ‘Go on,’ she says.
‘That is all I want to say.’
‘That is all. And as a tribute to me — an offering, not an insult — you want to grip me tight and push part of your body into me. As a tribute, you claim. I am baffled. To me the whole business seems absurd — absurd for you to want to perform, and absurd for me to permit.’
‘It is only when you put it that way that it seems absurd. In itself it is not absurd. It cannot be absurd, since it is a natural desire of the natural body. It is nature speaking in us. It is the way things are. The way things are cannot be absurd.’
‘Really? What if I were to say that to me it seems not just absurd but ugly too?’
He shakes his head in disbelief. ‘You cannot mean that. I myself may seem old and unattractive — I and my desires. But surely you cannot believe that nature itself is ugly.’
‘Yes, I can. Nature can partake of the beautiful but nature can partake of the ugly too. Those parts of our bodies that you modestly do not name, not in your godson’s hearing: do you find them beautiful?’
‘In themselves? No, in themselves they are not beautiful. It is the whole that is beautiful, not the parts.’
‘And these parts that are not beautiful — you want to push them inside me! What should I think of that?’
‘I don’t know. Tell me what you think.’
‘That all your fine talk of paying tribute to beauty is una tontería. If you found me to be an incarnation of the good, you would not want to perform such an act on me. So why wish to do so if I am an incarnation of the beautiful? Is the beautiful inferior to the good? Explain.’
‘Una tontería: what’s that?’
He gets to his feet. ‘I am not going to excuse myself further, Ana. I don’t find this to be a profitable discussion I don’t believe you know what you are talking about.’
‘Really? You think I am some ignorant child?’
‘You may not be a child but, yes, I do think you are ignorant of life. Come,’ he says to the boy, taking his hand. ‘We have had our picnic, now it is time to thank the lady and go off and find ourselves something to eat.’
Ana reclines, stretches out her legs, folds her hands in her lap, smiles up at him mockingly. ‘Too close to the bone, was it?’ she says.