John McGahern, The Pornographer [1979] (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1980).

Extract

‘What had I learned from the clandestine night? The nothing that we always learn when we sink to learn something of ourselves from a poor other - our own shameful shallowness. We can no more learn from another than we can do their death for them or have them do ours. We have to go inland, in the solitude that is both pain and joy, and there make our own truth, and even if that proves nothing too, we have still that heard joy of having gone the hard and only way there is to go, we have not backed away or staggered to one side, but gone on and on and on, even when there was nothing, knowing there was nothing on any other way. All the doctrines that we have learned by heart and could not understand became laughingly clear. To find we had to lose: the road away became the road back. All, all were travelling. Nobody would arrive. The adventure never would be over even when we were over. It would go on and on, even as it had gone on before it had been passed on to us. [203].

[Cf. another edn..:] ‘We can no more learn from another than we can do their death for them or have them do ours. We have to go inland, in the solitude that is both pain and joy, and there make our own truth, and even if that proves nothing too, we have still that hard joy of having gone the hard and only way there is to go, we have not backed away or staggered to one side, but gone on and on and on even when there was nothing, knowing there was nothing on any other way. We have gone too deep inland to think that a different physique or climate would change anything. We were outside change because we were change. 203]

‘good people, we’re both good people’, is the girl’s constant refrain.

When I had loved, it had been uncertainty, the immanence of No that raised the love to fever, when teeth chattered and its own heat made the body cold: “I cannot live without her.”

“I cannot live ...” If she’d said Yes, would not the fever have retired back into the flesh, to be absorbed in the dull blessed normal heat?

And was the note of No not higher and more clear because it was the ultimate note to all the days of love—for the good, the beautiful, the brave, the wise—no matter what brief pang of joy their Yes might bring? [139]

I too had heard the hooves of the tribe galloping down on us. We had not kept within their laws. [139]

When I cried I cannot live without you, I had cried against the loss of a dream, and believed it was worse than death, since it could find no oblivion. I had thought no suffering could be worse. I was wrong.

I had gone in and suffered, when it was clear my love could not be returned, like the loss of my own life in the other. This now was worse. The Other would now happily lose her life in me and I would live the nightmare. It would be worse than loss. It would be a lived loss, and many must have been caught this way and made to live it. [104]

[Searching through some books] I eventually found a sentence which brought me to a sudden stop: “Everybody must feel that a man who hates any person[,] hates that person the more for troubling him with expressions of love; or, at least, it adds to hatred the sting of disgust.” I wrote it down, and kept it about my person like a scapular, as if the general expressions of the confused and covered feelings could licence and control them.[137]

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