Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Interesting musings...

Uh, I have absolutely no idea of what this guy is talking about. This has never happened to me.

It is tempting to think that domestic quarrels are the occasional eruptions that disturb the otherwise tranquil surface of a relationship, but in fact the reverse is true: strife, in progress or just around the corner, is the default condition of domesticity, and tranquillity is the anomaly. Perhaps that is why when the poet John Milton needed a plot device that would get Adam and Eve from the happy perfection of Eden to the act of disobedience and the Fall, he invented – it is not in Genesis – a domestic quarrel. Milton’s Eve says to Adam (“Paradise Lost,” book 9), This garden grows so quickly that we’re always falling behind in our labors, especially when we stop to talk; maybe we’d get more done if we separate and work in different areas. Adam responds, Does this mean you’re tired of me? Stung, Eve replies, Why would you say that? Are you afraid I can’t manage by myself? And with that, they’re off to the races, serpent waiting. Later, when the apple is eaten and they see it was a bad idea, each blames the other: he blames her for having left his side, and she blames him for having let her. The poet draws the moral, and it is one we all recognize: “Thus they in mutual accusation spent/The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning,/And of their vain contest appeared no end.”

Is there no way out of this unhappy spiral? Is mutual accusation the only possible career of a quarrel? Can’t we learn from our mistakes? Well, there are three things to know about domestic quarrels. The first is that they have no beginning. There is no bell that announces the passage from ordinary and amiable conversation to conflict. You only know you’re in one when it has already been going on for a while. In this genre, in medias res is all there is.

Once you do tumble to the fact that you’re already in the middle of a quarrel – and this is the second thing to know – you will try to get out of it by returning to the beginning that never was; and this means that you will go back to your first remark (or what you take to be your first; a standard move in this game is to contest the moment of its non-origin) and vigorously assert its blamelessness. In short, you will try to clarify and sanitize your words by producing more words, but of course the more words you produce, the more weapons you provide the person who is sitting across from you at the breakfast table. (And who is he or she anyway? How did I ever get mixed up with anyone like that?) Every exculpation you offer for your previous utterances will be heard as evidence of a new sin, and every attempt to absolve yourself of that sin will generate another. The mathematics of these situations are exponential.

I also loved this comment from one of his readers:

What a relief it is to learn, at long last, that these arguments really are, in so many ways, her fault! Or, I think that’s what you said. Right? I mean, if I didn’t start it I couldn’t finish it, and she didn’t get what I said because she was talking, right? So, it can’t be my fault. Right? I mean, that’s really what you meant, right?

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