If Brahma is a more endearing creator than Jehovah it is
because he wasn’t pleased with what he had made. He found
the world dull and dusty. Death was the answer, suggested Siva.
Living forever, people were bored. A time-limit would
galvanize, give dignity. But in that case some way of replacing the
population would have to be found. Brahma brought together
a few trusted fellows and explained what was required. The
pleasure took them by surprise. What was that for? To put a fresh
shine on the world, they were told. Otherwise it might get dusty
I’m always taken aback when people talk about the eroticism
of food and drink, of sunbathing and massage. This is mere
sensuality. Or avoiding the issue. No experience even
remotely compares with true eros, with long and lavish love-making. It is perfectly understandable that people should
imagine its having been tacked on to creation afterwards, so
extravagant is the pleasure it brings, so far beyond what is
necessary. Never does the world seem so freshly painted, so
brightly enamelled, so new, for heaven’s sake, as after the
best sex. But, alas, depending on where you’re up to in
life, it may be full of new complications too. A lesser
authority than Brahma’s would have issued a health-warning.
Over billiards and beer a friend is explaining why he is
leaving his wife and two children. He’s playing with
unusual speed and precision. His eyes are brighter than the beer
could account for. ‘And the girl is twenty-three,’ he
explains. French. So intelligent. ‘Intelligently pert breasts?’ I
enquire, ‘Perceptively warm thighs?’ He laughs. He is
deliriously proud, confused, unhappy. ‘I feel I was never
really in love with my wife,’ he says.
Eroticism paints out the past. In this sense it is the
most potent myth-making and myth-destroying power we have.
How those first encounters are told and re-told, cherished
and savoured over and over again. How solid and irreplaceable
they begin to seem. I did this, you said that. When your hand
first… When your mouth… Beneath all the structure of
domestic economy, in-laws, even children, it is on this
bedrock that marriage rests. But only once? Is it never to happen
again? Suddenly solid ground is quicksand…
‘As soon as I’m in the door, I feel suffocated. I married
too young.’ Thus Franco, potting the black. ‘I never
experienced real passion.’ Before la jeune-fille très
intelligente, he means. And is setting up the table again.
He is smoking too this evening. I have never seen him smoke
before. ‘I feel I will die if I go home,’ he says. I ask
him if he wants more children. He doesn’t. ‘Perhaps it’s
all a terrible mistake,’ he says, ‘but at least I will have
had this passion.’ Should I tell him that when we first met
years ago he had seemed very passionate about his wife? Who
is nothing if not intelligent…
Women. Another Indian myth – sexist, if you wish to be
offended – has it that when the gods became scared of a man,
scared of his developing spiritual powers, they would send
him a woman. Or alternatively they might send Indra to seduce
his wife and make him jealous. In either case, the turbulent
feelings would disperse the power he had accumulated. So
Franco, whose expertise once took him round all the capitals
of Europe, now finds his life in pieces. Lawyers, quarrels,
returns, departures. Then more women too. For if marriage
has a way of declining into dusty routine, myth-making likewise
can lapse into tawdry chronicle. The third marriage, the
fourth. Meantime, my billiards is improving.
Eroticism has this in common with an addictive drug:
that there is a coercive element to its pleasure with which
part of us is in complicity, and part not. Thus ever since
time began men have been trying to enjoy eroticism without
being destroyed by it. Societies, religions can be defined
in the way they deal with this conundrum. Polygamy, monogamy
with repression, monogamy with affairs, monogamy with
prostitutes, serial monogamy. Not to mention individual
solutions of great ingenuity, or desperation: Victor Hugo with the
door knocked through the wall of his office, to let in a girl
each afternoon. Auden’s flare for finding call-boys in every
town. Picasso who simply refused when wife and mistress demanded
he choose between them. Then there is always the hair-shirt of
course. But perhaps the thing to remember when you wake up
with a life full of fresh paint and tortuous complications
is that eroticism wasn’t invented for you, nor merely for the
survival of the species perhaps, but for a divinity’s
entertainment. Nothing generates so many opportunities for
titillation and schadenfreude as eroticism. Which is why it
lies at the centre of so much narrative. How the gods
thronged the balconies of heaven to see the consequences of
Helen’s betrayal! And your friends are watching too. Your
antics have put the shine on many a late-night conversation.
On the borders between mythology and history, that wily
survivor Odysseus was the first who learnt to trick the
gods. And perhaps his smartest trick of all was that of lashing
himself to the mast before the Sirens came in earshot.
There are those of course who are happy to stand at the railings,
even scan the horizon. Otherwise, choose your mast, find
the ropes that suit you: sport, workaholism, celibacy with
prayerbook and bell… But the kindest and toughest ropes
of all are probably to be found in some suburban semi-detached
with rowdy children and a woman who never allows the dust to
settle for too long.
Copyright © Tim Parks 2000
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This electronic version of Eros is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
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Tim Parks is the author of eight novels and has been awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the Betty Trask Award. His novel Europa was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize. He is also the author of two bestselling works of non-fiction, Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education. He has lived in Italy since 1981. He has his own web pages at http://www.timparks.co.uk.
Tim Parks’s most recent novel is Destiny of which the Irish Times has said: ‘On any level, at every level, this novel is a dazzling and sustained
tour-de-force…Easily the best of English fiction published so far this
year, Destiny dissects the human comedy with equal measures of humanity and humour’; according to the Sunday Telegraph Destiny is ‘A novel of rare virtuosity…breathless, exhausting, exhilarating…brilliantly imagined and executed’.