On occasional Wednesdays, I’ll post a passage from a current read that is too amazing, provocative, funny, or beautiful not to share. Today’s selection is from Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrower (reviewed in yesterday’s post). Sandro is a successful artist in New York, the son of a wealthy Italian industrialist, and the older lover of the protagonist, Reno. He shoots a man in the hand during an attempted mugging. Earlier, he had saved a man from an attempted suicide. This entrancing passage brings to mind Milan Kundera’s masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being…
“He [Sandro] thought a lot about the man who had drowned, or tried to, in the East River. Sandro had saved one man and shot another in the hand and the one he’d saved had not wanted to live. The look on the man’s face, trapped with the living. Lost and alive. The layers and layers of the man’s drenched winter coats, too heavy for Sandro to lift him out. He had weighted himself to guarantee his passage to death. All those coats pulling him down had reminded Sandro of a tribe his father had told him about, deep in the Amazon of Brazil, who weighted themselves with stones so that their souls would not wander away. Sandro had asked more, but his father brushed him off. It became an obsession for him as a boy, this idea of people trying to keep their souls from escaping. He read about other tribes in other parts of the world, Borneo and New Guinea, people for whom the soul was a contingent and skittish thing that could be chased out or lost or worse. It might run away. It had to be kept from leaving you, whether with seduction or stays or hooks or with heavy stones.
That the soul was not a fact, a simple thing you were, and possessed, had seemed to Sandro so reasonable. Still he believed it. That reality, in a sense, was not an objective place where you were thrust. You had to maintain your hold on it by vigilantly keeping watch over whatever slight and intangible thing gave your life its meaning. Call it a soul, or presence. Whatever it was, a prisoner or guest and you had to trick it or petition it into lingering.
People weighted themselves, Sandro knew, if not with stones.
A movie, a lover. Friends. Complicities. A certain amount of success. These were decent crutches, provided they could be changed up often enough. And art, of course. Making art was really about the problem of the soul, of losing it. It was a technique for inhabiting the world. For not dissolving into it.”