Another Way of Offering

I love the odd coincidence (maybe Jungian synchronicity?) of finding overlapping themes or topics addressed in two completely unrelated books that you happen to be reading alongside each other. After being blown away by Claudia Rankine’s thoughts on offering oneself and receiving another in human relationship, I came across Elsa Morante’s gloomy protagonist in Aracoeli dwelling on the same issue– but here, our losing loner views the entire enterprise as largely pitiful:

Every creature on earth offers himself. Pathetic, ingenuous, he offers himself… Do I appeal to you? Do you want me?… each one then takes to displaying his own beauties; whence our desperate vanities are explained… all living creatures suggest themselves, like people of the street, at another’s signal of love… Always for the same demand, or boast, or claim, we hand ourselves over to the slaughter and to the cross and to sadism and algolagnia, to looting and rubble…*

Life amounts, for the protagonist, to a desperate thrownness into the world, the primary injustice of having been born and torn from one’s original cradle in the womb– and attempting to address, through the search for companionship, the lingering hurt of that unwilled journey, seems low somehow. The only ones who can escape the utter misery of everything that follows birth are “the beautiful and the young, who can offer without shame their own radiant flesh to caress… those who can offer, at least, some other display to make themselves attractive.”** Our man, of course, has none of these things, or at least believes he’s bereft of them– and with all his moaning, I’m tempted to shout out that he should do something about it, instead of wandering around like what my mother would call a sad sack, blaming his own mother for having made him believe, as a child, that he was worthy. It’s an odd, though not unprecedented,*** thing to trigger parent-directed ire, and almost halfway through the book, I’m still not sure why this lump has so much to hold against his long-dead mom. Given the fact, though, that this is a sort of Bildungsroman for the middle-aged, getting to– and hopefully dealing with– that revelation is probably the point. But jeez: although the writing itself is great, this sort of prolonged anti-social despondence usually wears itself out by the end of college, at least– and I’ve no desire to time-travel back into my twenties.

We’ll see what the rest of the book holds– but please, please let this guy find some sunlight somewhere…


* Elsa Morante, Aracoeli, transl. William Weaver (New York: Random House, 1984), 101-2. From Merriam-Webster: algolagnia is “a perversion (as sadism or masochism) characterized by pleasure and especially sexual gratification in inflicting or suffering pain.”

** ibid., 102.

*** There’s the trope, of course, of the overprotective mother, but so far, I don’t get the sense that Aracoeli fit that particular bill.



  1. birds fly

    This book’s description on GR and your thoughts here make it sound beyond bleak, and that from someone who often seeks out and enjoys gloomy loner characters in literature. I’ll be interested to hear if Morante allows in any light.

    (I love that kind of reading synchronicity, too!)


    • Special K

      Same here: it’s really odd when a character or story line becomes even too gloomy for yours truly, especially when presented through great writing. I’m wondering if I’ll end up being able to pinpoint where the line is, or of what it consists, that signals some point has been crossed into the land of “too much.”


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