Moravia, You Slay Me

Josh found books yesterday.

Aside from a book in Polish, a few outdated commentaries that aren’t even interesting enough for a lark and a few that were simply too desperate to repair (a book by Martin Luther King and a Max Weber collection – EEEEEEEEEEEEE!), there were a couple that I just have to share with you before we give them a traditional viking funeral.

First up is “a brilliant gathering of a world-famous psychiatrist’s most important writings”. Which. Are entitled, Of Love and Lust. Because I want to know what a psychiatrist thinks of romantic emotions…wait, no I don’t. Particularly one who begins explaining himself through the use of words like “definitively”….

So, Dr. Something-or-other takes on Christ’s commandment to love thy neighbor. And for all of you who don’t have degrees in the field of psychiatry, he explains what that’s really all about. “The secret meaning of the injunction…is to love them to their shame, to their destruction…One can love them by humiliating oneself, by being humble and thus proving how superior one is.” He concludes that Christ was ingenious in deciding to degrade someone by loving them. O_O The saddest proof that man can’t be cured of his preoccupation with the God in whom he doesn’t want to believe. If only he weren’t so sure of himself.

Next – the thing de resistance – is a book by Alberto Moravia. It’s a collection of stories entitled The Wayward Wife. Of course, I was instantly intrigued. (No. I wasn’t.) But that was only before I read the list of his other books: The Two of Us, Paradise, Command and I Will Obey You, Roman Tales, The Lie, The Fetish, Conjugal Love (what?!), and The Time of Indifference. I can see he tried to sneak in a misleading title at the end. He was a clever minx.

After reading the rather uninspired back cover copy – below which there is a quote from The Observer boasting that Moravia is “One of the greatest literary craftsmen of our time” – I wasn’t horribly interested in even skimming the book. I checked the era, copyright 1952, and out of the corner of my eye saw the short story title, “The Negro and the Old Man with the Bill-Hook” (1948).

Should I? Darest I?!

So, the story is about a man taking a walk along the beach with a girl he prays will be easy. (Yep.) She’s Italian – perhaps they both are, since the hero’s name is Cosimo – and “every time Cora spoke, his desire faded away, giving place to contempt”, poor guy. Anyway, the best thing about her is her belly that swallows up her navel and her enormous, gargantuan hips. (Yep.) But then this Negro in military uniform (which I guess is more to the point than calling him an American soldier) appears, laying on Cora’s shoulder “a large black hand, with purple nails”. His voice was “urgent with desire” and he basically demands that she come away and walk with him. So the girl goes with the Negro (I’m desperately sorry but that’s all the name Moravia gave the fellow so I’ve nothing else to call him) and Cosimo follows them from a distance. After all, “He remembered having heard of the attraction that Negroes held for some white women, and he thought that Cora must be one of these”.

So Cora’s walking around with the Negro – who’s a giant, don’t ya know – and Cosimo, “frightened, indignant”, says, “The b*#$@… she won’t do that with me, but she will with the Negro.” He’s crying and cursing her as he watches them and then, upon passing a fisherman, Cora breaks away from the Negro and takes shelter behind the strange old fisherman who swipes at the Negro with the bill-hook until he wanders off and here’s ole Cosimo with egg on his face, for how will he explain his cowardice? And Cora, she knows just what to say: “What could you do? …He was a giant, that man….Oh, I was frightened…” for you see, “She had many more things to say of the danger of Negroes”. Then they get in the car and prepare to head home and finally, FINALLY she kisses Cosimo.

But in her kiss… “he was aware of something that had nothing at all to do with him, something that had been awakened by the yearning, sing-song voice of the Negro and by the fisherman’s bill-hook. And he felt, at the same time, both remorse and jealousy.”


And I can hear some of you now – “You have to take into consideration the era in which PFFFFFFFFFFFFFT”. Yes, I do. I have to – no, I insist that we take into consideration just how low and ugly we allowed ourselves to be (using, of course, the editoral “we” ’cause I’m Black, y’all – HAH, shout out to CB4) and whether we’re far enough graduated beyond it.

19 thoughts on “Moravia, You Slay Me

  1. Come on. You’re telling me that the fact that he worked a bill-hook not only into the story, but into the title itself doesn’t redeem the rampant racism!?

    But seriously, interesting haul. Kant, Donaldson, some Krynn stuff, and a Farmer book too.


  2. Pingback: Eleventy Queries | Expatriate Games

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