Quotes of the Day – Edith Wharton and Muriel Spark

Our culture is big on appearances. Do the right thing, say the right words, put your best foot forward. But at what point does your facade become your true face? No matter what you claim to feel on the inside, what you do with the outside is the tangible evidence of who you are. As Edith Wharton and Muriel Spark argue, in their inimitable fashion.

The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.
– Edith Wharton ‘The Age of Innocence’

She did not know then that the price of allowing false opinions was the gradual loss of one’s capacity for forming true ones.
– Muriel Spark ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’

In Search of Integrity

Welcome disruption in the form of an impulse journey to Cork. The familiar is useful for many things: ease, security, comfort. But not for progression or intense coversational cogitation. There are, in other words, good reasons for seeking out a strange, half-lit living room in which to drink endless cups of hot water while reading Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society.

I bought it on a hunch, following the trail of a couple of paragraphs excerpted in a website about child development. My hope was it would shed some light, or offer a referential framework, for understanding the miseducation of Britney Spears. In the course of three mornings slung across the sofa it has proved more indicative than even I hoped. One sentence seems to summarise the whole problem, to hint at root of all root causes: “The ego, in the course of its synthesising efforts, attempts to subsume the most powerful evil and ideal prototypes… and with them the whole existing imagery of superior and inferior, good and bad, masculine and feminine, free and slave, potent and impotent, beautiful and ugly, fast and slow, tall and small, in a simple alternative, in order to make one battle and one strategy out of a bewildering number of skirmishes.”

I say “the whole problem” not “her whole problem” because the more I read, and think, and look for the links from A to B to K to Q, the more it looks like not something one person has tried and failed to reconcile, but something which we are all impelled to negotiate. The “it”, the “something” is, of course, our relationship to the world. Who and where we are, what we do, why we do it. As Erikson phrases it: “The acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no subsitutions.”

He calls it “integrity” — the same word Woolf uses to describe the essential quality of great art. It is a word usually deployed as a synonym for “honesty” or “rightness” but it signifies more than just following the rules. In fact a person “of integrity” in the conventional sense might not actually have any integrity at all. Submission to social mores can often be aggressively anti-integrity, if it separates a person from themselves.

This is where my conventional beginning-middle-end journalistic dialectic breaks down and I have to stop writing because the particular verbal pathway I’m on leads to complication, not resolution.