Wednesday, January 3

they watch each other

We went for a walk together, the walk into the forest he would take each morning. I asked him why in the first volume of his memoirs he wrote in several distinctly different styles.

'Each style belongs to a different person.'

'To a different aspect of yourself?'

'No, rather it belongs to a different self.'

'Do these different selves coexist, or, when one is predominant, are the others absent?'

"They are present together at the same time. None can disappear. The two strongest are my violent, hot, extremist, romantic self and the other my distant, sceptical self.'

'Do they discourse together in your head?'

'No.' (He had a special way of saying No. As if he had long ago considered the question at length and after much patient investigation had arrived at the answer.)

'They watch each other,' he continued. 'The sculptor Hrdlicka has done a head of me in marble. It makes me look much younger than I am. But you can see these two predominant selves in me -- each corresponding to a side of my face. One is perhaps a little like Danton, the other a little like Voltaire.'

As we walked along the forest path, I changed sides so as to examine his face, first from the right and then from the left. Each eye was different and was confirmed in its difference by the corner of the mouth on each side of his face. The right side was tender and wild . . . I thought rather of an animal: perhaps a kind of goat, light on its feet, a chamois maybe. The left side was sceptical but harsher: it made judgments but kept them to itself, it appealed to reason with an unswerving certainty. The left side would have been inflexible had it not been compelled to live with the right. I changed sides again to check my observations.

'And have their relative strengths always been the same?' I asked.

'The sceptical self has become stronger,' he said. 'But there are other selves too.' He smiled at me and took my arm and added, as though to reassure me: 'Its hegemony is not complete!'

He said this a little breathlessly and in a slightly deeper voice than usual -- in the voice in which he spoke when moved, for example when embracing a person he loved.

-- John Berger, on Ernst Fischer The Sense of Sight