I can tell by the way he leans his bike against the wall that he must be a good D-I-Y man, said my friend. Good point. It’s an interesting intuition. Do seemingly unrelated acts reflect each other? This is also a good game I can recommend in these etc etc times. Does a man’s posture tell you if they are proud or not? Maybe they are terribly proud but have a bad back. Here’s someone with a range of elegant hand gestures as she talks. You wouldn’t know she picked her nose in public. And look at how this fellow writes; his beautiful italic script; he must be so precise and meticulous in private life. It turns out he leaves a trail of chaos wherever he goes. The moment an actor does something counter-intuitive in their depiction of a character is always the moment that rings true, the moment they do something illogical or against the grain of the cliche. I remember Gerard Depardieu in a Truffaut film running halfway up the stairs of his suburban house then back down again for no apparent reason, just to illustrate mental turmoil. Or the moment in another film whose title I have forgotten the Emperor of Austro-Hungary inspects the troops. He is grubby and ill-shaven, a figure of no glamour or substance at all. When you see that, you realise it’s true. One thing doesn’t mean another. We are strange mixtures of accomplishment and measliness. You would not think the one went with the other. So: he’s tricking you by leaning his bike against that wall in such an accomplished manner. In fact, his D-I-Y skills are measly.
In my block there is a guy who looks like he is married. He must be about fifty and wears pink chino shorts in the summer. He is well built and looks as though he might represent a good catch for a woman thinking of settling down. I never see him with anyone, so I assume he is divorced. He looks like a divorced guy. I can imagine him having an extra-marital affair and getting booted out by a high-maintenance wife. In my block there are a lot of gay men but he isn’t gay; he has none of those gay characteristics. Nor is he a long term singleton. None of his fashion choices would put him in this bracket. There are no toothpaste stains on his tee-shirt or anything. He should really be living in Surbiton and have a car in a garage next to his family home. In my block we do not allow cars in the courtyard. People are mostly public transport people. What with the lockdown I have begun exchanging smiles and nods with him. The other day we exchanged words. He was standing in a queue for a toilet outside a pub that has started selling beer from its doorway as a takeaway drink. The main attraction of the pub was the toilet and he was standing there in the queue, again not with anyone in particular. I said hallo and he said something I didn’t quite hear and laughed. I laughed back. Maybe we can be acquaintances.
In Rousseau’s Confessions, which I am reading at the moment, you encounter a litany of deviant or marginal sexual activity. In Book One Jean-Jacques confesses to the pleasure he derived from being spanked as a child. In Book Two he describes in graphic detail the horror he felt at seeing his first ejaculation when a man with a penchant for him masturbated in front of the him (‘je vis partir vers la cheminee at tomber a terre je ne sais quoi de gluant et de blanchatre’ – I saw something gluey and whitish shoot out towards the chimney and fall onto the floor). In Book Three we read how he used to expose himself to girls who went to a well to fill their pail with water. In Book Eight Rousseau recounts how after a little too much to drink he and two other men shared the favours of a girl, taking her in turns. We also learn in Book Eight of the five children he had that he immediately gave up to the Home for Lost children. I have four more books to read. He was no saint.There will be more revelations.
And yet, is it not healthy to reveal the misdemeanours of youth or even maturity? Would it be healthier to whitewash them out? In 2020 any errors in your youth might well disqualify you for respectability in later life. In the digital age we document them all the time. We confess without realizing it. We blunder into confession and self-revelation. Our fallibility has become a liability. I can see that we do not want to empower a monster, but the deep puritanical strain that I think comes from the US is growing. D’Alembert, a contemorary of Rousseau, had a term for the type of thinker that Rousseau was. Not Lberte, Egalite, Fraternite but Liberte, Pauvrete, Verite. Verite or Truth is sometimes a casualty of the frantic rearch for virtue.