Book impressions: Jean-Christophe I

In my book destroyment post, I mentioned my ugly old editions of Jean-Christophe. I do exaggerate for effect quite often, but as one can see below, I was truthful, wasn’t I?

"Get thee off the shelf and on to the table. You will have your picture taken for the blog. Please be good and try to look romantically and artistically aged."

Get thee off the shelf and on to the table. You will have your picture taken for the blog. Please be good and try to look romantically aged.

These were published in 1958. They have been repaired with adhesive tape in places, the covers are somewhat loose, there’s pages sticking out, some staining, and general wear and tear. I got them for free at the library’s book give-away day.  Since I was so enamoured with the first book, I naturally checked whether there were any newer editions available so I could replace mine.

There weren’t. But what should I come upon but an advertisement on a local forum. Some person seeking other individuals who had read and been deeply impacted by Jean-Christophe, with a half-apologetic “I’m seeking kindred spirts, you know” at the end. If it hadn’t been posted 10 years ago, I’d have replied.

I don’t think I’ve ever come upon an ad like that on a local forum. A person seeking soulmates based on a book they liked? Yet I can totally see why this particular book.

It tends to inspire and pull into itself if you can at all relate to the main character’s aspirations and temperament.

I’ve been yammering on about Jean-Christophe on the blog for a while. I would apologise for it if I was sorry, but I am not. I want to write of what inspires me at a particular moment and sometimes it just happens to be one and the same thing. It took me more than a year to finish the first volume because I’m weird. The more I like a book, the more likely I am to put off reading it, and go for something else instead. I want to draw out the enjoyment of it.

The first book consists of four volumes and focuses on Christophe’s childhood and early adulthood. His struggles with an alcoholic father, the death of his grandfather, his developing musical talent and fame, his disappointments, humiliations, numerous infatuations, rebellion against falseness and unearned high status in society and in music.

Speaking and thinking truth

The final volume, Christophe’s rebellion years, was where I grew to dislike Christophe a little. Part of the charm of this book is that we are very similar, both highly emotional neurotics, passionately idealistic, who love life but hate what society is doing with it. Our personalities make us be tossed about by life, but we love it still, and find meaning in it, somehow. Just as he was crying by the river, face in the dirt, and was consoled by the awareness of “life” in the grass and birdsong, I’ve been consoled by the winds and the mists on similar days. Yet I couldn’t relate or like this Christophe who had nothing but contempt for every musician who didn’t share his preferences or was less talented, the Christophe who was difficult and alienated everyone with his frank nastiness. I didn’t like the pleasure he took in hating and destroying under the guise of speaking the truth.

I would not disagree with him. My understanding of music is very poor, but I too could relate to his sentiments on singers being full of affectation and theatrical performances being ‘unnatural’, with middle-aged ladies playing Hamlet. I would not disagree, but the manner in which he did it and what the results of it were – is truth in this form wise or necessary?

Truthfulness towards ourselves and towards others is one of the hardest things to successfully execute. Christophe failed and alienated everyone. When I start reading the second book, he will probably achieve a better compromise than that witnessed in the final volume where he had become a complete outcast as a result of his frankness.

Maybe the compromise could be that you remain truthful, but do not hate those with inferior abilities and discernment. A kind of sympathy rather than contempt? This might soften the harshness and antisocial way of expressing one’s truth.

However, the falseness one sees around ourselves has rubbed me the wrong way for a very long time, and inspires rebellion too, so I found Jean-Christophe’s frankness inspiring as much as I found it excessive and distancing.

I too have been comparatively more sincere and unversed in the art of social pretense, so I have a soft spot for such frankness, a kind of rational appreciation, even if emotionally I may recoil from it.

*****************

Christophe rebelled against people who only make a pretense of liking music, but don’t love it.

There’s always been a lot of that about. It’s pretty classic to complain about upper and middle class people attending concerts or art exhibitions more for the prestige than for the love of the thing.

Of the countless girls who show themselves as great book lovers on social media, posting pictures of themselves reading a book in the wild, how many actually read that particular book? Isn’t it more often simply a decoration to get a good romantic look? Because reading books is romantic and if you want to ‘do’ the dreamer type convincingly, you got to have a couple of pictures of yourself reading, preferably on the beach, on a mossy stone near the ruins. I have no doubt some professed book lovers are sincere, but I have as little doubt that some are just putting it on as an element of their public image. And believing in it. That’s why Christophe alienated people to this extent. They believed their own lies.

I’m not above this either. I can create a good public image and in job or university interviews it has served me well. I can believe in it too. Don’t we all do this to some extent? I regret to say, however, that I’m a lot less intelligent and a lot less well-read than I appear. With the pace at which I read books, I couldn’t be all that well-read. I take it as a compliment when people assume I’m familiar with the authors they refer to, but frequently I am not and need to google not to lose face.

I think reading this book made me a lot more aware of my own lies to myself and this is what I’d like to reduce. To dare be a truthful version of myself. To find that truthful version from underneath the exaggerations and image-making. It has always been my goal to be authentic, but reading Jean-Christophe reminded me of how far I am from it still, how lost I’ve become.

The love of a thing. It really ought to be the primary guiding force for enjoying and selecting art to enjoy. Not curiosity, desire to understand and know what people are talking about, or the desire to appear educated. Pure love of a good book, film or musical piece. Not put on appreciation or faked interest. Genuine curiosity is of course different, but even that never beats love.

Maybe one way of uniting truthfulness with pro-sociality would be through a kind of trickster figure? As long as the tricks are friendly. And then there is comedy, of course. Laughing with, not at. I often feel that the only chance I would have of speaking absolute truth would be in my creations, because there I would not be limited by character. I could express all my contradictory truths and inclinations without causing dissonance.

I suppose what I would like to move towards is truthfulness even if it harms my self-image or disadvantages me. Today I caught myself once again denying a truthful assessment of character because I didn’t want to appear pitiful. I didn’t lie while denying it, but I diverted conversation to behaviours that I do possess and which contradict it. Yet, the former assessment was true too. I just happen to suffer from excessive pride and a disinclination to show weakness.

I think our Western society is suffering from the same problem. We attempt to eradicate and deny self-harming truth. It goes as far as the academia and science. We don’t want some hypotheses to be proven correct. We want to do away with truth that does not fit our desired image of ourselves and our humanist ideals, what we’d like us and humanity to be like. This would of course require a separate post of its own, so I won’t dwell on it further.

 

(Some more thoughts coming when inspired…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *