Jack’s Naughty Bits: Mario Vargas Llosa, Part Two

Pin it

Jack's Naughty Bits
God, it is said, is in the details. It is a curse of consciousness that, in order to be able to process the data of everything that happens around us — whether daily and dull, or as in recent weeks, chaotic in the extreme — we must filter away much of each moment’s teeming nuance. To understand the things of this world, we must focus on similarities and, in doing so, eradicate many of the differences. To assimilate, to collate, we must ignore. This is why God is in the details, because to register them, to be able to appreciate the smallest of life’s miracles, we need give pause, unhinge our reason, let our consciousness be less human — and thereby more divine. Nietzsche famously described the basic process of language (and of philosophy) as the ability to take any number of disparate entities and refer to them all as one thing. By this process, we come to understand them, in a certain sense. That mass of objects, those are “leaves,” whatever their differences. But the reverse process, to take a pile of leaves and be able to separate them out — this one burnished, this torn, this prominently reticulate — brings the uniqueness, the great miracle of individuality, into full view. To live in the world we must see patterns, but to feel the full weight of this pendant globe we must strive to see the uniqueness of its elements. The magic is in the being of each thing, each and every time.


All this is better shown than said, of course, and better demonstrated than explained. I’m therefore going to excerpt this week a second passage from Mario Vargas Llosa’s supremely sensual and philosophical novel In Praise of the Stepmother. Last time I did a column on the book, I picked a passage quite un-indicative of the rest (concerning the allure of the abject); this time I’m picking one from its central vein: the great Don Rigoberto’s affection for the all and everything of his wife, Lucrecia. Rigoberto loves his wife, and will always love her, all at once and piece by piece. Rigoberto sees and feels with lucidity that anything associated with Lucrecia is part of her, and consequently worthy of love (and libidinal association). How does this relate to the God of details? Because, at base, when Rigoberto sees each detail of his beloved he says to himself, over and over, This is you. This is you. And therein lies the enduring wonder.


From In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by Helen Lane

As he rolled little balls of cotton around the tips of the tweezers and
wet them with soap and water so as to clean out the wax that had
accumulated inside his ear, he anticipated what those clean funnels would
soon be hearing as they descended from his wife’s breasts to her navel.
They need make no special effort there to surprise Lucrecia’s secret
music, for a veritable symphony of sounds, liquid and solid, prolonged
and brief, diffuse and clear, would immediately reveal their hidden life
to him. He looked forward with gratitude to how deeply he would be moved
to perceive, thanks to those organs which he was now scraping clean with
meticulous care and affection, ridding them of the oily film that formed
on them every so often, something of the secret existence of her body:
glands, muscles, blood vessels, hair follicles, membranes, tissues,
filaments, ducts, tubes, all that rich and subtle biological orography
that lay beneath the smooth epidermis of Lucrecia’s belly. Exists on the
inside or the outside of her, he thought. Because everything about her is
— or can be — erogenous.


He was not exaggerating, carried away by the tenderness that her sudden
appearance in his fantasies always gave rise to. No, absolutely not. For
thanks to his unyielding perseverance, he had managed to fall in love
with the whole and with each one of the parts of his wife, to love,
separately and together, all the components of that cellular universe. He
knew himself capable of responding erotically, with a prompt, robust
erection, to the stimulus of any of its infinite ingredients, including
the meanest and humblest, including what — to the ordinary hominid — was
the most inconceivable and most repellent. “Here lies Don Rigoberto, who
contrived to love the epigastrium of his spouse as much as her vulva or
her tongue,” he philosophically projected as a fitting epitaph on the
marble of his tomb. Would that mortuary motto be a lie? Not in the
slightest. He thought of how impassioned he would become, very shortly,
when the sound of muffled aqueous displacements reached his ears, avidly
flattened against her soft stomach, and at this moment he could already
hear the lively burbling of that flatus, the joyous cracking of a fart,
the gargle and yawn of her vagina, or the languid stretching of her
serpentine intestine. And he could already hear himself whispering, blind
with love and lust, the phrases with which it was his habit to render his
wife homage as he caressed her. “Those little noises, too, are you,
Lucrecia; they are your characteristic harmony, your resounding person.”
He was certain that he would not have the opportunity to verify, since he
would never embark upon the experiment of hearing love with any other
woman. Wasn’t Lucrecia an ocean of unfathomable depths that he, the
lover-diver, would never have done with exploring? “I love you,” he
murmured, feeling once again the dawn of an erection.