The fear of ecstasy
An ecstasy in which you have no part separates you from the person involved, who slips out of your sphere of domination more thoroughly than in any other way, except possibly in the case of schizophrenia. One becomes totally without influence. Then one tries a reconquest with force. That such a method is not very successful ought to be obvious, and when success fails, one is likely to explode in desperate actions defended on moral grounds. Mrs. Larsen made an issue of morality in her heretofore blameless house. The result was disastrous; her actions did not [p. 75] make Mrs. Larsen happy, and certainly not Mary, nor her electrician. What Mrs. Larsen had in mind, if she hadn't been completely distracted at the moment of action, was difficult to see. She ought to have realized that one must never let morality dominate if one wants to make use of it.
She had carried on about the morals of youth, but whether or not Mary and the electrician had broken any moral code, she did not know; she only scented something alien.
It is amazing that humanity has been able to survive with a vice that has been in ascendance since the time of Adam and Eve. Every new generation practices it and then rages because the following youthful generation does the same. One needn't bother to describe how the old look at the young; one may merely seize upon a quotation in passing: "The youths of today think only of themselves and have no respect for their parents or older people in general. The young take a dim view of having their actions and freedom curtailed, and they talk as if only they understood all things that to us are wisdom and which they consider stupidity. As to young girls—they are foolish and immodest, unladylike in speech, behavior, and dress."
These timeworn words have been used, day in and day out, since they were written in the year of Our Lord 1247, and undoubtedly youth had heard them long before that. There has always been something wrong with youth—God knows where they got it from. Erling wondered if one couldn't turn the irritation about, and direct the blame against the older generation, since they were so eager to harp on it. Then youth might be left in peace for a time, having so long been the scapegoat for a thing so universally human.
An instantaneous turn-about would be unjust, however, for the present older generation has already been lambasted for its sins. Therefore it should be arranged so, that the old ones of today would be let off without further chastising, provided they keep their hands off the youth of today, who in turn would get their planing-down from their descendants in the following ten years or so. Youth would then, in coming generations, entirely assume the monopoly of morals, and could undoubtedly add fresh approaches and invent new and painful experiences. Erling had recently read a thesis by the Danish Doctor Svend G. Johnsen about "fat boys" and their later fate. In it he had come across the following: "The male between twenty and thirty with pronounced dystrophia adiposogenitales usually still lives with his parents and declares on questioning that he is fully satisfied with this. Opposition against the preceding generation is totally lacking in these cases, and the patient enjoys being looked after by the mother."[p. 76]
Opposition against the preceding generation was lacking; a medical scientist had labeled it as a deficiency disease if youth isn't rebellious.
Erling had never felt grown-up enough to assume command of youths' morals, as he was still dubious about his own. The moralizing he had been exposed to during his early years had, to no purpose, made him feel a vast disgust which had slackened his work-desire and dampened his lust for life—something which he suspected had been the very purpose. It had also tempted him to sin to the utmost of his ability—which perhaps also had been the hidden purpose. Perhaps this in turn had contributed to the view of his mature years that youth should sail its own course and personally get stuck on the rocks, without threatening clouds from above, in the end to realize that after all it had been a wonderful sailing.
Among the causes that made another person escape our sphere of influence, falling in love with someone else was probably first on the list, thought Erling. A classical example is housewives' nosiness about their maids' sexual activities. In its heyday this pursuit had almost been justified for its own sake, requiring only the thinnest excuse on moral grounds to cover up fundamental lust to dominate, brutal sadism, vicarious eroticism, or plain gossipy curiosity. When a maid decided to leave and asked her boy-friend to carry down her belongings to a taxi, it created a vacuum which was felt long and bitterly. Love, long ago, had been proclaimed the enemy, unless one was one of the participants. A person in ecstasy, caught in another's circle, is outside one's power to dominate. We have arrived at a point where fear, automatically and as an entity itself, seizes us when someone is happy. A person who once has lost power—and this usually happens early in life—is consumed by that foolish lust to dominate that is called jealousy; which never can compensate for the original loss, even if it conquered the whole world. Indeed, the search for other conquests starts quickly; the fear of losing influence is the fear of being left alone—in the last analysis the fear of death. It shows up in any number of details of everyday life, from the annoyance against someone who forgot to send us a birthday greeting, or failed to invite us when Fredrik was invited, to the poorly hidden sullenness toward Kristian, whom we are unable to communicate with fully because he is still thinking of his dead brother. Why should he keep mourning about that for months? you say to yourself, and perhaps also to him. It bothers you that friends have friends that are not yours also. You are on the verge of wanting to forbid them to meet people you don't like. The suspicion of not being the most favored makes you sick. Friends of husband or son are viewed with suspicion as being unsuitable company [p. 77] and ridiculed to death. You must be chaste, you must be pure, you must keep to yourself, for I would rather see you dead than know you are with someone else.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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