Marathe leaned again forward on his stumps. ‘Make amusement all you wish. But choose with care. You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice. You, M. Hugh Steeply: you would die without thinking for what? … This, is it not the choice of the most supreme importance? Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times?’
‘This from a man who —‘
Marathe was willing that his voice not rise. ‘For this choice determines all else. No? All other of our you say free choice follow from this: what is our temple. What is the temple, thus, for U.S.A.’s? What is it, when you fear that you must protect them from themselves, if wicked Quebecers conspire to bring the Entertainment into their warm homes?’
Steeply’s face assumed the openly twisted sneering expression which he knew well Quebecers found repellent on Americans. ‘But you assume it’s always choice, conscious, decision. This isn’t just a little naïve, Remy? You write down with your little accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love? Always?’
‘The alternatives are —‘
‘What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? Without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?’
Marathe’s sniff held disdain. ‘Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instant you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.’
A silence ensued this.
Marathe shifted in his chair. ‘In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage. Not tragic. No songs. You believe you would die twice for another but in truth would die only for your alone self, its sentiment… You in such a case have nothing. You stand on nothing. Nothing of ground or rock beneath your feet. You fall; you blow here and there. How does one say: “tragically, unvoluntarily, lost.”‘
-David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
This second half of Marathe’s monologue pair’s well, I think, with Peregrin Took’s “It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots…” Marathe, here, is speaking of dying for the greater cause of a Quebecois nation state, which he places higher than all else as his “temple”, specifically noting the rationality of choosing a lasting greater cause over something like the love for a woman. Ironically, Peregrin Took is also speaking of his love for his land and its peoples (if you can call hobbits “peoples”), yet takes the exact opposite route of justification – sentiment rather than reason. Further irony is found in Marathe’s flirting with the betrayal of his ultimate rational temple for the love of his ailing wife.
Where does this leave us in the realm of Faith, God, Church? At some point the careful choosing of love, intellectual desire over base desire, is as much love of self as to “just love.” To die for Quebec out of desire to die for something, to love something, greater and lasting than youthfull infatuation with a woman, is no less a death for self, “tragically, unvolutarily, lost.” But then even Marathe’s love fights past the bounds of reason.
Passion, sentiment, reason and so on, are all part of what it is to be human, and somewhere in that intersection is Faith, Love not fully choosing, love not fully chosen, or perhaps better said, fully both.
So, when I read Venny giving a – fairly soft – criticism of Bulgakov for reverting to Orthodoxy over conversion to Catholicism out of, what he feels is, sentiment rather than intellectual rigor, I am left wondering “so what”. Who is to say that the intellectual must triumph over the sentiment of loving what one is “fitted to love”? Sometimes, perhaps, our sentiment is superior to our intellect.