Ambivalence is a Wonderful Tune

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said that insanity is “…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, an aphorism that immediately seems valid. However, how many of us do exactly that and consider ourselves sane? If Einstein is right nearly everyone is mad.

I was looking at one of my bookcases this morning and I noticed John Fowles’ The Magus. I first read it when I was sixteen. It was not one of my favourite books and did not quite make sense, but there was something about the lack of sense it made that left me feeling I should have enjoyed it. After completing English A-Level and two years of a Law degree I decided the problem had been that I was too inexperienced to unravel the subtexts, so I read it again; I was left with the same feeling that it was not enjoyable but it should be. In my late twenties I concluded that it was a book that benefited from multiple readings, so I read it again; for the third time I was left with the feeling that I did not enjoy it but should have.

Indecision by Paul Gavarni
Indecision is always shades of gray
(Public Domain)

I enjoy complex and nuanced works, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Jan Švankmajer, the writing of Robert Anton Wilson and T.S. Eliot, even other works by Fowles, and yet I keep reading The Magus expecting to either finally enjoy it or accept I just do not like it, and keep feeling that the lack of enjoyment is a failure on my part.

I would like to be able to place this in the same category as being disappointed when I return to the favourites of childhood that they are not as I remember. However this seems, if anything, the reverse of nostalgia.

I have occasionally joked that I am addicted to reading, needing to read any words I come across and having a book in arm’s reach for all but the briefest moments, but considering the ambivalence I feel toward The Magus I wonder if this is the lightest brush with what it is to be addicted.

It is perhaps most ironic that it is this book, with its equally valid but conflicting two possible endings, that plays the unique rhythm of ambivalence in me.

Are there any things you keep doing despite the outcome not being satisfying?


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