Saturday, November 05, 2005

Object of Desire

Most of us know some or the other variant of the Frog Prince story. The princess really wanted her "golden ball" so bad that she promised the frog anything to get her it back.

Recently I finished reading "Still Life with Woodpecker" wherein the protagonist asks the question "What Happened to the Golden Ball?" after the girl narrates him the fairy tale of frog prince. Hmmm..It never struck me as odd but somehow the question makes sense and seems like it was answered in another work. Now consider the following excerpt :
What can the Object of Desire possibly be in Byzantine law?"
"Oh, you can slip it in. If there ever was an Object of Desire in Byzantine law, of course, it wasn't what this guy says it was. It never is."
"Never is what?"

"What you think it is. Once-I was five or six-I dreamed I had a trumpet. A gold trumpet. It was one of those dreams where you can feel honey flowing in your veins; you know what I mean? A kind of prepubescent wet dream. I don't think IVe ever been as happy as I was in that dream. When I woke up, I realized there was no trumpet, and I started crying. I cried all day. This was before the war-it must have been '38--a time of poverty. If I had a son today and saw him in such despair, I'd say, 'All right, I'll buy you a trumpet.' It was only a toy, after all, it wouldn't have cost a fortune. But my parents never even considered such a thing. Spending money was a serious business in those days. And they were serious, too, about teaching a child he couldn't have everything he wanted. 'I can't stand cabbage soup,' I'd tell them-and it was true, for God's sake; cabbage made me sick. But they never said: 'Skip the soup today, then, and just eat your meat.' We may have been poor, but we still had a first course, a main course, and fruit. No. It was always: 'Eat what's on the table.' Sometimes, as a compromise, my grandmother would pick the cabbage out of my bowl, stringy piece by stringy piece. Then I'd have to eat the expurgated soup, which was more disgusting than before. And even this was a concession my father disapproved of."
"But what about the trumpet?"
He looked at me, hesitant. "Why are you so interested in the trumpet?"
"I'm not. You were the one who brought it up, to show how the Object of Desire is never what others think."

"The trumpet...My uncle and aunt from *** arrived that evening. They had no children, and I was their favorite nephew. Well, when they saw me bawling over my dream trumpet, they said they would fix everything: tomorrow we would go to the department store where there was a whole counter of toys-wonder of wonders-and I'd have the trumpet I wanted. I didn't sleep all night, and I couldn't sit still all the next morning. In the afternoon we went to the store, and they had at least three kinds of trumpets there. Little tin things, probably, but to me they were magnificent brass worthy of the Philharmonic. There was an army bugle, a slide trombone, and a trumpet of gold with a real trumpet mouthpiece but the keys of a saxophone. I couldn't decide, and maybe I took too long. Wanting them all, I must have given the impression that I didn't want any of them. Meanwhile, I believe my uncle and aunt looked at the price tags. My uncle and aunt weren't stingy; on the other hand, a Bakelite clarinet with silver keys was much cheaper. 'Wouldn't you like this better?' they asked. I tried it, produced a reasonable honk, and told myself that it was beautiful, but actually I was rationalizing. I knew they wanted me to take the clarinet because the trumpet cost a fortune. I couldn't demand such a sacrifice from my relatives, having been taught that if a person offers you something you like, you must say, 'No, thank you,' and not just once, not 'No, thank you,' with your hand out, but 'No, thank you' until the giver insists, until he says, 'Please, take it.' A well-bred child doesn't accept until that point. So I said maybe I didn't care about the trumpet, maybe the clarinet was all right, if that's what they wanted. And I looked up at them, hoping they would insist. They didn't, God bless them, they were delighted to buy me the clarinet, since-they said-that was what I wanted. It was too late to backtrack. I got the clarinet."

Belbo looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. "You want to know if I dreamed about the trumpet again?''
"I want to know," I said, "what the Object of Desire was."
"Ah," he said, turning back to his manuscript. "You see? You're obsessed by the Object of Desire, too. But it's not all that simple...Suppose I had taken the trumpet. Would I have been truly happy then? What do you think, Casaubon?"
"I think you would have dreamed about the clarinet."
"I got the clarinet," he concluded sharply, "but I never played it."
"Never played it? Or never dreamed it?"
"Played it," he said, underlining his words, and for some reason I felt like a fool.

-Excerpt from Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum


Geetanjali said...

Oh you've read Foucault's Pendulum - I'd picked it up during the phase I wasn't finishing anything I was picking up, so it's languishing on my bookshelf waiting to be what's your review?

The excerpt makes you think - but then most of that book (or for that matter anything by Umberto Eco) makes you think...

Belated greetings for Diwali and New Year :-)

Paddy said...

I havent finished the book but am midway but so far so tantalizing.

Yes. His thoughts are like origami.

Happy Diwali and a New Year to you too..