Beautiful World, Where Are You - by Sally Rooney
Some sections of the book are softcore porn. The most compelling parts for me were the emails (letters) exchanged between Alice and Eileen. Their self-reflective complaints revealed considerable depth and complexity.
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
during a seventy-five-year period from about 1225 to 1150 BCE, civilisation collapsed. The great cities of the Eastern Mediterranean were destroyed or abandoned. Literacy all but died out, and entire writing systems were lost. No one is sure why any of this happened, by the way. Wikipedia suggests a theory called ‘general systems collapse’, whereby ‘centralisation, specialisation, complexity, and top-heavy political structure’ made Late Bronze Age civilisation particularly vulnerable to breakdown. Another of the theories is headlined simply: ‘Climate change’. I think this puts our present civilisation in a kind of ominous light, don’t you? General systems collapse is not something I had ever really thought about as a possibility before. Of course I know in my brain that everything we tell ourselves about human civilisation is a lie. But imagine having to find out in real life.
Presumably, remembered suffering never feels as bad as present suffering, even if it was really a lot worse – we can’t remember how much worse it was, because remembering is weaker than experiencing. Maybe that’s why middle-aged people always think their thoughts and feelings are more important than those of young people, because they can only weakly remember the feelings of their youth while allowing their present experiences to dominate their life outlook.
Did I put you off men entirely? Oh, not just men. People of all genders. He laughed and said: I didn’t think I was that bad.
They looked at one another. It was too dark for either of them to glean much information from the other’s face, and yet they kept looking, and did not break off, as if the act of looking was more important than what they could see.
People who intentionally become famous – I mean people who, after a little taste of fame, want more and more of it – are, and I honestly believe this, deeply psychologically ill. The fact that we are exposed to these people everywhere in our culture, as if they are not only normal but attractive and enviable, indicates the extent of our disfiguring social disease. There is something wrong with them, and when we look at them and learn from them, something goes wrong with us.
What is the relationship of the famous author to their famous books anyway? If I had bad manners and was personally unpleasant and spoke with an irritating accent, which in my opinion is probably the case, would it have anything to do with my novels? Of course not. The work would be the same, no different.
But when you’re pissed off with me you get this attitude, like you’re so above me. It makes me feel like a little worm.
I offer no defence of coercive heterosexual monogamy, except that it was at least a way of doing things, a way of seeing life through. What do we have now? Instead? Nothing. And we hate people for making mistakes so much more than we love them for doing good that the easiest way to live is to do nothing, say nothing, and love no one.
I know we agree that civilisation is presently in its decadent declining phase, and that lurid ugliness is the predominant visual feature of modern life. Cars are ugly, buildings are ugly, mass-produced disposable consumer goods are unspeakably ugly. The air we breathe is toxic, the water we drink is full of microplastics, and our food is contaminated by cancerous Teflon chemicals. Our quality of life is in decline, and along with it, the quality of aesthetic experience available to us. The contemporary novel is (with very few exceptions) irrelevant; mainstream cinema is family-friendly nightmare porn funded by car companies and the US Department of Defense; and visual art is primarily a commodity market for oligarchs. It is hard in these circumstances not to feel that modern living compares poorly with the old ways of life, which have come to represent something more substantial, more connected to the essence of the human condition.
Well, we’ve both had that particular error ground out of us in different ways – me by achieving precisely nothing in over a decade of adult life, and you (if you’ll forgive me) by achieving as much as you possibly could and still not making one grain of difference to the smooth functioning of the capitalist system. When we were young, we thought our responsibilities stretched out to encompass the earth and everything that lived on it. And now we have to content ourselves with trying not to let down our loved ones, trying not to use too much plastic, and in your case trying to write an interesting book once every few years.
And it was easier and safer to stay in a bad situation than to take responsibility for getting out. Maybe, maybe. I don’t know. I tell myself that I want to live a happy life, and that the circumstances for happiness just haven’t arisen. But what if that’s not true? What if I’m the one who can’t let myself be happy? Because I’m scared, or I prefer to wallow in self-pity, or I don’t believe I deserve good things, or some other reason. Whenever something good happens to me I always find myself thinking: I wonder how long it will be until this turns out badly. And I almost want the worst to happen sooner, sooner rather than later, and if possible straight away, so at least I don’t have to feel anxious about it anymore.
I’m not a painter or a musician, for good reason, but I am a novelist, and I do try to take the novel seriously – partly because I’m conscious of the extraordinary privilege of being allowed to make a living from something as definitionally useless as art.
Now and then she likes to toy with my feelings to make sure I’m still interested.
Also, I could not stomach the idea of having an abortion just because I’m afraid of climate change. For me (and maybe only for me) it would be a sort of sick, insane thing to do, a way of mutilating my real life as a gesture of submission to an imagined future.