The Blue Notebook
If I had tape-recordings of such times, it would be a record of jumbling phrases, jargon, disconnected remarks. That morning it was a political record, a hotchpotch of political jargon. I sat and listened as the stream of parrot-phrases went past, and I labelled them: communist, anti-communist, liberal, socialist. I was able to isolate them: Communist, American, 1954. Communist, English, 1956. Trotskyist, American, early nineteen-fifties. Premature anti-Stalinist, 1954. Liberal, American, 1956. And so on. I was thinking, If I were really a psycho-analyst, I’d be able to use this stream of gibberish, catch at something in it, focus him, for he is a profoundly political man, and that is where he is at his most serious. So I asked him a question. I could see how something in him was checked. He started, came to himself, gasped, his eyes cleared, he saw me. I repeated the question, about the collapse of the socialist political tradition in America. I wondered if it were right, to check this flow of words, since it was being used to hold himself together, to stop himself collapsing. Then, and it was as if a piece of machinery, a crane perhaps, accepted a great strain, I saw his body tense and concentrate and he began speaking. I say he, taking for granted that I can pinpoint a personality. That there is a he who is the real man. Why should I assume that one of the persons he is is more himself than the others? But I do. When he spoke then it was the man who thought, judged, communicated, heard what I said, accepted responsibility.
We began discussing the state of the left in Europe, the fragmentation of socialist movements everywhere. We had of course discussed all this before, often; but never so calmly and clearly. I remember thinking it was strange that we were able to be so detachedly intelligent when we were both sick with tension and anxiety. And I thought that we were talking about political movements, the development or defeat of this socialist movement or that, whereas last night I had known, finally, that the truth for our time was war, the immanence of war. And I was wondering if it was a mistake to talk about this at all, the conclusions we reached were so depressing, it was precisely this depression that had helped to make him ill. But it was too late, and it was a relief to have the real person there opposite me instead of the gabbling parrot. And then I made some remark, I forget what, and his whole frame quivered as he went into a different gear, how else can I put it? — he took a shock somewhere inside himself and switched back into another personality, this time he was the pure, socialist, working-class boy, a boy, not a man, and the stream of slogans started again, and his whole body jerked and gesticulated in abuse of me, for he was abusing a middle-class liberal. I sat there and thought how odd, that while I knew it was not ‘him’ talking at that moment, and that his abuse was mechanical and out of an earlier personality, yet it hurt me and made me angry, and I could feel my back start to ache and my stomach clench in response to it. To get away from the reaction I went into my big room, and he followed me shouting: ‘You can’t take it, you can’t take it, bloody Englishwoman.’ I took him by his shoulders and shook him. I shook him back into himself. He gasped, breathed deeply, put his head down on my shoulder for a moment, then staggered to my bed and collapsed on it, face down.