The Black Notebook
Having written that, I am astounded. What do I mean? He was capable of great kindness. And now I remember that all those years ago, I discovered that no matter what adjective I applied to Willi, I could always use the opposite. Yes. I have looked in my old papers. I find a list, headed Willi:
And so on, down the page; and underneath I wrote: ‘From the process of writing these words about Willi I have discovered I know nothing about him. About someone one understands, one doesn’t have to make lists of words.’
But really what I discovered, though I didn’t know it then, was that in describing any personality all these words are meaningless. To describe a person one says: ‘Willi, sitting stiffly at the head of the table, allowed his round spectacles to glitter at the people watching him and said, formally, but with a gruff clumsy humour:’ Something like that. But the point is, and it is the point that obsesses me (and how odd this obsession should be showing itself, so long ago, in helpless lists of opposing words, not knowing what it would develop into), once I say that words like good/bad, strong/weak, are irrelevant, I am accepting amorality, and I do accept it the moment I start to write ‘a story’, ‘a novel’, because I simply don’t care. All I care about is that I should describe Willi and Maryrose so that a reader can feel their reality. And after twenty years of living in and around the Left, which means twenty years’ preoccupation with this question of morality in art, that is all I am left with. So what I am saying is, in fact, that the human personality, that unique flame, is so sacred to me, that everything else becomes unimportant. Is that what I am saying? And if so, what does it mean?
But to return to Willi. He was the emotional centre of our subgroup, and had been, before the split, the centre of the big sub-group, and had been, before the split, the centre of the big group — another strong man, similar to Willi, was now leading the other sub-group. Willi was centre because of his absolute certainty that he was right. He was a master of dialectic; could be very subtle and intelligent in diagnosing a social problem, could be, even in the next sentence, stupidly dogmatic. As time went on, he became steadily more heavy-minded. Yet the odd thing was that people continued to revolve around him, people much subtler than he, even when they knew he was talking nonsense. Even when we had reached the stage when we could laugh, in front of him and at him, and at some monstrous bit of logic-chopping, we continued to revolve around and depend on him. It is terrifying that this can be true.