TDB&TB Question #8 ~ Pressure Cooker

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TDB&TB Question #8 ~ Pressure Cooker

Unread postby Liz » Mon May 12, 2008 10:29 am

Pg. 55: “I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe. A letter from a friend, a Balthus painting on a postcard, a page of Saint-Simon, give meaning to the passing hours. But to keep my mind sharp, to avoid descending into resigned indifference, I maintain a level of resentment and anger, neither too much nor too little, just as a pressure cooker has a safety valve to keep it from exploding.”

I was in awe, on many levels, of this revelation by him as to what is needed to survive, mentally. What do you think of this analogy? Can you relate it to other situations in everyday life?
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Mon May 12, 2008 11:22 am

I stopped and pondered this when I read it because I agreed completely with the need to love and admire but was thrown by the need to resent and be angered to keep his mind sharp! :-O I guess personalities differ, but when I am angry and resentful, my mind goes to pieces. I can't think straight! :freaked: However, I do agree the right amount of anger and resentment is necessary for survival; we need to have it and act on it to keep from getting trampled. (I think the real Betty Sue had a colorful way of advising Johnny on this subject. :lol:)
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Unread postby gemini » Mon May 12, 2008 12:11 pm

Yes, this paragraph got to me. At first I just took his comment about resentment and anger as justification of his predicament. His needing to feel strongly about love, and admiring, as important as breathing just seemed about right.
I don't think I could live any other way, at least not happily.

In his state, all he has left is to admire, and love from a distance. In retrospect I think the resentment and anger are a balance to keep him from getting totally lost in what he no longer can have.
Can this analogy relate to everyday life? Sure. It can be applied to our ups and downs, even though they are not as severe as his.
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Unread postby trinni » Mon May 12, 2008 12:15 pm

I love the way he described needing anger and resentment to avoid descending into indifference. I'm amazed though that he felt he had control over them... neither too much or too little...I can only imagine that the anger and resentment would have been overwhelming for some people. It says a lot about his character.
He does not explain though what his "safety valve" is . What he actually does to prevent the build up of these emotions.
( Its been a while since I read the book, I can't remember if its explained more fully :blush: )
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Unread postby Liz » Mon May 12, 2008 2:14 pm

Trinni, at the time I read that page, I thought the safety valve was just his ability to keep the right balance of anger and resentment. I don’t think he comes right out and says. The paragraphs that follow until the end of the chapter are about a play he fantasizes about writing—the play of his life from the stroke on, which turns out to be just a dream. I think he has a number of safety valves, though, that he pulls out as needed. I’d mention them now, but that might lead us into the other questions we have in store for you.

I personally find it hard to imagine how someone in his state could keep the right balance of anger and resentment. If it were me, I think once I started going there I wouldn’t be able to keep it in check. Real life, though, is a different story. I think a little anger and resentment protects us from too much hurt and from being taking advantage of, as Betty Sue said.
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Unread postby suec » Mon May 12, 2008 2:31 pm

It's a great spur for action -assuming that it can be acted on, that is. If I am angry about something, I'll at least tackle the housework, or something else physical, if I can't actually deal with the cause. But I also was wondering about his safety valve. It occurred to me with the laughter question, that in point of fact, he couldn't laugh in the sense of being physically able to express it.
Perhaps the anger and resentment is the goad to action, though, the reason why he maintains his exercises, why he pushes himself to comunicate But for that, he would have had to plan it all beforehand, memorise his lines, rather than let off steam generally. It is what gives his writing the bite.
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Unread postby nebraska » Mon May 12, 2008 3:08 pm

I think there is a lot of energy in anger. Resentment can be a destructive tool, the "re" part of it meaning "over and over", feeding the anger, nurturing it, fermenting it. But maybe for Jean-Do that was the only way he could keep the fires of anger alive and thus keep the energy up. I don't remember clearly, does he specify WHY he is angry? Just before this quote he is talking about the doctor who sewed his other eye shut, but I wonder if all this emotion is directed at that one man or at other people/situations/life in general.

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Unread postby teacher » Mon May 12, 2008 3:19 pm

nebraska wrote: Resentment can be a destructive tool, the "re" part of it meaning "over and over", feeding the anger, nurturing it, fermenting it.

Exactly. I keep reading and rereading this part and don't get it. When I read this passage, I took it for granted he meant not being able to avoid being angry and finding a safety valve to release the tension; I didn't understand he meant actively pursuing anger and resentment. For what purpose? Anger suffocates me, paralyses me, demotivates every cell in my body and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to avoid it.
How does it help him feel alive? How does it prevent indifference better than love and simple happyness? Or does he mean after the stroke, when happyness powerfull enough to move him become probably impossible, but negative emotions (which are emotions at least, whatever the kind) remained within reach?
Or does he mean anger made him fill powerfull, as in in control enough to be angry at someone/something?
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Unread postby Parlez » Mon May 12, 2008 4:24 pm

What happened to yesterday and all the fun?!? Ah yes, that's right, I forgot: happiness is fleeting.:sad:

Anger. It's the best motivator around, IMO. I believe Jean-Do was using anger and resentment as a release, whereas for the rest of us it would be just the other way around ~ our anger and resentment would need a release. But me thinks when you're entombed in an inert body, passivity of the mind and heart would be the number ONE threat....not feeling or thinking anything at all would be so very tempting.

So I got the impression from this passage that the anger-and-resentment cocktail Jean-Do stirred up within himself actually worked to prevent him from becoming numb. He needed to prove he was capable of strong, deep, powerful emotions and thoughts (just like everybody else). The wonder is that he was aware of it! When it comes to anger, it takes a pretty astute person to know what they're doing, and for how long, and to what point and purpose.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon May 12, 2008 9:00 pm

Parlez, that is similar to what I thought when I first read the passage. I thought he just needs to feel to know he was still alive...isn't there a passage from The Libertine I'm thinking of here? Perhaps he was able to concentrate on his emotional state because that was about all he was able to do - think.

teacher, your point about him being able to have control over something is a good one.
Last edited by DeppInTheHeartOfTexas on Mon May 12, 2008 10:42 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Unread postby nebraska » Mon May 12, 2008 9:58 pm

I understand the part about the pressure cooker. How many times have I been so mad I swore I would take action and resolve the problem/person/situation that had driven me over the edge!!! But you can maintain that level of energy only so long before the intensity exhausts you and then........and then you give up and maladjust and go on like always and the problem/person/situation remains unresolved. Sigh! So to be able to generate the anger/resentment and keep it at just the right energy level so it didn't burn out but keep it an alive and vital life force .......that would be a delicate art.

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Unread postby Inthezone » Mon May 12, 2008 11:01 pm

Here is a man who is now only able to communicate in the most primitive way but prior to his stroke he was a celebrated, powerful and creative man. In health he was quite used to having his way and as the editor of a major magazine, surely got his way often. He admittedly says he was a man who took the most basic moments in life for granted.
In his "locked-in" hell, he is unwillingly yet utterly dependent on other humans for every miniscule aspect of daily life. He can no longer do a single thing for himself physically so his mental state is capitally important to him.

And YET -- though he speaks of anger and resentment, throughout the book we see very few real examples of it. He is amazingly and surprisingly less bitter and resentful than we would expect him to be.

So, I think Jean-Do mentions this anger and resentment in this chapter as an example of his best mental coping mechanism. It is not representative of what he is truly feeling. I am guessing that he wanted his memoir to be about the beauty of his life and the best, most revealing stories about his personality. Not about a man wallowing in regret and self-pity.
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Unread postby suec » Tue May 13, 2008 2:08 am

I had thought of the man sewing his eye lid together as a cause for anger. But Jean-Do describes him as being a "focal point" and a "scapegoat", and he wonders about whom he will have to sneer at if he should leave. He does sharpen his wit on him, mentally, and uses him to avoid the "resigned indifference". It seems to be a way of maintaining independence, a fighting spirit against what has happened, the will to go on and channeling something positive, conjuring it out of the emotion. It must have seemed easier just not to bother sometimes. In a way, it is the grain of sand in the oyster that results in the pearl.
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Unread postby Parlez » Tue May 13, 2008 9:35 am

suec wrote:I had thought of the man sewing his eye lid together as a cause for anger. But Jean-Do describes him as being a "focal point" and a "scapegoat", and he wonders about whom he will have to sneer at if he should leave. He does sharpen his wit on him, mentally, and uses him to avoid the "resigned indifference". It seems to be a way of maintaining independence, a fighting spirit against what has happened, the will to go on and channeling something positive, conjuring it out of the emotion. It must have seemed easier just not to bother sometimes. In a way, it is the grain of sand in the oyster that results in the pearl.

Eye. The grain of sand and the pearl...nice analogy! :cool:
Once Jean-Do was shown a way to express himself, it must have been such a relief - like finally being able to dislodged the pearl. He could've chosen to focus on just one side of the issue and literally written the book on anger and resentment and defiance. He would have had our sympathy if he'd done so. Or he could've chosen to sound like a holy man who'd learned to be all loving and understanding and accepting through his ordeal. He would have had our admiration then. But neither perspective, or 'voice', would've had the same impact we get in the finished product, which allows us to feel so much more than sympathy and admiration.

It's true, Jean-Do could do nothing else but think. One of the things I love about the book is how it shows the inner workings of the mind - how thoughts and feelings arise and unfold and evolve and change and, in general, are pretty limitless. There's a lot of space in there, inside the mind. Without the demands of the body, Jean-Do was able to shift his awareness and take the opportunity to really delve into that spaciousness and explore it.
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Unread postby Liz » Tue May 13, 2008 12:24 pm

Parlez wrote:
suec wrote:I had thought of the man sewing his eye lid together as a cause for anger. But Jean-Do describes him as being a "focal point" and a "scapegoat", and he wonders about whom he will have to sneer at if he should leave. He does sharpen his wit on him, mentally, and uses him to avoid the "resigned indifference". It seems to be a way of maintaining independence, a fighting spirit against what has happened, the will to go on and channeling something positive, conjuring it out of the emotion. It must have seemed easier just not to bother sometimes. In a way, it is the grain of sand in the oyster that results in the pearl.

Eye. The grain of sand and the pearl...nice analogy! :cool:

:thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Parlez wrote:It's true, Jean-Do could do nothing else but think. One of the things I love about the book is how it shows the inner workings of the mind - how thoughts and feelings arise and unfold and evolve and change and, in general, are pretty limitless. There's a lot of space in there, inside the mind. Without the demands of the body, Jean-Do was able to shift his awareness and take the opportunity to really delve into that spaciousness and explore it.

In this fast-paced society we are all so busy with work and activities that we don’t have time to think. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But he had plenty of time. He is lucky that he could have some happy thoughts. When I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep my mind is usually full of negative thoughts and worries.

Inthezone wrote:So, I think Jean-Do mentions this anger and resentment in this chapter as an example of his best mental coping mechanism. It is not representative of what he is truly feeling. I am guessing that he wanted his memoir to be about the beauty of his life and the best, most revealing stories about his personality. Not about a man wallowing in regret and self-pity.

I think this is probably true. I think he wanted to keep the balance.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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