I just finished Another Country. No surprise – it’s a badass book. I have much to say about it, but I’m going to focus on Ida. Specifically, Ida on pages 324 and 325. Embroiled in one of the many (in an ongoing fight?) fights with Vivaldo, she takes on his conception of the world in the following exchange:
“Our being together doesn’t change the world, Vivaldo”
“It does,” he said, “for me.”
“That,” she said, “is because you’re white” (324).
I take this as another way to grapple with the uneven politics of worldliness. For Vivaldo, the self is the world. To change one’s self is to change the world. For Ida, however, it’s not so simple. To change the self doesn’t change the world. She still has face the way that others construct the world, the way the state insists upon a world, the way that power perpetuates a world. Ida’s right. One cannot simply invent the world, one must inhabit a world that is in part constructed by others. The belief that one can change the world grows out of whiteness – grows out the privilege of not having to confront powerlessness or see the others who construct your world.
Such an understanding of worldliness is powerful because it exposes the inequalities, easy ignorance, and privilege lodged in something as seemingly universal as one’s understanding of love. But when Ida insists upon what such a conception of worldliness means on the personal level – what it means for her and Vivaldo – it shows how accepting this reality puts one in a very difficult position. For there it requires a recognition of differences that can’t be overcome through desire because no one desires to “pay their dues” (i.e. to see the world as it is, to feel its inequalities, to experience its pain):
“What I don’t understand,” she said slowly, “is how you can talk about love when you don’t want to know what’s happening. And that’s not my fault. How can you say you loved Rufus when there was so much about him you didn’t want to know? How can I believe you love me?” And, with a curious helplessness, she took his arm. “How can you love somebody you don’t know anything about? You don’t know where I’ve been. You don’t know what life is like for me.”
“But I’m willing,” he said, “to spend the rest of my life finding out.”
She threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, Vivaldo. You may spend the rest of your life finding out – but it won’t be because you’re willing.” And then, with ferocity, “And it won’t be me you’ll be finding out about. Oh, Lord.” She dropped his arm. She gave him a strange side glance; he could not read it, it seemed both pitying and cold. “I’m sorry to have hurt your feelings, I’m not trying to kill you. I know you’re not responsible for – for the world. And, listen: I don’t blame you for not being willing. I’m not willing, nobody’s willing. Nobody’s willing to pay their dues” (324-5).
I don’t think I’ve read a more beautiful – or a more difficult – understanding of love. For to be able to love is to accept the world as it is. And that’s fucking hard.