Double negative

Helen Verhoeven

Helen Verhoeven,The Waiting, oil on canvas (2014)

I’ve just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. In it, one of his characters paraphrases this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

In Either/Or, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes how we wrestle with choices, when ‘the true eternity lies not behind either/or but ahead of it’.

As an example, he writes:

If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or if you do not marry, you will regret both … Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it; weep over them, you will also regret it; if you laugh at the world’s follies or if you weep over them, you will regret both …

This kind of dual regret is powerfully illustrated in a very short story by Lydia Davis , ‘Double Negative’. (This is the whole story.)

At a certain point in her life, she realises it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.

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Louise Bourgeois, Pregnant Woman and The Good Mother, gouache on paper (2008)

Kierkegaard’s antidote: to have ‘passion for the possible rather than longed for pleasure.’

Were I to wish for anything I would not wish for wealth and power, but for the passion of the possible, that eye which everywhere, ever young, ever burning, sees possibility. Pleasure disappoints, not possibility.



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