The Empty Canvas, p.31Alberto Moravia
Right in front of the window of my room at the hospital to which I had been taken after the collision there was a great tree in the garden, a cedar of Lebanon, with long drooping branches of an almost blue green. I took to gazing at it for hours, my head turned sideways on the pillow as I lay on my back in bed—during all those hours, in fact, that were not occupied in sleeping or eating; for I was almost always alone, having let my mother and my few friends know, from the very first day, that I did not want to be visited. I gazed at the tree and experienced a feeling of absolute, but calm and, so to speak, stabilized, despair, such as one might well feel after passing through a crisis which, though not decisive, may yet be supposed to be the greatest that one can face. What, for lack of a more appropriate term, I must call my suicide, had resolved nothing; but the fact of having attempted it had at any rate made me feel I had done all that was in my power; more than that I could not do. In other words, the fact that I had tried to kill myself confirmed the seriousness of my involvement. I was not dead, but at least I had proved to myself that, rather than go on living as I had lived hitherto, I should have preferred, and seriously preferred, death. All this did not mitigate the feeling of despair that occupied my mind; but it introduced a certain kind of mournful, resigned serenity. I had indeed visited the dim purlieus of death; but I had returned; and now, although without hope, all that was left for me was to go on living.
As I have said, I spent hours gazing at the tree, to the great surprise of the nuns and the servants in the hospital, who said they had never seen a quieter patient than me. In reality I was not quiet, merely I was closely occupied with the only thing that truly interested me at that moment, the contemplation of the tree. I had no thoughts, I simply wondered when and how I had recognized the reality of the tree, had recognized, in other words, its existence as an object which was different from myself, had no relationship with me, and yet was there and could not be ignored. Evidently something had occurred just at the moment when I hurled myself off the road in my car; something which, to put it plainly, might be described as the collapse of an insupportable ambition. I now contemplated the tree with infinite complacency, as though to feel it different from myself and independent of me were the things that gave me the greatest possible pleasure. But I knew that chance alone had willed that, after I had been brought into the hospital, the plaster casing which compelled me to lie on my back had forced me to look at the tree through the window of my room. Any other object, I realized, would have provided me with the same kind of contemplation, the same feeling of infinite complacency.
And indeed, as soon as I began to think about Cecilia again, I was aware of the same thing happening to me as when I gazed at the tree through the window. Ten days had passed since my collision and Cecilia was certainly still at Ponza with Luciani; I took to thinking about her, therefore, at first cautiously and at rare intervals, then more often and with greater confidence. I realized then that I was able to imagine perfectly well, just as if I had been present, all the things she was doing while I was lying there in bed at the hospital. To say 'imagine' is to say too little, for I could see her. As through the wrong end of a telescope, I saw the tiny, remote but brightly clear figures of Cecilia and the actor moving, running, embracing, walking, lying together, disappearing and reappearing in a hundred different attitudes against a background of blue sea and calm, luminous sky. I knew from experience that happiness is to be found with the person whom one loves and who loves one, in a lovely, peaceful place; I was sure that Cecilia, in her own economical, inexpressive way, was happy, and I was astonished to find that I was pleased. Yes indeed, I was pleased that she should be happy, but above all I was pleased that she should exist, away there in the island of Ponza, in a manner which was her own and which was different from mine and in contrast with mine, with a man who was not myself, far away from me. I myself was here in the hospital, I repeated to myself from time to time, and she was away at Ponza, with the actor; and we were two different people and she had nothing to do with me and I had nothing to do with her, and she was apart from me, as I was apart from her. And, finally, I no longer desired to possess her but to watch her live her life, just as she was, that is, to contemplate her in the same way that I contemplated the tree outside my window. This contemplation would never come to an end for the simple reason that I did not wish it to come to an end, that is, I did not wish the tree, or Cecilia, or any other object outside myself, to become boring to me and consequently to cease, for me, to exist. In reality, as I suddenly realized with a feeling almost of surprise, I had relinquished Cecilia, once and for all; and, strange to relate, from the very moment of this relinquishment, Cecilia had begun to exist for me.
I wondered if possibly, in relinquishing Cecilia, I had also ceased to love her, in other words to experience towards her that same feeling, always delusive and always disappointed, that I had hitherto had, and which, for lack of a more appropriate term, I must call love. I was aware that that kind of love was dead; but that I loved her all the same, though with a love that was new and different. This new love might or might not be accompanied by a physical relationship, but it did not depend upon it and, in a way, it did not need it. When Cecilia came back we might, or we might not, resume our former relations; but I, in any case, would not cease to love her.
At this point I must admit that my ideas became confused. I recalled that from the very beginning it had seemed to me that my relationship with Cecilia had differed in no way from my contact with reality; in other words, that my fundamental reasons for ceasing to paint had been the same as those for which I had attempted to kill myself. But now? In the end I said to myself that, for the moment, I had to remain in bed for more than a month and that it was too soon to come to any sort of decision. Once I was well, I would go back to the studio and try to start painting again. I say that I would try, because I was not at all sure that the connexion I had seen for so long between Cecilia and my painting really existed; or that loving Cecilia in a new way would mean starting to paint again. Here again, only experience would be able to provide an answer.
And so, in the long run, the only truly certain result was that I had learned to love Cecilia, or rather, to love her without complications. Anyhow I hoped I had learned. For in relation also to this aspect of my life, doubt could not be excluded. And in order to be completely sure, I had to wait until Cecilia came back from her visit to the seaside.
Alberto Moravia, The Empty Canvas
The Empty Canvas by Alberto Moravia / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes