Saturday, May 18, 2013


The variability of appetites: it was very late in life that I really understood how different we are -- from each other, from ourselves at various times. I have always been a person of very strong animal appetites. I have lost my appetite for food once in my life, when I was very wretched -- I was teaching a course on Chaucer at a third-rate university, to students who could not have cared less about the history of English words or the valor of gap-toothed widows, and I was failing miserably, by every conceivable standard -- and once, after a particularly bad class, for an entire evening, I had no interest in food. That had never happened before, and has never happened since. But even in my misery it interested me. Some people live here, I thought, wonderingly. They never think about food.

Likewise, many years ago now, decades, perhaps, I experimented with a couple different anti-depressants. One of them, I forget which, dampened my libido considerably. And suddenly the world made sense to me in a new way. This is how it is for most people. They can take it or leave it alone. There's no urgency about it at all: in fact, to come to the point of actually doing anything, they have to tease themselves up and work at it. All sorts of things about the world that had always been difficult for me to comprehend came into focus. Very simple. It's just very different, and it makes you a very different person in all sorts of relations, if you don't want things very much. People who break rules and screw up relationships out of desire must seem to you like careless, self-indulgent oafs. As I would feel about someone who, say, stole a watch from a friend because he took a fancy to it. What kind of depraved person would do that?

I don't want to oversimplify or excuse anything. these are matters of immense complexity and many valences. There seems to me some overlap, in all the desires: but I don't know how much, and I'm loathe to generalize. How tied to the intensity with which I experience the beauty of a shifting sky to the intensity with which I long for a hamburger? How separate are the appetites? Are they driven from one source of pressure, like a single pneumatic system? I don't know, and I don't really even know how to get purchase on the question. But it seems important.


rbarenblat said...

I have many thoughts about this, especially sparked by your second paragraph, but I shall email you; I'm not sure I want to have that conversation on the public internet. :-)

ntexas99 said...

This sparked an initial response that rather surprised me, in that I immediately went to the correlation between appetites, or the lack thereof, and a person's overall satisfaction with quality of life. As you stated yourself, "I don't really even know how to get purchase on the question. But it seems important."

interesting, very interesting

... and I had to laugh, because I misread the title to be about "apples" and came here expecting an expose on variety and taste and scrumptiousness, comparing one juicy nibble to another, and in a way, that's exactly what I got. :-)

Dale said...


Lucy said...

I'm quite surprised at how little I do gravitate to the things I really enjoy, so that what is really a treat when I'm doing or having it looms as a bit of a chore, or else I simply don't think of it or remember how much I enjoy it beforehand. I did read somewhere that this happens with introverts, but I don't know if that's true.

It doesn't apply to food though. There was only one time in my life when for quite some time I was so stressed and distracted that I couldn't easily get food down. Even so, I think I probably still felt hungry, but the gnawing of it just seemed like an appropriate accompaniment. I have a similar sense of disbelief, and intolerance, about people who say they don't remember to eat.

Sex has always varied hugely. I think when I was young and used to chase off after sexual attraction it was probably more about narcissism and curiosity than any animal urges. I wasn't terribly wild really, though, just a bit of a prat sometimes.

Zhoen said...

My first response was bafflement. I never had trouble turning down food, or drink, to a lesser extent sex. So I let this sit in my brain overnight.

I have to touch, I cannot turn off my curiosity, and the incurious seem so dull and inert to me.

Most of us are driven by something, perhaps we all have to control the steering.

marly youmans said...

Did you see the Alex Preston in "The Guardian" about artists and Prozac? About five days ago...

I think we've all had the experience of being attracted to people who make us feel more alive because they have passions for many things... Like you.

Dale said...

Aye. And what one's drawn to, ultimately, is being fiercely alive.

Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got 'tween asleep and wake?

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Wanting more, more of everything, not being satisfied with just one helping of anything. Yes, I know about that! Not understanding measurement.
But time by itself starts reducing the hunger, all the different hungers.

Dale said...

Yes, that's true too, I find!