Everything Is Already There: Javier Marías on the Courage to Heed Your Intuitions

It starts with a tremble in the stomach, a palpitation in the chest. You may call it intuition, premonition, foreboding. You may press it down with the firm fist of rationalism. And yet it persists, this flutter of feeling — this haunting sense that the future is not about to happen to you, but is already happening in you. For all the marvels and flaws of our intuition, we expend immense cerebral and emotional energy on repressing these emissaries of our secret knowledge — these deep truths we perceive about ourselves and others, which we would rather not see and not heed in order to keep the surface of our lives unruffled. It is only in hindsight that we recognize their sharp validity, so blunted in the moment by our compulsive rationalizations, our comforting denials, and our willful blindness. That is what Javier Marías (September 20, 1951–September 11, 2022) explores in some stunning passages from his 2002 novel Your Face Tomorrow (public library). Art by Olivier Tallec from Big Wolf & Little Wolf Considering how hindsight often gives us the clear sense that “everything was already there, somewhere, before it even reached or penetrated the mind,” Marías writes in one of his breathless streams of reckoning: Everything is there on view, in fact, everything is visible very early on in a relationship just as it is in all honest, straightforward stories, you just have to look to see it, one single moment encapsulates the germ of many years to come, of almost our whole history — one grave, pregnant moment — and if we want to we can see it and, in broad terms, read it, there are not that many possible variations, the signs rarely deceive if we know how to read their meanings, if you are prepared to do so — but it is so difficult and can prove catastrophic; one day you spot an unmistakable gesture, see an unequivocal reaction, hear a tone of voice that says much and presages still more, although you also hear the sound of someone biting their tongue — too late; you feel on the back of your neck the nature or propensity of a look when that look knows itself to be invisible and protected and safe, so many are involuntary; you notice sweetness and impatience, you detect hidden intentions that are never entirely hidden, or unconscious intentions before they become conscious to the person who should be concealing them, sometimes you foresee what someone will do before that person has foreseen or known or even become aware of what this will be, and you can sense the betrayal as yet unformulated and the scorn as yet unfelt; and the feelings of irritation you provoke, the weariness you cause or the loathing you inspire, or perhaps the opposite, which is not necessarily any better: the unconditional love they feel for us, the other person’s ridiculously high hopes, their devotion, their eagerness to please and to prove themselves essential to us in order to supplant us later on and thus become who we are; and the need to possess, the illusions built up, the determination of someone to be or to stay by your side, or to win your heart, the crazed, irrational loyalty; you notice when there is real enthusiasm and when there is only flattery and when it is mixed (because nothing is pure), you know who isn’t trustworthy and who is ambitious and who has no scruples and who would walk over your dead body having first run you down, you know who has a candid soul and what will happen to these last when you meet them, the fate that awaits them if they don’t mend their ways, but grow still worse and even if they do mend their ways: you know if they will be your victims When you are introduced to a couple, married or not, you see who will one day abandon whom and you see this at once, as soon as you say hello, or, at least, by the end of the evening. You detect too when something is going wrong or falling apart, or flips right over and the tables are turned, when everything is collapsing, at what moment we stop loving as we once did or they stop loving us, who will or will not go to bed with us, and when a friend will discover his own envy, or, rather, decide to give in to it and allow himself to be led and guided from that moment on by envy alone; when it starts to ooze out or grow heavy with resentment; we know what it is about us that exasperates and infuriates and what condemns us, what we should have said, but did not, or what we should have kept silent about, but did not, why it is that suddenly one day they look at us with different eyes — dark or angry eyes: they already bear a grudge — when we disappoint or when we irritate because we do not as yet disappoint and so do not provide the desired excuse for our dismissal; we know the kind gesture that is suddenly no longer bearable and that signals the precise hour when we will become utterly and irredeemably unbearable; and we know, too, who is going to love us, until death and beyond and, much to our regret sometimes, beyond their death or mine or both… against our will

Everything Is Already There: Javier Marías on the Courage to Heed Your Intuitions

Everything Is Already There: Javier Marías on the Courage to Heed Your Intuitions

It starts with a tremble in the stomach, a palpitation in the chest. You may call it intuition, premonition, foreboding. You may press it down with the firm fist of rationalism. And yet it persists, this flutter of feeling — this haunting sense that the future is not about to happen to you, but is already happening in you.

For all the marvels and flaws of our intuition, we expend immense cerebral and emotional energy on repressing these emissaries of our secret knowledge — these deep truths we perceive about ourselves and others, which we would rather not see and not heed in order to keep the surface of our lives unruffled. It is only in hindsight that we recognize their sharp validity, so blunted in the moment by our compulsive rationalizations, our comforting denials, and our willful blindness.

That is what Javier Marías (September 20, 1951–September 11, 2022) explores in some stunning passages from his 2002 novel Your Face Tomorrow (public library).

Art by Olivier Tallec from Big Wolf & Little Wolf

Considering how hindsight often gives us the clear sense that “everything was already there, somewhere, before it even reached or penetrated the mind,” Marías writes in one of his breathless streams of reckoning:

Everything is there on view, in fact, everything is visible very early on in a relationship just as it is in all honest, straightforward stories, you just have to look to see it, one single moment encapsulates the germ of many years to come, of almost our whole history — one grave, pregnant moment — and if we want to we can see it and, in broad terms, read it, there are not that many possible variations, the signs rarely deceive if we know how to read their meanings, if you are prepared to do so — but it is so difficult and can prove catastrophic; one day you spot an unmistakable gesture, see an unequivocal reaction, hear a tone of voice that says much and presages still more, although you also hear the sound of someone biting their tongue — too late; you feel on the back of your neck the nature or propensity of a look when that look knows itself to be invisible and protected and safe, so many are involuntary; you notice sweetness and impatience, you detect hidden intentions that are never entirely hidden, or unconscious intentions before they become conscious to the person who should be concealing them, sometimes you foresee what someone will do before that person has foreseen or known or even become aware of what this will be, and you can sense the betrayal as yet unformulated and the scorn as yet unfelt; and the feelings of irritation you provoke, the weariness you cause or the loathing you inspire, or perhaps the opposite, which is not necessarily any better: the unconditional love they feel for us, the other person’s ridiculously high hopes, their devotion, their eagerness to please and to prove themselves essential to us in order to supplant us later on and thus become who we are; and the need to possess, the illusions built up, the determination of someone to be or to stay by your side, or to win your heart, the crazed, irrational loyalty; you notice when there is real enthusiasm and when there is only flattery and when it is mixed (because nothing is pure), you know who isn’t trustworthy and who is ambitious and who has no scruples and who would walk over your dead body having first run you down, you know who has a candid soul and what will happen to these last when you meet them, the fate that awaits them if they don’t mend their ways, but grow still worse and even if they do mend their ways: you know if they will be your victims When you are introduced to a couple, married or not, you see who will one day abandon whom and you see this at once, as soon as you say hello, or, at least, by the end of the evening. You detect too when something is going wrong or falling apart, or flips right over and the tables are turned, when everything is collapsing, at what moment we stop loving as we once did or they stop loving us, who will or will not go to bed with us, and when a friend will discover his own envy, or, rather, decide to give in to it and allow himself to be led and guided from that moment on by envy alone; when it starts to ooze out or grow heavy with resentment; we know what it is about us that exasperates and infuriates and what condemns us, what we should have said, but did not, or what we should have kept silent about, but did not, why it is that suddenly one day they look at us with different eyes — dark or angry eyes: they already bear a grudge — when we disappoint or when we irritate because we do not as yet disappoint and so do not provide the desired excuse for our dismissal; we know the kind gesture that is suddenly no longer bearable and that signals the precise hour when we will become utterly and irredeemably unbearable; and we know, too, who is going to love us, until death and beyond and, much to our regret sometimes, beyond their death or mine or both… against our will sometimes… But no one wants to see anything and so hardly anyone ever sees what is there before them, what awaits us or will befall us sooner or later.

Art by Harry Clarke from Tales of Mystery and Imagination. (Available as a print.)

With a gauntlet thrown at the reductionist bias of the Western mind and its hasty dismissal of such uncomputable forms of knowledge, he adds:

This has nothing to do with premonitions, there is nothing supernatural or mysterious about it, what’s mysterious is that we pay no heed to it. And the explanation must be a simple one, since it is something shared by so many: it is simply that we know, but hate knowing; we cannot bear to see.

For an equally stirring counterpoint, couple with George Saunders on the courage of uncertainty, then revisit E.F. Schumacher on the notion of adaequatio and the art of seeing with the eye of the heart.