I am really enjoying reading Muriel Barbery’s fine novel ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog‘ well translated from the French by Alison Anderson. One of her characters, 12 year old super smart Paloma, says something that I think has profound implications for how we face other people in conflict, or in life, how we can start real dialogue with others and not just hear our own voices echoing back at us:
‘So here is my profound thought for the day; this is the first time I have met someone who seeks out people and sees beyond. That may seem trivial but I think it is profound all the same. We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy. When my mother offers macaroons from Chez Laduree to Madame de Broglie, she is telling herself her own life story and just nibbling at her own flavor; when Papa drinks his coffee and reads his paper, he is contemplating his own reflection in the mirror, as if practicing the Coue method or something; when Colombe talks about Marian’s lectures, she is ranting about her own reflection; and when people walk by the concierge, all they see is a void, because she is not from their world.
As for me, I implore fate to give me a chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.’
This is Muriel: thank you! Though I think your ending sucks!
And this is Alison, the translator whom we must also thank for making Muriel’s work available to us in English: