A woman made wary by misfortune, writes Stendhal, will not experience this soul-shaking upheaval. Soul-shaking upheaval means something like what he elsewhere calls the curse of passionate love, although my sense is that love here is better understood as either arousal or torpor, and that distinctions in such matters are, while necessary and true, ultimately mythological. Stendhal’s own argument also entails a critique of terminology: of thunderbolts, he says, That ridiculous word ought to be changed—but nevertheless the thing “love at first sight” does exist.
When I first copied down those sentences from Stendhal, I wrote instead of upheaval the non-word unheaval, which I now think of as upheaval’s uncompromised sibling. On the ceiling of my gynecologist’s exam room is a watercolor of a lurid hummingbird with a few centimeters of beak inside a flower. A hummingbird’s beak is understood to be a sheath for the bird’s tongue, which means the tongue is a knife. Hummingbirds use their beaks to feed, as well as to do battle. There has not yet been a study of what their tongues do in such times of war.