The Man Who Mistook
His Wife for His Wife
And so [Tristan] stayed with Isolde for some time, because she
reminded him of Isolde.
Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (1210)
SELF-IMITATION OFTEN results from the doomed attempt to resolve the circular paradox of marital sexual rejection. That is, the husband desires both an erotic encounter and a legitimate child, but not always from the same woman, and to close the circle, his wife must double back to become the person she knows she is, the person he cannot see until she transforms herself there and back again: his erotic partner (and often the mother of his children). Wives triple-cross their double-crossing husbands by substituting for the mistresses who are substituting for the wives, so that the man commits adultery with his own wife, stumbling home in the dark. When these men reject their wives for other women, those women turn out to be their wives—who, by altering themselves so dramatically as to be unrecognizable, prove that they have not altered as much as their husbands thought they had. The perpetrators of these double-back bedtricks (secret substitutions of one person for another in bed) are pretending to be the sexual partners that they secretly know they are but cannot openly claim to be in any other way. The wife really is the mistress because fantasy and desire make her so—if for no other reason than because she appears in her erring husband’s mind to be so.