Monthly Archives: January 2015


We even understand a philosophical essay better if we do not gobble it up entirely and at one go, but pick out a detail from which we then arrive at the whole, if we are lucky. Our greatest pleasure, surely, is in fragments, just as we derive the most pleasure from life if we regard it as a fragment, whereas the whole and the complete and perfect are basically abhorrent to us. Only when we are fortunate enough to turn something whole, something complete or indeed perfect into a fragment, when we get down to reading it, only then do we experience a high degree, at times indeed a supreme degree, of pleasure in it. Our age has long been intolerable as a whole . . . only when we perceive a fragment of it is it tolerable to us.                               Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters; A Comedy trans Ewald Osers, p18

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Writing the truth of our experience

It is impossible to convey all of the truth of all our experience. Actually, it’s impossible to even know what that would mean, although we stubbornly continue to have an idea of it, just as Plato had an idea of the forms. When we write, similarly, we have the idea of a total revelation of truth, but cannot realise it. And so, instead, each writer asks himself which serviceable truths he can live with, which alliances are strong enough to hold. The answers to those questions separate experimentalists from so-called “realists”, comics from tragedians, even poets from novelists. In what form, asks the writer, can I most truthfully describe the world as it is experienced by this particular self? And it is from that starting point that each writer goes on to make their individual compromise with the self, which is always a compromise with truth as far as the self can know it. That is why the most common feeling, upon re-reading one’s own work, is Prufrock’s: “That is not it at all … that is not what I meant, at all …” Writing feels like self-betrayal, like failure. Zadie Smith, Fail Better

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What prompts the writing of a poem, a story, a novel?

What provokes you into attempting to write a poem, or a story or a novel, is something you see back there which is engaging, but in a puzzling way. You want to know what is to be made of it – not just to understand, and discover what it was all about, but to finally give it shape. You may go back there and the thing that engages you may not be what you thought it was at all. It may lead you to a quite different question. It is finding out where that leads, to which questions and how they can then be given some kind of form, how they can be allowed to find their form .. …There is conscious control at the level of the actual writing, because every sentence is controlled and made. But there is also a way of working so that you let the unconscious, if that is what it is, keep putting things up to you to be considered, to be incorporated or thrown off .                           David Malouf

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A story disappears into the unconscious

Showing rather than telling, as children know, even if we belong to the liars’ club, is a far more effective way of demonstrating that facts should never get in the way of a good story. But a really good story dismantles even the showing. It disappears into the unconscious and hypnotises linear time. And when anything is timeless, truth appears as experience. As Groucho Marx once said: Who do you believe? Me, or your own eyes? In the end, you are not trying to convince anyone of your life. You are letting them discover a story for themselves. It is the way you go about it that lets them own this story of you, so they too can liberate themselves from the conventions of daily life in order for them to start imagining themselves in a totally different way. . .

Brian Castro My personal write of way 

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After a story is told

After a story is told there are some moments of silence. Then words begin again. because you always like to know a little more. Not exactly more story. Not necessarily, on the other hand, an exegesis. Just something to go on with. After all, stories end but you have to proceed with the rest of the day.         Anne Carson Plain Water, p 88

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The passage of time

photo ©Clara Brack

photo ©Clara Brack

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Illness Stories

How can we make sense of illness stories as being told through the  diseased body?

The ill body’s articulation in stories is a personal task, but the stories told by the ill are also social. The  obvious social aspect of stories is that they are told to someone, whether that other person is immediately present or not. Even messages in a bottle imply a potential reader. The less evident social aspect of stories is that people do not make up stories by themselves. The shape of the telling is molded by all the rhetorical expectations that the storyteller has been internalizing ever since he first heard some relative describe an illnesss, or she saw her first television commercial for a non-prescription remedy, or he was instructed to “tell the doctor what hurts” and had to figure out what counted as the story that the doctor wanted to hear. From their families and friends, from the popular culture that surrounds them, and from the stories of other ill people, storytellers have learned formal structures of narrative, conventional metaphors and imagery, and standards of what is and what is not appropriate to tell. Whenever a new story is told, these rhetorical expectations are reinforced in some ways, changed in others, and passed on to affect others’ stories.

Arthur W. Frank The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics 1995 The University of Chicago Press

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Beautiful Fragment


Detail from a 1920s hand embroidered Chinoise coat

from very interesting blog on Vintage Clothes  here

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On writing out of grief

[Edward Hirsch wrote a  marvelous poem , Gabriel, exploring the death of his son.]

Rumpus: Who or what do you think forced you to write it?

Hirsch: Well, no person forced me to write it. No one put a gun to me and said that I had to write this poem, but I felt that a tsunami had hit me and I needed to try to stand up. I wasn’t really functioning, so I decided to try to strengthen myself by turning my grief into poetry.

Writing this poem gave me something to do with my grief. It was a relief not just to be thinking about my sadness but to be thinking about poetic problems. Because inevitably no matter how sad you are, how sorrowful you are, once you start writing a poem you also have to think about poetry. You’re engaged in technical questions, and those were a relief to me. (more here) 

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The unknown maker

‘I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. . . . I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child. . . . True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known. . . .’  Elena Ferrante, pseudonym for Italian author (more here)  and here


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