Monthly Archives: July 2015

The verse everyone quotes

Emmet’s girlfriend  Alice has left.

‘She was gone when he got back. There was money on the desk, for rent, which made Emmet sad, and a note on the bed he really did not want to read. Alice had the kind of handwriting that put little circles over the i’s, and sticky-out puppy tongues where the full stop should be. Alice’s handwriting made him feel like a child-molester. The note was a single sheet of paper, inside which she had written the verse everyone quotes, by Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

And rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.’

Anne Enright, The Green Road.

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Knowing another person

People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook. No-one can touch you unless you yourself want them to. You only have to be polite and smile and keep paranoid thoughts at bay, because they will talk about you no matter how much you squirm, it is inevitable, and you would do the same thing yourself.

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses



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Bathing suits

‘I can’t tell you how many women I see buying bathing suits on their phones on the subway.’

Claire Messud, In Praise of Boredom, Harper’s Magazine, August 2015

(from here) 

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The success story

‘Nellie works in the media. She has a favourite piece of wisdom: ‘You are the story you tell about yourself.’

This is Nellie’s golden rule. On every occasion, you have to present yourself as a success story.

You have to boast.

‘My play has just finished a massive UK tour. Utterly brilliant. Played to packed houses every night. Fabulous notices.’

You don’t mention that those theatres were in Booby Dingle or Chipping Sodbury. Or that the hall in Barton-in the-Beans was packed because it only seats forty. And they bussed in elderly folk from the Barking Hall Nursing Home to boost the numbers.

No. You must tell the good story. You must write the story of your life as if it were a press release.’

Hannie Rayson, Hello Beautiful: Scenes from a Life

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The questions inside a work of art

‘It seems to me that the more questions a work [of art] has inside it, the more unresolved tensions and anxieties, the more likely it is to survive. A writer can only live in their own time, subject to the pressures, understandings and desires of that time. . . . Some concern themselves with the issues of the day, while others concern themselves with the issues of the heart. Neither is better than the other, but the cultural value of a work lies only in its relevance to the present.

If a work becomes irrelevant or impenetrable, it is because the present cannot invigorate it, or is not illuminated by it. It then becomes increasingly a historical document and less of a living work.

Many of the canon’s great works, although they may have been concerned with the issues of their day, have survived because they are lodged inside the travails of the human heart. The gender of the characters is less relevant, thanks to their connection to universally human experiences. . . . Shared human experiences – love and loss and regret and hope – bind us together. In this way, the canon remains alive. It challenges, questions and reveals the values and ethics at society’s core. . . .

The great insight of Chekhov is that our real desires, hopes and fears are hidden from us. The truer they are, the thicker the veil. Instead of trying to understand the subconscious . . . Chekhov knew that what a person does and says rarely align exactly, if at all. Unlike many of his mates in the canon, he imbues all his characters with this complexity, not just the boys. The gap between who his characters say they are, who they think they are and what they do becomes the key in which his symphonies of misunderstanding and missed opportunity are scored.’

Andrew Upton, Sydney Morning Herald, July 24, 2015 (from here) 


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Fiction and non-fiction

In Bosnian, there are no words that are equivalent to “fiction” and “nonfiction,” or that convey the distinction between them. This is not to say that there is no truth or falsehood. Rather, the stress is on storytelling. The closest translation of nonfiction would really be “true stories. ”   Aleksandr Hemon, interviewing Teju Cole

Teju Cole

 . . these days, a work has to be clearly marked “fiction” or “nonfiction,” and Every Day Is for the Thief is called a work of fiction because it has quite a number of things in it that are made-up. But when I’m reading Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, or W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, or those short stories by Lydia Davis, the last thing on my mind is whether they are a literal record of reality. Who cares? All I want is to be dragged down into a space of narrative that I haven’t been in before, into a place where, as you say, a truth is created. And let’s be frank: even the most scrupulous New Yorker article is an act of authorial will and framing, and is not as strictly “nonfictional” as it suits us to think it is.   (from here)

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The native Algonquin people of North America have a story about a woman and her baby who were left alone in a winter camp and had just one small fishhook with which to catch food. The mother could easily rig a fishing line, but she had no bait, nothing with which to catch the fish. What was she to do? She took a knife and cut a strip from her own thigh. [The historian Graeme] Davison has done the same thing: he has gone fishing with the worm of his own flesh.

Tom Griffiths reviewing Historian Graeme Davison’s family history,  Lost Relations:Fortunes of My Family in Australia’s Golden Age   (from here) 


Mr. Galton, in his ‘Art of Travel’ under the heading ‘Secreting Jewels’, says this.  ‘Before going among a rich but semi- civilised people, travellers sometimes buy a few small jewels,and shut them up into a little silver tube with rounded edges; then, making a gash in their skin, they bury it there, allowing the flesh to heal over it. They feel no inconvenience from its presence, any more than a once-wounded man does from a bullet lodged in his person, or from a plate of silver set beneath the scalp. The best place for burying it is on the left arm, at the spot chosen for vaccination. By this means, should a traveller be robbed of everything, he could still fall back on his jewels. I fear, however, that if his precious dépôt were suspected, any robbers into whose hands he might fall would fairly mince him to pieces in search of further treasures.’ That this barbarous practice was once in vogue, we learn from Josephus, who when describing “the great slaughters and sacriledge that were in Jerusalem,” tells us “that the Jews who deserted from the besieged city were in the habit of swallowing gold coins. The camp followers of the Boman army killed these unfortunate men for the sake of the money they might contain.”

Francis T. Buckland,Curiosities of Natural History, In: Fourth Series, originally published 1888

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Lovely sentence in novel

There was something out of kilter with his mother’s happiness, as though a light had been switched on by a passing stranger, and left to illuminate an empty room.

Anne Enright, The Green Road,  (Jonathan Cape)p 216

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The figure in the landscape

Atget card

IMAGE: EUGÈNE ATGET/GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE c. 1904 Boutique Art Nouveau, 45 Rue St. Augustin, Deuxième Arrondissement. (from here)

Collage: Clara Brack ©

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To repair solitude

We read, I think, to repair our solitude, though pragmatically the better we read, the more solitary we become. I cannot regard reading as a vice, but then also it is not a virtue. Thinking in Hegel is one thing; in Goethe, it is quite another. Hegel is not a wisdom writer; Goethe is. The deepest motive for reading has to be the quest for wisdom. Worldly wisdom is rarely wise, or even prudential. Shakespeare, grandest of entertainers, also is the wisest of teachers, though the burden of his teaching may be nihilism, which is the lesson of King Lear. I am not a joyous nihilist, since I am a schoolteacher by profession.

Harold Bloom

Sometimes one loneliness meeting another looks like prayer in the darkness. Sometimes it looks like a sandwich. Sometimes it gives rise to those more recognizable ways we collaborate on dissolving solitude: getting married, having a child.

Leslie Jamison reviewing Lila by Marilynne Robinson, (from here) 

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