Monthly Archives: July 2015

What do you want to do when you grow up?

(The son, Dan, has informed his mother that he intends entering the priesthood. His mother, Rosaleen, retreats to bed. Hannah is her daughter. )

‘I thought I could so some cheese on toast,’ said Hannah and her mother said, ‘I made him. I made him the way he is. And I don’t like the way he is. He is my son and I don’t like him, and he doesn’t like me either. And there’s no going out of all that, because it’s a vicious circle and I have only myself to blame.’

This all seemed, to Hanna, either true or beside the point. But instead of telling her mother this, she said the thing she was supposed to say:

‘But you like me, Mammy.’

‘ I like you now,’ said her mother.                             Anne Enright, The Green Road


(The son has finished lunch with his parents. His father is a judge)

He [the son] stood up. He would have liked to say something to his mother, but hadn’t learnt the language as do natural linguists and normal sons.

So she extricated herself from what she saw to be a male situation, and was soon cursing Etty, Mildred, Thatcher, between the silences in which she hoped to overhear what was going on in the dining room.

He had failed her. He was going to fail them both, as it is the habit, more often than not, of the children to fail the parents — and vice versa.

He had hardly sat down after Eadie’s exit when the Judge began. ‘What do you think of doing, Eddie?’

You could hardly answer, Nothing; surely being is enough? looking, smelling, listening, touching.

Instead you said, ‘I’m thinking of going into the country. To work.’

In response to a serious aspiration, the Judge became more than ever earnest. ‘A practice in a country town — somewhere like Wagga, say — no, Bathurst. I don’t approve of nepotism, but could probably persuade Birkett and Blair to take you in. A very reputable firm of solicitors. Blair I know personally. I can’t see why you shouldn’t aim higher eventually. But feel your way back into the profession you were intended for. I’d die so much happier for seeing you dedicated to the Law.’

Patrick White, The Twyborn Affair


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The plant called “audacity”

“Early one morning words were missing. Before that, words were not. Facts were, faces were. In a good story, Aristotle tells us, everything that happens is pushed by something else. Three old women were bending in the fields. What use is it to question us? they said. Well it shortly became clear that they knew everything there is to know about the snowy fields and the blue-green shoots and the plant called “audacity,” which poets mistake for violets. I began to copy out everything that was said. The marks construct an instant of nature gradually, without the boredom of a story. I emphasize this. I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.”

— Anne Carson, introduction to “Short Talks” from Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

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The mirror (2)

Mirrors are where I check myself – for parsley stuck in my teeth, for blemishes and dirty hair – where I ponder which shoes go with which dress. But every once in a while, they become something more than that – the site of a body I know will eventually give up the ghost. As in fairy tales and folklore, the mirror displays for an instant my ghost double, and I don’t like seeing her. It is a moment when I am a stranger to myself. But a foreign reflection in a mirror is not always a shock. There is something appealing about transformations, and clothes are the fastest route to leaping out of your own life and into someone else’s. The whalebone corset I wore for eight days catapulted me into another time and another aesthetic, and I liked it.

                                                                                                  Siri Hustvedt, Pulling power: (from here) 

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The Mirror

There is a Japanese tale of a small farmer who bought his young wife a mirror. She was surprised and delighted to know that it reflected her face, and cherished the mirror above all her possessions. She gave birth to one daughter, and died young; and the farmer put the mirror away in a press, where it lay for long years. The daughter grew up the very image of her   mother; One day when she was almost a woman, her father took her aside, and told her of her mother, and of the mirror which reflected her beauty. The girl was devoured with curiosity, unearthed the mirror from the old Press, and looked into it.

‘Father!’ she cried, ‘See! Here is mother’s face!’

It was her own face she saw; but her father said nothing.

The tears were streaming dow his cheeks, and the words would not come.

Angels Carter (ed) Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales

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Glass sentences

Kafka liked to have his watch an hour and a half fast. Felice kept setting it right. Nonetheless for five years they almost married. He made a list of arguments for and against marriage, including inability to bear the assault of his own life (for) and the sight of the nightshirts laid out on his parents’ beds at 10:30 (against). Hemorrhage saved him. When advised not to speak by doctors in the sanatorium, he left glass sentences all over the floor. Felice, says one of them, had too much nakedness left in her. —Anne Carson,  “On Rectification,” Small Talks, Plainwater. Essays and Poetry

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Unrequited love

Pittioni, the geography teacher who was tormented by his pupils the

whole time he taught in a secondary school, failed to return from a

vacation. He had gone to Hüttschlag just to study the works of

Humboldt and to relax, but he hanged himself in the room to which

he had retired for just a few days. In his will he left everything he was

possessed of to his pupils. They should not think he hated them now

that he had drawn the only conclusion open to him, he wrote in his will.

On the contrary. They had not accepted his love for them, no matter how

Much he had done for them. Whatever the reason, he hoped for their forgiveness.

Thomas Bernhard, The Voice Imitator: 104 stories.

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The capacity for darkness

What people find really hard to bear, I’ve noticed, is the suggestion that they themselves might contain their share of human darkness, hidden inside their souls.

 . . .

Sometimes it seems to me that, in the end, the only thing that people have got going for them is imagination. At times of great darkness, everything around us becomes symbolic, poetic, archetypal. Perhaps this is what dreaming, and art, are for.

Helen Garner, The darkness in every one of us, The Monthly, July 2015 (from here) 

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K for Kafka

. . .

Last summer I had my old Penguin Kafka with me by the pool during a shared family holiday, and at one point a nine-year-old friend of my daughter picked up the book and began to question me about it. The next time I looked, the book was gone.

Richard T Kelly, Kafka’s Metamorphosis: 100 thoughts for 100 years (from here)

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Difficult truths

The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat.

David Whyte (from here) 

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People need other people

‘People need other people. True independence — for everyone, well or ill — is rooted in social connection; without this it is mere isolation and loneliness.This deep need for connectedness is insufficiently acknowledged throughout the whole of our society, not just in the case of people with mental disorders. But the lack  of it hits the mentally  ill especially hard since it is so often failures of social connection, particularly in early life, that cause such disorders in the first place.’

Barbara Taylor, The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times 


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