Heaney: I was forty-seven, I think. My mother died in 1984, and my father died a couple of years later. And I think maybe that’s just a common experience; that you are next in line, there’s nothing over your head in terms of age, in terms of a parent. It coincided in my own life with a wonderful bout of writing a couple of years later—1988, 1989—a sequence of poems eventually called Squarings. They were terrifically free, and they began with an image of an unroofed wall-stead of an old ruined house and an image of the soul as a beggar standing in the doorway. I suppose that particular image began to take hold of me—the idea of an unroofed space and the creature, soul-body, down here with nothing between it and the infinite. And all the early formation, all the early religious imagery that I got for life and death, for the meaning of your life on earth and then your afterlife, all that somehow was stirred again. For anybody in my generation, certainly in the Irish Catholic generation, the soul was like a little white handkerchief, unstained, and you would stain it with sin and so on. But more important was the sense that the whole universe was governed by the deity, that there was divine attention being paid not just to the universe but to you yourself. You’re like a little drop of water in this great ocean, you’re a little speck in the whole scheme of things: nevertheless, you are being watched over, and watched over not only in terms of care but in terms of supervision to see you do nothing wrong. And there was this idea, and my generation got it very early, that there would be two judgments at the end of your life. First, at the end of your particular life, you would be whipped away into eternity and you would undergo a particular judgment; your own life would be scanned, and rewards or punishments, or atonement, would be the result of that. Then again at the end of time, there would be a general judgment, and the whole thing would be ratified on a larger scale. Anybody who undergoes that is marked by it forever, I think. And no matter what kind of secularization occurs, there is a huge coordinate established for consciousness from the beginning, that sense of the outer shimmering rim of everything always being there in your imagination. Maybe that explains it—the soul being whipped away and the roof coming off and you being exposed to that infinity that occurs after the death of your parents.
Elenor Watchtel, AN interview with Seamus Heaney, Brick (from here)
Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs. At a dinner party earlier this year, I was in conversation with someone who asked me to define photography. I suggested that it is about retention: not only the ability to make an image directly out of the interaction between light and the tangible world, but also the possibility of saving that image. A shadow thrown onto a wall is not photography. But if the wall is photosensitive and the shadow remains after the body has moved on, that is photography. Human creativity, since the beginning of art, has found ways to double the visible world. What photography did was to give the world a way to double its own appearance: The photograph results directly from what is, from the light that travels from a body through an aperture onto a surface. Teju Cole, Memories of Things Unseen, The New York Times Magazine, October 14 2015 (from here)
One of the things, the thing I think that makes Boswell’s Life of Johnson the great work that it is, is that on every page you hear as Virginia Woolf said the voice of Johnson himself, Johnson comes to life and he comes to life because Boswell spent so long with him, and Boswell recorded his conversations with Samuel Johnson and reproduced those conversations. So you have in Boswell’s Life of Johnson the words of Johnson himself, the voice of Johnson himself, so you hear that voice as Virginia Woolf says booming out.
Ray Monk, Seymour Biography Lecture 19/9/2014 National Library of Australia
The Couple in the Park
A man walks alone in the park and beside him a woman walks, also alone. How does one know? It is as though a line exists between them, like a line on a playing field. And yet, in a photograph they might appear a married couple, weary of each other and of the many winters they have endured together. At another time, they might be strangers about to meet by accident. She drops her book; stooping to pick it up, she touches, by accident, his hand and her heart springs open like a child’s music box. And out of the box comes a little ballerina made of wood. I have created this, the man thinks; though she can only whirl in place, still she is a dancer of some kind, not simply a block of wood. This must explain the puzzling music coming from the trees.
Louise Glück. “The Couple in the Park” published in Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)
When I look at all-white paintings, if I work very hard, I can sometimes summon up the requisite feeling of slack peacefulness or (depending on the weather) dread at my impending mortality. But, in my hoggish heart, I want things — grapes on plates, Biblical beheading scenes, sea nymphs, sallow Jesuses, people eating pastries on boats, naked Dutch women with fat toes — anything but showily restrained blankness.
Annalisa Quinn, The Ecstatic Blankness Of Poet Louise Glück, review of Faithful and Virtuous Night Poems by Louise Glück(from here)
. . . . in order to use a language one has to be part of a community, so when for example we’re describing our inner life, when we’re describing let’s say our dreams, nobody has access to our dreams other than us. But when we’re describing our dreams we use words and those words are words of a public language, and we’ve learned those words in a public context. So I might – you know I might have a dream, okay I might chose not to describe it to anybody in which case it remains private, that’s – that’s perfectly possible. But after all we have a word dream, and that word is a public word, it’s part of a public institution, how did we learn that word? It can’t be that we learnt that word from our own experience and then we applied it to other people that can’t be right. We must have learned it from other people and then applied it to ourselves, the private can’t be prior to the public, the public must be prior to the private. It must be that we are able to describe our dreams and then it’s intelligible that we can have a dream and we don’t describe it
Ray Monk The 2014 Seymour Biography Lecture.