Monthly Archives: April 2016

Our mental landscape

There is no distance in childhood: for a baby, a mother in the other room is gone forever, for a child the time until a birthday is endless. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it not what Nabhan calls abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway,”

Rebecca Solnit, from “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking Penguin, 2005) (from here) 



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The logo

Newport garageClara Brack Newport Logo 2016. April

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writing about the past

One ”sees” through memory as through a tremulous prism: The past is recaptured by way of disparate images, fragmented sensory vignettes, snatches of conversation. Chronological fidelity is desired less than impressionistic immediacy. For of what value is the past if, being recounted, it lies dead and mute on the page?

Joyce Carol Oates reviews Unframed Originals by W.S. Merwin  (from here) 

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When I was eight years old my mother cut a piece out of a dress I had been longing to wear to a friend’s birthday party. She grabbed a pair of sewing scissors and sliced the part of the dress that would have covered my heart if, as she said, I had had one. “You’re killing me,” she always howled, eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched, when I disobeyed her or demanded an explanation she couldn’t supply or nagged for something she wasn’t going to give me. “Any minute now I’ll be dead on the floor,” she screamed that day, “you’re so heartless.” Needless to say, I did not go to the party. Instead I cried for a week and grieved over the incident for fifty years.

“How could you do that to a child?” I asked in later years, once when I was eighteen, again when I was thirty, yet again when I was forty-eight.

The odd thing was that each time I raised the incident my mother would say, “That never happened.” I’d look at her then, more scornfully each time, and let her know in no uncertain terms that I was going to go on reminding her of this crime against childhood until one of us was dead.

As the years passed and I regularly brought up the memory of the dress cutting, she just as regularly denied its veracity. So we went on, with me not believing her, and not believing her, and not believing her. Then one day, quite suddenly, I did. On a cold spring afternoon in my late fifties, I stepped off the Twenty-Third Street crosstown bus at Ninth Avenue, and as my foot hit the ground I realized that whatever it was that had happened that day more than half a century ago, it wasn’t at all what I remembered happening.

Migod, I thought, palm clapped to forehead, it’s as though I were born to manufacture my own grievance. But why? And hold on to it for dear life. Again, why? When my hand came away from my forehead, I tipped an invisible hat to Leonard. Me too, I said silently to him. “So old and still with so little information.”

Vivien Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

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The inner and the outer landscape

Knausgaard writes beautifully about landscapes, and he describes his inner life the way he describes a landscape, simply noting, with tender exactness, what is there. Using the same flat tone, he will describe the green mountainside, the tea in a cup, the feeling of fear. The inner and outer landscapes are united. He’s invented a new kind of narration: he chronicles the minute details of his own existence, but not from the perspective of himself.


Joshua Rothman, Knausgaard’s Selflessness, April 20 2016 The New Yorker (from here) 

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What is omitted

Art history in particular is often cast as an almost biblical lineage, a long line of begats in which painters descend purely from painters. Just as purely patrilineal Old Testament genealogies leave out mothers and even fathers of the mothers, so these tidy stories leave out all the sources of inspirations that come from other media and other encounters, from poems, dreams, politics, doubts, a childhood experience, a sense of place, leave out the fact that history is made more of crossroads, branchings, and tangles than straight lines. These other sources I called the grandmothers (p 59). Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost 

(from here) 

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Thanking a stranger

A wooden barrier has been erected on my street around two squares of pavement whose concrete has been newly poured. Beside the barrier is a single wooden plank laid out for pedestrians, and beside that, a flimsy railing. On an icy morning in midwinter I am about to grasp the railing and pull myself along the plank when, at the other end, a man appears, attempting the same negotiation. This man is tall, painfully thin, and fearfully old. Instinctively, I lean in far enough to hold out my hand to him. Instinctively, he grasps it. Neither of us speaks a word until he is safely across the plank, standing beside me. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you very much.” A thrill runs through me. “You’re welcome,” I say, in a tone that I hope is as plain as his. We each then go our separate ways, but I feel that “thank you” running through my veins all the rest of the day.

It was his voice that had done it. That voice! Strong, vibrant, self-possessed: it did not know it belonged to an old man. There was in it not a hint of that beseeching tone one hears so often in the voice of an old person when small courtesies are shown—“You’re so kind, so kind, so very kind,” when all you’re doing is hailing a cab or helping to unload a shopping cart — as though the person is apologizing for the room he or she is taking up in the world. This man realized that I had not been inordinately helpful; and he need not be inordinately thankful. He was recalling for both of us the ordinary recognition that every person in trouble has a right to expect, and every witness an obligation to extend. I had held out my hand, he had taken it. For thirty seconds we had stood together — he not pleading, I not patronizing — the mask of old age slipped from his face, the mask of vigor dropped from mine. In the midst of American dysfunction, global brutality, and personal defensiveness, we had, each of us, simply come into full view, one of the other.

Vivien Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City  (from here) 

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The uses of poetry – to plug a wine bottle

There is something radioactive about the work of Sappho. Each burning word seems to have a half-life of thousands of years. Yet we have so little of it: only the odd word or phrase survives from many lost poems. Some of what we have was found quoted in ancient grammar books, or in a mention or translation by a fellow poet hundreds of years after Sappho’s death. But the most bizarre and tantalising discoveries have been uncovered in the dry air of the Egyptian desert on discarded papyrus. Fragments of Sappho have been found torn into strips, used to plug a wine bottle or stuffed into the mouths of mummified crocodiles.

Dorothy Porter On Passion (from here) 

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Childhood influences

‘I was brought up in a violin factory and when I had a fight with my brothers and sisters we even used to hit one another with violins.’ Lydia Davis, Extracts from a  Life 


Louise Bourgeois’s  mother ran a tapestry restoration workshop in Choisy-le-Roi and, later, in Antony.

‘My mother would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or petit point. She really loved it. This sense of reparation is very deep within me.’

(from here) 

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The power of absence

Every love has its landscape. Thus place, which is always spoken of as though it only counts when you’re present, possesses you in its absence, takes on another life as a sense of place, a summoning in the imagination with all the atmospheric effect and association of a powerful emotion. The places inside matter as much as the ones outside. It is as though in the way places stay with you and that you long for them they become deities — a lot of religions have local deities, presiding spirits, geniuses of the place.

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost 


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