Extract from interview with Maria Popova, author of the wonderful Brainpickings blog.
Krista TIPPETT: You wrote somewhere, “We are a collage of our interests, our influences, our inspirations, all the fragmentary impressions we’ve collected by being alive and awake to the world. Who we are is simply a finely-curated catalogue of those.” Which brings the word “curation” — which I understand you’re not as fond of anymore — into this — into the answer of what it means to be human, that we curate our lives. How do you think your sense of what it means to be human, that grand question, has evolved? How would you start to talk about that?
Maria POPOVA: Hmm. I think much of it has shifted from an understanding that’s based on concreteness to an understanding that’s based on relational things. That this notion of not just who we are but who we are in relation to our past selves, the people around us, the culture that we came from, the culture that we live in, all the different lives we’ve had. And for me, certainly, I feel like I’ve had all these different lives. I grew up in a country that is pretty much the exact opposite of my life right now. I grew up having nothing, and then I sort of clawed my way up and out. And now I live in New York City. And I am able to afford my own life and live my own life without worrying about things that I worried about for many, many, many, many years. And it’s so strange how we’re able to carry forward this mystery of personal identity even when our present selves are so different from our future selves. . . and from our past selves most of all. And I think a lot about this question of, what is a person? I mean, how — am I the same person as my childhood self? And sure, we share the same body, but even that body is so different. It’s unrecognizably different. Our lives are so different. Our ideas and ideals are so different. And to me, this question of what it means to be human is always a question of elasticity of being. It’s never an arrival point, you know? (from here)
Thomas and Katia Mann had six children. It was clear from early on that Katia most loved the second child, Klaus, who was born in 1906, and that Thomas loved Erika, the eldest, born in 1905, and also Elisabeth, born in 1918. The other three – the barely tolerated ones – were Golo, born in 1909, Monika, born in 1910, and Michael, born in 1919. Erika remembered a time during the shortages of the First World War when food had to be divided but there was one fig left over. ‘What did my father do? He gave this fig just to me alone . . . the other three children stared in horror, and my father said sententiously with emphasis: “One should get the children used to injustice early.”’
Colm Tóibín, (review) In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story by Andrea Weiss
Quite recently, on a tour to sell my latest book, I went to an event where there were new people that I met. And on the surface it seemed very successful. It was successful from a worldly point of view. Everyone congratulated me. I didn’t think they were flattering me. But I was really unhappy and I didn’t know why. And then I had a dream. It was a very funny dream because it put me in a position of such discomfort. It was an irritating dream. I despised the situation in the dream, it was so bad. I woke up and really had to laugh because it told me that however well things seem to go on the surface, emotionally I was distressed and uneasy and angry at the situation. The dream just confirmed my real condition, my real state of mind. Everybody saying, “Everything is great, Maurice,” didn’t console me because deeply I didn’t believe it. The dream made up a little story — like a homily to tell what instinctually I knew all the time.
You could not, in the worldly sense, have expected the occasion to go better. But that isn’t what you care about emotionally. That never is what you care about. That’s like saying “I can’t trust him,” and everybody saying, “No reason not to.” But you can’t shake the feeling of mistrust even though it flies in the face of logic. . . .
The dream was all about how I should’ve changed the circumstances. I could’ve, but I didn’t. I was lazy and, rather than reconcile myself to it, I was just furious. It was a very good dream. Very good.
I have since made a decision to never attend an event like that again. I won’t put myself in a position like that again. That’s what my dream taught me.
Naomi Epel, Writers Dreaming, Bookman, Melbourne 1993
[Cindy] Sherman grew up in suburban Long Island, the youngest of five children, with a nine-year age gap between her and the next sibling. “It was like I was an only child,” she says. “It was strange because it was like I wasn’t part of their family when I arrived because they had already existed for so many years before I came along.” The original impulse to dress up, she says, was born out of this anxiety. She adopts a girlish voice. “It was like: don’t leave me behind, you guys, remember I am still here!” She wanted to keep her family interested in her. “I thought: if you don’t like me like this maybe you will like me like this? With curly hair? Or like this?”
Tim Adams, July 3 2016 The Guardian, Cindy Sherman: Why am I in these photos?
. . . [I]f love belongs to the poet, and fear to the novelist, then loneliness belongs to the photographer. To be a photographer is to willingly enter the world of the lonely, because it is an artistic exercise in invisibility. In the course of its relatively brief history, photography (and, by extension, those who take photographs) has been accused repeatedly of constituting an act of predation, as if the street is a savannah and the person with a camera a large cat, silent and hungry, ready to sprint after its next meal. In reality, though, the person with the camera is not hiding but receding. She is willfully removing herself from the slipstream of life; she is making herself into a constant witness, someone who lives to see the lives of others, not to be seen herself. Writing is often assumed to be the loneliest profession, but solitude should not be confused for loneliness: one is a condition we choose, the other is a condition that is forced upon us. A writer creates a world, and she is the ruler of it; the photographer moves through the world, our world, hoping for anonymity, hoping she is able to humble herself enough to see and record what the rest of us—in our noisy perambulations, in our requests to be heard—are too present to our own selves to ever see. To practice this art requires first a commitment to self-erasure.
Hanya Yanagihara, Loneliness Belongs To The Photographer, JULY 10, 2016, The New Yorker
Ashley Street Footscray, July 2016
Display case at Degas Exhibition, NGV July 2016
Sometimes a brief exchange with an unknown person marks you forever, not because it is profound but because it is uncommonly vivid. Over twenty years ago, I saw a man lying on the sidewalk at Broadway and 105th Street. I guessed that he was in his early sixties, but he may have been younger. Unshaven, filthy, and ragged, he lay on his side in an apparent stupor, clutching a bottle in a torn and wrinkled paper bag. As I walked past him, he suddenly propped himself up on his elbow and called out to me, “Hey, beautiful! Want to have dinner with me?” His question was so loud, so direct, I stopped. Looking down at the man at my feet, I said, “Thank you so much for the invitation, but I’m busy tonight.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he grinned up at me, lifted the bottle in a mock toast, and said, “Lunch?”
Siri Hustvedt , A Plea for Eros, 2003
Filed under memories, story
Closeness to death made the details of personal history seem irrelevant, so she evaded his enquiry, whether sympathetic or inquisitive, while noticing that one of her black gloves had a hole in the index finger, that her skirt was too short for bony knees, and that her shins needed attending to. Her feet she had tucked out of sight.
While she was living in Hendrey Street Ada had come to her as cleaner: a squat, dour woman from the North, which part of it Eadith could never remember, if she had ever known. Unwilling to share the details of her own life, she did not expect others to offer autobiographies, unless it was their vice to expose themselves.
Patrick White, The Twyborn Affair
Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls, or at least any understanding of our souls that we are able to attain, that every experience is dyed with its color. This is why, even in moments of joy, part of that joy is the seams of ore that are our sorrow. They burn darkly and beautifully in the midst of joy, and they make joy the complete experience that it is. But they still burn.
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013)
We are no longer the same, you wiser but not sadder, and I sadder but not wiser, for wiser I could hardly become without grave personal inconvenience, whereas sorrow is a thing you can keep adding to all your life long, is it not, like a stamp or an egg collection, without feeling very much the worse for it, is it not.
Samuel Beckett, Watt