Monthly Archives: December 2016

Giving words to what we can’t quite grasp

Literature seems to be mainly about absences: giving words to what we can’t quite grasp, to what we wish were there, to what we fear we’ve lost. The Latin expression “verba volant, scripta manent” (“the spoken word flies away, the written word remains”) can be read as a profession of faith in the power of the text to hold on to what is fleeting. And yet, there are presences that every literary text seems to require: the writer who describes these absences and the reader who acknowledges them. To imagine the word or the world without us as witnesses is an almost impossible exercise.

. . .

There is a term from the visual arts, “reserve”, that denotes the empty space on an otherwise populated canvas or paper, kept by the artist for a later completion that is often never realised. This visible absence, the promise of something essential and as yet unfulfilled, allows viewers to construct their own mental picture and in a sense collaborate on the work presented to them.

Alberto Mangueo,  review of  Mireille Juchau’s novel, The World Without Us.

The Guardian (from here)  

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A child’s dream

One morning at the breakfast table, when our boys were about five, one of them described a nightmare he’d just had—the first dream he seemed to recall. He was walking in a wilderness when an invisible voice asked, “Who are you?” This blew my mind. It seemed obvious to me, if not to him, that the voice was none other than his own. So here were two selves confronting each other—one self unknown to itself—at least one of which was self-aware enough to ask humankind’s most existential question.

 

But once a new self realizes its continuity it pauses. “I will always be me”—always, how long is that? A self capable of noticing that everything around it expires can’t avoid concluding that it will, too, somehow, sometime. And so, right around the time that Joshua and Leo turned four, the hard questions began: What is “die”? Will you die? When will you die? Will I die? Are people made of meat? When I die, who will blow out my birthday candles—and who will eat my cake?

Alan Burdick, The Secret Life of Time, The New Yorker, Dec 19,26, 2016 (from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under memories

The need for forgiveness

The meaning of our lives cannot be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues . . . If God is love, and I believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

     The remarkable thing about this crucible of love is that the love we experience in our families doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect, because none of us is perfect.

  Sometimes, that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person they love beats them or rapes them. They tell me what it feels like to  know that they’re utterly unwanted by their parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone’s rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that they abandoned their children, or that their drinking destroyed the family, or that they failed to care for those who needed them.

     Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. Even the people who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They know love by its absence. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

      When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

  That work is the gift we give each other, for there is little in this world people long for more than to be loved and to be forgiven by their mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

Kerry Egan: On Living (Penguin 2016)

Leave a Comment

Filed under memories

The critical voice in the head

(interviewer) Is fear a useful emotion for a biographer?

Hermione LEE

It can be, when it’s not disabling. You would have to be an idiot to take on board writing the life of Virginia Woolf or Edith Wharton without any apprehension. The fear has to be channeled somehow into the energy of the work. While you’re doing it, I think you have to feel that she is yours and you alone understand her. But in order to arrive at that feeling you have to deal with, and master, your apprehension. I had a conversation with the biographer Richard Holmes, ages ago, when I said I always felt rather daunted by the task. I always had voices at the back of my head saying, She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She can’t do this. He said, “You know what I do? I get to my desk every morning and I hear these little voices saying, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s doing!’ and I raise my arm and I just sweep, I sweep them off the desk.” I had a vision of these little jabbering gremlins, like the germs in those advertisements for lavatory cleaners, being swept off and away. No more fear!

The Paris Review interview (from here) 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under the writing process

The creation of a new way of seeing

The Nobel citation said of Tranströmer that “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.” But “reality” is not something already there to which the poet “gives us fresh access.” No: the poet creates a new and unique reality, non-existent until his words bring it into being. The poet’s images are lenses by which we are enabled to see reality as he sees it. If the new perception replaces our previous sense of reality, the poem has done its work: we have been alerted to the previously invisible by an unprecedented “slant of light” radiating from a particular man in a particular time in Sweden. In this way Tranströmer has been able to etch his reality on our minds.

Helen Vendler, The Art of The Inexplicit, New Republic, 11 Jan 2012

(from here) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under the writing process

Craving

To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savours of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing – the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.

(p 152 Faber and Faber)

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The holder of secrets

[A hospice chaplain reflects]

There are so many secrets out there in the world. I carry around some of them, secrets that have  been entrusted to me by patients and family members. Most of them are personal secrets about the teller, secrets about things they did, things they thought or felt or wished, things they didn’t think they could ever tell. Things that happened to them, things done to them when they were small, or helpless, or desperate. Secrets about the self.

But some of the secrets I’ve been privy to were elaborate, family-held secrets. Secrets with multiple participants and levels of understanding. Secrets held across generations that demanded that children be complicit in their own shame. . . .

Because that’s what secrets are about — shame.  (p 37)

Kerry Egan,On Living , Penguin 2016

Leave a Comment

Filed under the unknown

The doubt of age

[The Tv series] Civilisation brought  [Sir Kenneth] Clark 11 honorary degrees and raised him to the House of Lords. It not only established a new genre of “authored” series, still popular today, but it also raised the profile of the BBC as the greatest maker of documentaries in the world. Meanwhile Clark, after making a public speech to promote the series in Washington DC’s National Gallery, where he had been rapturously received by a roaring crowd, afterwards disappeared to the gents and wept uncontrollably for a quarter of an hour. Adulation made him feel humiliated and a fraud. The curious thing is that having so brilliantly distilled his passions, interests and knowledge into a form that could be widely understood, he was unable to accept public approval. He afterwards wrote in his memoirs: “My whole life has been a harmless confidence trick.” If this is more than the English habit of self-deprecation, then, as James Stourton remarks in this finely nuanced biography, the confidence of youth had indeed been followed by the doubt of age.

(from here) Frances Spalding reviews Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and CivilisationBy James Stourton William Collins,

Comments Off on The doubt of age

Filed under Uncategorized

Renting Emily Dickinson’s bedroom for an hour

This is an extraordinary time to read [Emily] Dickinson, one of the richest moments since her death. The publication of “Envelope Poems” and the growing collection of Dickinson’s manuscripts, available online and in inexpensive print editions, coincides with an ambitious restoration of the Dickinson properties in Amherst, including a reconstruction of the poet’s conservatory—a space that was second only to her bedroom in its importance to her art. Those looking for an even closer connection to Dickinson can rent her bedroom for an hour at a time and see precisely what she saw. The other elements of the picture, sun and moon and wind and birdcall, are just as she left them. She is the only thing missing.  

Dan Chiasson Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry, The New Yorker, December 5th  2016 (from here) 

Comments Off on Renting Emily Dickinson’s bedroom for an hour

Filed under Uncategorized

The imperfections of love in a family

Kerry Egan is a chaplain working in a hospice.

“As a chaplain. I don’t decide what a patient and I will talk about. I listen to what’s on the patient’s mind, what’s burdening him or giving him great joy that particular day . . . ‘

And this is what she, as a chaplain,  has to offer us in her memoir, On Living.

‘The meaning of our lives cannot be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues . . . If God is love, and I believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

     The remarkable thing about this crucible of love is that the love we experience in our families doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect, because none of us is perfect. 

  Sometimes, that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person they love beats them or rapes them. They tell me what it feels like to  know that they’re utterly unwanted by their parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone’s rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that they abandoned their children, or that their drinking destroyed the family, or that they failed to care for those who needed them. 

     Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. Even the people who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They know love by its absence. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

      When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive. 

  That work is the gift we give each other, for there is little in this world people long for more than to be loved and to be forgiven by their mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. 

Kerry Egan: On Living (Penguin 2016) 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized