Monthly Archives: December 2017

The truth of stories

Following the publication of his first autobiography, “Uncle Tungsten,” [Oliver] Sacks came to understand that his memories were not as reliable as he’d thought: After describing in high detail the memory of a thermite bomb that fell behind the family’s house in the winter of 1940-41, he was informed by his brother that he had not in fact been present for it, having been sent away to the relative safety of boarding school. The “memory” had been lifted whole from a letter their older brother wrote to them both, describing the dramatic event in a way that had deeply impressed Sacks at the time. And yet even after accepting the correction, Sacks found that the recollection lost none of its vivid power, having long been embedded as if it were a genuine primary memory. Neither psychoanalysis nor brain imaging can tell the difference between a true and false memory. And more than that, Sacks writes, “There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth…. We have no direct access to historical truth … no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way…. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves — the stories we continually recategorize and refine.”

Nicole Krauss, A Last Glimpse Into the Mind of Oliver Sacks   The New York Times, December 4, 2017 (from here) 

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A compensation for bad behaviour

Hemingway’s girlfriend, the writer Martha Gellhorn, didn’t think the artist needed to be a monster; she thought the monster needed to make himself into an artist. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” (Well, I guess she would know.) She’s saying if you’re a really awful person, you are driven to greatness in order to compensate the world for all the awful shit you are going to do to it. In a way, this is a feminist revision of all of art history; a history she turns with a single acid, brilliant line into a morality tale of compensation.

Either way, the questions remain:

What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]

 Claire Dederer ,What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?The Paris Review, November 20, 2017   (from here) 

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Beautiful metaphors

The course of her life so far has been rather like a raindrop wending its way down a pane of glass: unstructured, stop-start and pellucid.

Gemma Sieff, A Poet’s Loving Take on Her Unorthodox Catholic Family, A Review of Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy, The New York Times, June 9 2017

 

A family never recognizes its own idylls while it’s living them, while it’s all spread out on the red-and-white checked cloth, while the picnic basket is still open and before the ants have found the sugar. … It recognizes them later, when people are gone, or moved away, or colder toward each other. This is about that idyll, and I began it in that grass-green clearing of time, and I am giving it no chance to grow cold. Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy  (from here) 

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Filed under the writing process