Putting life in perspective

The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird’s-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as a résumé. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all of our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to. “Early we receive a call,” writes Czeslaw Milosz, “yet it remains incomprehensible, and only late do we discover how obedient we were.”

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer 


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Story

In an author’s note at the opening of Joyce Carol Oates’s fourth novel, them, she claims, with an apparent sincerity that many readers took as the truth, that her story was based on the confessions of a former night student of hers named Maureen Wendall. Nevertheless, it’s a surprising moment when, in the middle of her otherwise straightforward narrative, Maureen, the main character of the book, speaks directly to the author. “Dear Miss Oates. The books you taught me are mainly lies I can tell you,” Maureen writes. And it feels like a cry not just against the poverty and violence of her life, but against the story her author is trying to make that life fit into.
Tom Nissley, A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers ..

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The umbilical cord

Catalogue in gallery in Prague, showing Gerhard Richter’s  picture of Betty on the cover

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The most wondrous novel ever

Hyperbole is an ever-present danger up there on the high-low tightrope. What helps the critic keep his or her balance is the acknowledgment that it  is hyperbole, that there is a rhetoric of aesthetic experience—the experience of reading poems or listening to songs we’re strongly attached to—that is always in excess of the actual content.

Louis Menand Can Poetry Change Your Life? The New Yorker July 31, 2017 (from here) 

 

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A father proud of his son

In  2015, before the referendum in Ireland on whether to make same-sex marriage legal, the author Sebastian Barry wrote a letter to  The Irish Times in support of the referendum. 

Sir, as the more than proud father of one shining person who happens to be a member of the LGBT community, I will be voting yes in the coming referendum. In that sense, it is a personal matter. I have read quite a bit in the papers about our new more tolerant society and that may be so, and, of course, it is a solid point of view from which to vote yes, but I don’t see it as a matter of tolerance so much as apology, apology for all the hatred, violence, suspicion, patronization, ignorance, murder, maiming, hunting, intimidation, terrorizing, shaming, diminishment, discrimination, destruction, then yes intolerance visited upon a section of humanity for God knows how many hundreds of years if not millennia. My child will be just shy of 18 when the votes are cast, and therefore cannot vote himself. By voting yes, I will be engaging in the simple task of honoring the majesty, radiance and promise of his human soul.

(from here) 

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A child proud of his father

Gerhard Richter, 48 Portraits hanging over the stairwell in a gallery in Prague 2017

Interviewer” […] the paintings  . .  48 Portraits show the loss of a father figure –  the intimidating encyclopedia portraits of various male role models. They all pertain to the image of the lost father.

Gerhard Richter: Yes, absolutely, and I have even less difficulty admitting to it since it’s the experience of an entire generation, the postwar generation, or even two generations that lost their fathers for all sorts of reasons – some literally, who had fallen in the war; and then there were the others, the broken, the humiliated, the ones that returned physically or mentally damaged; and then those fathers that were actually guilty of crimes. Those are three types of fathers you don’t want to have. Every child wants a father to be proud of.

Interview with Babette Richter, 2002

(from here) 

 

 

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On painting and photography

Family photos, pictures of groups, those are truly wonderful. And they are just as good as the old masters, just as rich and just as beautifully composed (what does that mean anyway).

Gerhard Richter, Letters to Two Artist Friends. From Düsseldorf, September 22, 1964, to Helmut and Erika Heinze

“The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source.” Gerhard Richter

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Memoir as the quest to understand

“To write a memoir”, [Richard] Ford claims, “and to consider the importance of another human being is to try to credit what might otherwise go unremarked”. In pondering this, however, Ford is brought up against his own “incomplete understanding”. While Between Them was undertaken in order to “remedy my longing by imagining them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a speculative mode, with provisional portraits evoked by missing details:

“And how was it for him? Driving, driving alone? Sitting in those hotel rooms, in lobbies, reading a strange newspaper in the poor lamplight … smoking?”

Oftentimes, Ford develops the scene in the negative:

“I don’t remember the time of year of his heart attack … I don’t remember it being cold or hot.”

As a consequence, what is most moving is less the story told than the nature of the inquiry: the long view taken by a son trying to imagine what his parents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like before him, and what they have become in memory.

 

Stephanie Bishop reviewing ‘Between Them’ by Richard Ford, a memoir of his parents. The Monthly June 2017 (from here) 

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What is life?

   

Cafe at art gallery in Prague

 

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Stories

“Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make them what we will. It’s a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it’s a way of keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don’t believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It’s all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat’s cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History should be a hammock for swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it and at bedtime it’s still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It’s an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history.”

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, p 91 

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