Tag Archives: Leslie Jamison

Standing on the threshold, observing

[one writer interviews another about the writing process]

Leslie Jamison: I’m struck by how many moments in these essays are marked by a figure standing outside some kind of threshold: “I feel more in my element,” you write, “as the man who is out there standing in the rain.” Even the title, “Loitering,” suggests the presence of someone who doesn’t quite belong. How does a sense of outsiderhood inflect these essays?

Charles D’Ambrosio : Now that you’ve called it to my attention, that figure on the threshold seems to be standing around in quite a few of these essays. It’s a little spooky to realize how porous the personality is in writing, porous or just plain incontinent, leaking out everywhere, so that things get revealed even when—or especially when—you haven’t given them much conscious thought. It’s a good reminder that you don’t have to indulge in a goopy confessional mode to write a personal essay—you’re more mysterious than you know, more naked than you imagine, and whether you intend it or not you’re going to be exposed.

I don’t deliberately seek out that threshold or the ambivalence it offers, but the fact that I return to it over and over suggests that it isn’t entirely innocent, either. I mean, I must go there for a reason, but why? I was a vigilant kid, and vigilance as a perspective on life depends on distance, a certain remove. You’re always kind of there and not there, sitting in the room but also watching the room, alert to some other, less innocent possibility. That distance feels safe, but it also stirs up the most intense feelings of loss and longing, the dream of making the distance go away, of ditching the divided self and all its tensions and simply being there—you know, just crossing that threshold and coming inside, coming home. But it’s hard to do, hard for me to do, anyway.

Leslie Jamison, Instead of Sobbing, You Write Sentences: An Interview with Charles D’Ambrosio 26/11/2014 The New Yorker (from here) 


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To repair solitude

We read, I think, to repair our solitude, though pragmatically the better we read, the more solitary we become. I cannot regard reading as a vice, but then also it is not a virtue. Thinking in Hegel is one thing; in Goethe, it is quite another. Hegel is not a wisdom writer; Goethe is. The deepest motive for reading has to be the quest for wisdom. Worldly wisdom is rarely wise, or even prudential. Shakespeare, grandest of entertainers, also is the wisest of teachers, though the burden of his teaching may be nihilism, which is the lesson of King Lear. I am not a joyous nihilist, since I am a schoolteacher by profession.

Harold Bloom

Sometimes one loneliness meeting another looks like prayer in the darkness. Sometimes it looks like a sandwich. Sometimes it gives rise to those more recognizable ways we collaborate on dissolving solitude: getting married, having a child.

Leslie Jamison reviewing Lila by Marilynne Robinson, (from here) 

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I remember looking into the eyes of a woman in Kalamazoo – who had been ill for years with chronic fatigue – and she was telling me about her illness, but the whole time she was talking I was picturing the bath tub in the old wooden B&B where I was staying. I was picturing that bathtub, or wondering if I was confusing it with the bathroom in the university guest house by the river in Iowa City, or the glass-walled shrine in my sleek modern hotel in Minneapolis. This woman was telling me it felt like there wouldn’t ever be an end to how she hurt – and I knew the truth, which is that for me there would be: the ending had taken the shape of a bathtub in my mind.

Leslie Jamison, Confessional writing is not self-indulgent

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The desire to be seen

The writer Leslie Jamison receives notes from strangers responding to her book, The Empathy Exams

‘ As I got more notes from strangers, I started to wonder what desires motivated them. What do readers want from the writers they read? What sorts of responses do they imagine? Sometimes a reader offers his own life; sometimes he only offers praise. Every offering suggests itself as a mixture of gift and request – a desire to show the author what her words have meant, and a desire to be seen: “Let me know I’m visible to you, as you’ve been visible to me.” ‘

Leslie Jamison:Confessional writing is not self-indulgent, The Guardian 5 July 2014

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One loneliness meeting another

Sometimes the review of a novel  is so beautifully written and observed it warrants several readings,

for what it says about the novel and for truths about the world.

Except from Leslie Jamison’s review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson/

“The novel opens in her [Lila’s] childhood, when she is rescued from neglect by a woman named Doll—a fierce savior and survivor and killer—who carries her away one stormy night: “Doll may have been the loneliest woman in the world, and she was the loneliest child, and there they were, the two of them together, keeping each other warm in the rain.” Lila proceeds to break open the potential of this moment. How does one person’s loneliness intersect with another’s? What renewal can come from this convergence, and what are its limits? Sometimes one loneliness meeting another looks like prayer in the darkness. Sometimes it looks like a sandwich. Sometimes it gives rise to those more recognizable ways we collaborate on dissolving solitude: getting married, having a child.”

Leslie Jamison, The Power of Grace,  The Atlantic October 2014

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dissolving the borders

I’m trying to dissolve the borders between memoir and journalism and criticism by weaving them together.

Leslie Jamison, How to write a personal essay,

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