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Posts Tagged ‘grief’


Simone de Beauvoir’s early existentialist essay

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist — “All Debts Paid” (Outlander 3:3)


Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) — Boston, 1968: he the tragic figure

Hope is the thing with feathers — Emily Dickinson

Friends and readers,

I get so tired sometimes. I want to stand or to sit ever so still, and hold my head with my hand on my forehead, over my eyes, and to keen. To give way at last. I am so fond of my nearly furniture-less sun-room. I wonder what Jim would think of it. I’ll never know. He would laugh, not mockingly. I do not remember him ever laughing mockingly. No jeers. His laughter was ever kind, gentle teasing, cordial, lightening up life. If it were not that I fall asleep because my one plush rocking chair is so comfortable, I’d sit there many hours in sunpuddle reading.

I seem this summer to be feeling more grief than I have in a while. I was so stunned that first year. It may be how things accumulate: this summer I realized too late (typical of me) that the ISECS (International 18th century society) meet in Edinburgh in July was one to go to — I could sense it from the photos I saw on face-book. To have been there then. I would have known enough of the people. I would have walked new streets that I’ve not tried, alleyways, maybe seen a play. I had been earlier this year regretting that Jim and I didn’t go to a Renaissance Society meeting that was held in Florence: he wanted to go in the early 2000s, but I was still so seared from a time in the 1990s when I tried on my own and was shattered by the experience — I knew no one and found it an endurance ordeal. He was right: we could have learned so much while we saw what was worth seeing; he would have been with me this time. Not so here. Now it’s come to me my reason for resolutely turning away, that my idea that I wanted to teach to take up the full six weeks had not taken into account I could have gone by saying I would teach a 3 week session at the OLLI at Mason summer session; no one would have minded. Why didn’t I think of this? Ah, if there is ever a next time.

Jim used to say when I’d cancel a class at Mason where it was a matter of required courses with grades, and it seemed no one or few minded at all, why didn’t he have a job like that; one where when he didn’t show up, many were relieved ….


Giovanni Volpato and Louis DuCrois, Temple to Sybil, Tivoli (1750) — once the wallpaper on Jim’s laptop (now mine, with a different picture

And then I had a panic attack trying to find a restaurant on a central Alexandria Old Town Street — having been invited to lunch there by two thoroughly monied Northwest DC-resident women (from the OLLI at AU). But he has missed so much. I merely miss my friend, my partner, the daily absence, the easy fun together.

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Clarycat this past Wednesday morning ….

I thought for this entry I’d transcribe my notes from a remarkably at moments exhilarating class experience I’m part of at the Politics and Prose bookstore for 3 evenings, 6-8 pm: it’s called “3 Odd Humanists,” but it’s about three existential texts and writers: Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism” (it’s not), Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (Of Ambiguity is a more accurate, indeed close translation), and Weil’s The Need for Roots (Uprootedness in French). Ten highly intelligent some well-read people all reading the text, with a professor, David Johnson, from Georgetown who comes prepared. He startled me the first night by beginning with Plato and Aristotle. I remembered back to my early undergraduate days reading “selections” of philosophy by myself (300 people in the class, we sat in a vast lecture hall while the teacher talked on up front) for a required course whose absurd title I can’t quite recall.

I enjoy also when I come out around 8 and the sky is just darkening seeing how crowded the store is (a lecture upstairs will be going on), the people drinking, eating, reading and taking notes in the store (one guy at a table surrounded by books and papers), outside in the street everyone eating ice cream (I finally saw where the ice cream store is further along on the block), people sitting on benches, strolling about, eating out on the sidewalk by or in a restaurant, a good city life scene. Once three summers ago Vivian and I bought ice cream cones in a crowded store in Old Town in summer, it was around 9:30, people milling people all about us, two blocks from the river, an uncommon scene (some special event had occurred earlier in the day). I even ate mine. Then on both occasions, I could come home to my bed, my cats, my house, and relax. This time I ate supper and started this blog. I gather at Politics & Prose this kind of thing goes on almost nightly.

I want to transcribe a few scattered notes in the context of my own reading of the three books thus far. My handwriting is so feeble, the class proceeds by conversation mostly, not lecture, but I suspect I’ll get more out of what was said or remember some of it by writing the notes out, turning my Pitman stenography and memory into readable English.

What is now wonderful about philosophy is I’m learning it’s about finding a rationale, an encompassing perspective for oneself (with others) which explains and predicts how things are and can comfort. A kind of meaning or patterns. And it’s fun to do. The last or only time I took a real philosophy course before was a small class where we read a new book each week, starting with Sophocles, moving “through the ages” and languages, to include Dante’s Inferno, and on to 20th century texts: each time, in a manic way I thought, interpreting what we read to show that this text too exemplifies Heidegger’s existentialism — as explained to us in a readable more or less coherent text by Magda King. And it worked each time! after a while I could parrot and apply the Heidegger as-told-by King outlook to the point of getting an A+ in that course. But I did not see my own thoughts, feelings, acts intimately in terms of existentialism; that is what we are encouraged to do in these grown-up sessions.

So, on to what I have from Sartre & Beauvoir & Weil thus far:

Sartre (translator Carol Macomber): “In reality things will be what men have chosen them to be. Does that mean I must resort to quietism [conform]. No.” So in my life that means that although I was born to very poor unconnected parents, I ignored all attempts to make me make a life’s choice based on making a middle class income. Instead I chose literature, writing, and ended with low paid teaching (because that’s what the society has chosen for someone like me who does this ….)

I see Prof Johnson said that Sartre shows us a paranoid view of reality and what Sartre says we must do is move deep into our own minds and remain true to them. We are obligated it seems to feel the reality of anguish and abandonment when we realize we cannot turn to others to create our own meaning; at the same time as irrespective of others, no matter how they might try to stop us, we must fulfill our talents. We find we are here existing. (This reminds me of Heidegger’s thrownness.) The individual exploration of the self is what matters. We are a presence to ourselves. At the same time we must be responsible for our acts. If circumstances are against your doing something, Sartre says it is still cowardly not to do it — he insists you have the potential or capacity to act so not to act is a choice. David Johnson said that for Sartre subjectivity is your presence in the world.

He asserts that human relationships are fundamentally hostile. I fear this is so. We must affirm the value of what we choose. Must we?

He seems to think morality must have a broader scope than sympathy and devotion to another. Yet the concrete goal of helping another (rather than the vague group) is more useful. Reality alone counts. Dreams expectations only serve to define us as broken dreams, abortive hopes, and thwarted expectations. I feel I am in Samuel Johnson’s world here.

One problem I found is that Sartre is prescriptive, not descriptive as I remember Heidegger was. I think of an old Bible story about how if you are given certain talents, you must use them or God will punish you. No one supernatural will punish you in Sartre’s scheme — but yourself. He is unforgiving. I also found him defensive — especially against communists (!) who he said demanded that we give ourselves over to group idea or set of ideas. Thus we lose our freedom. Why not just ignore them? He was very bothered by Camus’s Stranger because he felt the book argued for the futility of any attempt to explain the world. (This is a branch of nihilism, commented the teacher). He says we must ignore others and yet himself cannot dismiss someone else’s admired book. Sartre says what has happened today is a breakdown of central social systems, so that people are aware their way of life is not universal nor their norms or values: we daily live in close proximity to disillusionment, disenchantment because we have woken up. Now to me we are with Kant saying that the enlightenment is a movement where we are adults and our own authorities based on our own experience and developing judgement.

How is existentialism humanism I asked the teacher: because we are centering ourselves on ourselves, on people relationships; through people the world is created. Well, I’d say in part. I read that Sartre says humanism is thinking man is the end we work for, humanity the supreme value. Well this is just wrong. Other animals count too and we must value them and act for them as much.


Ian this very morning on what was Jim’s desk, now my third library table, with the laptop on it too.

My notes on Beauvoir are more coherent and extensive. I felt that she was explaining Sartre — it is an early work, before The Second Sex, before any of her novels and long memoir.

The past is never to be used as a template for the present — David Johnson’s comment on a passage by Beauvoir which is not my understanding of her.  To me she subtilizes, nuances, and interjects an ethic of care. We might say hers is the woman’s point of view, his the man’s. She is concretely about politics and  the cruelties of fascism (as is Weil):

I know that Beauvoir write at her outset our nature has two basic impulses we must obey: to disclose ourselves to others and to will, to act out what we want or feel as mirrored by this disclosure. (She was accused of essentialism.) I thought how solitary confinement is a form of torture: the person can neither disclose him or herself, nor can he or she will an effective act.

Well, Johnson said for Beauvoir subjectivity is terrifying, as we are a mere small presence in a particularly unjust or evil world. She does insist that evil is real, that there are bad actors in the world, they rise to power and will evil. There can be no general ethics for all. We are left in ambiguity. We find ready-made values imposed on us by “serious” people, and these values veil our liberty from us. She is not a nihilist. When we genuinely act authentically we must not impinge on others’ liberty either – or speak or act for them.

Freedom for Beauvoir brings about transcendence, not in any divine but by opening up and providing for indeterminate possibilities. We do have to exist in the present. The last part of her text is her worrying over the Heideggerian idea that people to be human must thrust themselves forward into the future. The enslaved person is denied a fundamental need because he or she can have no future, can plan nothing as at any time he or she may sold or forced to do something he or she would rather not. Johnson remarked the future is the not yet. Religion tells us to throw ourselves into a future that’s is not so, so we must dismiss that. But many philosophies show how people live in terms of the future. I remember learning in the class on Heidegger that he explains why slavery is so de-humanizing: Nonetheless Beauvoir says we must live in the present; the future can be seen through what we are doing in the present, it is incarnate in the present. We must not lose ourselves in the not yet?

I was impressed by how often she brought up childhood, how many references to Rousseau, a long passage on Emile. She declared that “the child does not contain the man he will become.” At long last. There were several passages on how women have been enslaved, how even in cultures where there is opportunity to disclose themselves authentically to someone other than a trusted confidant, to act according to her will, she has been taught submission, struck by how she saw through the gaiety of women who are complicit with the wills of men, how quickly their graciousness can become hard, bitter fury. She too demands we not resign ourselves or we have failed. A piece on Mlle de Lespinasse’s abject letters in love, that Lespinasse is in love with suffering; she sees Lespinasse’s many renouncements, her dependence as frightening. So does Austen in Marianne Dashwood.

She gave me freedom when she said (reminding me of Elinor Dashwood) it is enough to be liberated in one’s thought. I felt comfort when she allowed for joy in history (and presumably historical fiction) because you assume a relationship of sheer contemplation and aesthetic enjoyment. The past is past.

Outside of time and far from men, we face history — Beauvoir, as translated by Bernard Frechtman

But I do know from Orwell “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls [our understanding of] the past.”

Johnson also seems to have talked of failure — or I have notes where he seemed to be saying how intentional we are, we may not be able to disclose ourselves to another. They are in their subjectivity. I cited RLStevenson, a favorite passage:

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson

To which one of the people said, Becket said that more concisely: fail better. I thought of all the exchanges on the Internet I’ve had over the years and how I misunderstand others and they misunderstand me, or how what I have said does not register as important to them, but some side issues or details I cited, and maybe vice versa too.

So we fall back on “the appeal:” we try to appeal to others based on their groundwork to understand us and we try to respond to appeals. An ethic of looking to the other, but respecting (not fearing) them except when evil actors, she can be brought together with Carol Gilligan’s humane groundwork on the psychology of women. And hence l’ecriture-femme.

I have begun Simone de Weil – the cover to my edition of her book is silly: a photo of carrots (root vegetables anyone?). Translator Arthur Wills. I know she starved herself to death, so desperately hideous to her was the barbaric WW2. She is so different from the other two, though. Not just the belief in God but an assumption we must take this belief into account in our understanding of life, death &c The publisher has TS Eliot as introducer because he was an overt fervent (in his later poetry) Anglican. Then he’s right about Weil having a way of beginning with a very wrong idea, indeed lopsided (to my mind), sometime perverse, but then from this point A she leaps to Point B, where she is uttering a brilliant explanatory truth and moving from truth to truth, some just statements and others encompassing utterances … There is paradoxically a lot more pragmaticism and open politics about the 1940s wars and the horrors of Nazism. Yet the soul’s needs is what she is on about: what are “the vital needs of the human being.” She is very Samuel-Johnsonian.

She offers concrete alternatives to the anti-humane organizations of our society, their de-humanizing and uprooted values. I discover too I have her deeply anti-war commentary, The Iliad or The Poem of Force, ed and trans. Hames P Holoska.

I’ve been reading in these two Weils this morning. I am troubled by my discovery that in her Uprootedness (The Need for Roots), the central presences are men. Once she leaves universal needs and talks of society, it’s the working men who must be freed, the peasant is a man. Women come up only as pregnant wives, as prostitutes (which she want to outlaw) or sewing.

There is no more masculine work I know than The Iliad, and all Weil’s words are couched as universals, not as gendered situations, yet here most frequently she picks out passages about women’s grief, women’s subjection. I gave up on Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls because its realism made it so monotonous; the heroine never had any choice, any separate subjectivity; this makes me want to return to it but I know I won’t find there what Beauvoir, Sartre and Weil all claim is possible: freedom in subjectivity through the mind. Frederick Douglas was able to achieve it and then fled — barker did not want to dwell on the unusual person.

I find Weil’s analysis spot on, her memory of the poem is mine. A poem about force, exulting in brutality, incessant and at the same time including all these passages of poignant helpless loss.

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Sissinghurst Kent: the gardens

I want to bring up all-day “course” I took at the Smithsonian a week ago Saturday, “The Splendours of English Country Houses:” Bonita Billman talked a nearly 6 hour lecture (putting it all together and eliminating the breaks and lunch) on “the splendors of English country houses,” historically conceived; we began with Bess of Hardwicke and Renaissance massive structures and ended on a renovaton of a 14th century castle by another filthy rich family with personally aesthetically ambitious people with their hands on great gobs of money, the Courtaulds’s Elthan Palace. She was genuinely informative, insightful, wry, lots of information. I’ve ten pages of dense stenographer, 5 pages of a xeroxed summary of what she said, names of houses, architects, places, a good bibliography. Pictures of architectural elements.  I just can’t transcribe this material.

So my faith in the Smithsonian as a place to go for reasonably intelligent lectures is restored. Once, one long summer day a miraculous nearly 8 hours by a man who knew all these is to know about the Beatles and their music, with accompanying music, pictures. But the last 3 lectures I went to at the Smithsonian were embarrassingly bad; one was morally moronic (about surgery in the 19th century in the UK). I worried I would be getting hours of talk intended to elicit gasps at the obscenities wealth inequality that made these places possible over the centuries (still supports some), or these irritating giggles. There was still this curious stupid laughter (common in film audiences). I like art history – I in effect minored in art history in college. One got only 2 credits for every course you took: so to me that just allowed me to take more of them and I did. The Smithsonian has many art history lectures, most mediocre — the speakers speak as if they never read any deconstructionism or theory. Still, the Smithsonian still has far fewer literary choices than they did when I first joined.

But afterwards I realized that there were serious lacks in her talks. She omitted to evaluate what we were seeing from a truly aesthetic and moral standpoint. If we divest ourselves of alluring richness-worshipping preconceptions about showing off wealth, prominence, making a stage or set to emphasize power, status; many of the rooms Billman showed and a helluva lot of the objects were anything from ludicrous, ridiculous and to objectively seen obscene. Useless. Extravagant and done on the backs of the abysmal low wages and fierce hard physical labor of huge numbers of people. Imagine what John Berger would have said — he’d have perhaps produced an hour’s lecture of what was worth looking at truly, the rest cultural study of the super-rich and super-powerful. I did fall asleep for a while over the long part about Palladian houses and objects. Thank you for this critical funny observation.

The TLS for August 2, 2019 had a review by Michael Hall, of yet another of these books which insist on sheer celebration of the houses the rich for themselves, which had this aware perspective. The houses named were most of them Billman discussed. It is no longer true the 1% must give up these houses; they are buying some of them back and re-converting them into luxury palaces for themselves and their friends. Take Eltham Palace, a renovated 14th century castle:

Inside the house the decor is strictly and unqualifiedly art deco, with the accent on name furniture interior decorators:

Someone on my timeline commented: “This looks like the lobby of the headquarters of a life insurance company. I trust it comes across better in person.” This fits into these existentialists: we are to ask whose subjectivity, what values are these houses imposing on us, at what cost to whom and why cannot this money be spent on the poor, the vulnerable, the refuge (a section of Weil is on the ultimate uprooted, the refuge), or some social services program, how about comfortable for free buses and trains.

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Izzy and I at the neighborhood summer block party Tuesday evening this past week — it’s talked about as if a central event; for the second of two times we’ve come, we found it sparsely attended

So I come back to where I began: this summer or this time of this summer is again hard. Truthful talk of a widow’s life. At that lunch I did after all make at the fine restaurant, with the two women we discussed what it is to be an older woman alone.

One said she was a widow of 40 years and epitomized her experience thus: “yes you get to go out for lunch like this,” but then spend your life as an outcast come evening: suddenly you are not invited to places you were because you are not a couple; how other women regard you as a threat. Yes. The other has been widowed twice, on her third and now unhappy marriage; her first husband was simply shot to death one day in their house; she came home to find the corpse; no one ever discovered who did it or why; she was left with three young children. The second a successful companionship, died of cancer. I remembered a third woman (online friend) this week told me (as she has before) of all the reproaches she has been the target of if she brought up she had been unlucky or looked sad — her husband died when she was 37 and he in his mid-40s:  the speakers seem to resent that she got a social security check, and pension as this man’s widow. She too left with two children. Why do people resent the minimal needs of others their class being met by some group set up for this through some shared scheme.  Jim was dead two weeks and I was told “it’s your own fault now if you are miserable” (but someone I hadn’t realized disliked Jim very much for his reclusive ways); that first year:  “get over it!”

We have been reading and discussing Trollope’s mid-career Miss Mackenzie on Trollope&Peers: its focus is a 35 year old spinster, left a lot of money, and trying to make a choice of life for herself and we’ve been discussing what were and are attitudes towards people who never marry, never have a partner, nor children. Why people marry? Why have children? One of the most moving modern plays of the 20th century of the realistic kind I’ve seen is by Lillian Hellman, The Autumn Garden; it focuses on a 50 plus year old woman now divorced (the husband left her for a much younger woman) whose 3 children are anywhere from indifferent to scornful. How lonely she is, how unappreciated she feels. Maybe I’d like a deeply compatible relationship once again, but I don’t think I’d get one like what I had where I’d again be allowed all the the time to read and write and watch what I want on TV, and nowadays go where I want (to classes) and (as a single man said on our list) I’ve an idea that no relationship could be worth giving up those freedoms for me — even if the price is years of nights alone and coping with my disabilities.


Trollope is having an Italian renaissance …

It’s called facing or accepting one’s lot, which I am doing this summer.

Ellen

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“Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/The winds of March with beauty” … aka spring. Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (Act 4), once my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays: I once taught it.

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve rewritten, re-framed this blog so as to give it an adequate framework: recuperating the self:

Get leave to work/In this world — ’tis the best you get at all — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1853-56).

This morning I took this photograph of some of the daffodils in my front garden — under the miniature maple tree not yet in bloom …. There are other circles of tiny daffodils on both sides of the house (two circles of flowers and bushes are there), and there are some tiny white crocuses in another part of this circle under the tree, and tiny buds here and there in all the plants that survived and have now popped up green … To me they are living images of hope and each individually has delicate beauty.

I need to see them this way.


The British are not the only group of people being forced to leap into risk

For these past two weeks I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the externals of life have hit me hard: I have been rightly terrified over the coming plane trip since I am flying Southwest: we now know that added to egregious abuse of passengers to wring the last dime out of them, planes are being rebuilt to hold more people and things and thus becoming unsafe.  Then I was reeling after coming home from the AARP having made out my tax forms and uncovered an unexpected and large tax bill such that I must change my withholding on my monthly annuity and social security checks so as to live on less from here on and pay it bit-by-bit over the year. I am floored by the online boilerplate and relieved my financial adviser has promised really to help me do this when I get back from my trip. The obscenely expensive pills for hepitatis C are working (no sign of the infection in the latest tests) but I’m tired, head-achy (have again scraped my car badly), but each night sleep more deeply than I’ve down for years, except when waked by anxiety-dreams stemming from the coming trip- and conference-ordeal, these renewed money fears.

Ian also has had a hard time recovering, in his case from the new cleaning team, with their loud machines and quick work, now here twice and left a truly clean house (for the first time in years my windows are clean); it won’t do to think about the sums this switch cost me. The business is run by women and only works the first 2/3s of each workday.


After a many hour disappearance, walking about so lightly that his bell did not tinkle: he hoped to escape notice and at first would not eat or drink.

So where to find that peace and trust I can live out what future I’ve left in my quiet ways in this house.

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L. Scott Caldwell, left, and Shinelle Azoroh in Gem of the Ocean in Costa Mesa.

Well throwing myself into what I am capable of succeeding at doing, and thus enjoying. This past two weeks I have taught/led a class of some 23 retired adults reading (apparently with real enjoyment) Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and myself as a class member felt new interest in rereading the first three acts of King Lear and watching the 2008 Ian McKellen version (director Trevor Nunn, with outstanding performances by the actresses playing Goneril and Regan) and the 2016 Anthony Hopkins (director Richard Eyre, with outstanding performances by too many to mention). Despite the cutting, the Hopkins-Eyre one is the vastly superior by original direction and Hopkins’s performance). I’m stunned by Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner Come & Gone, only beginning to realize the lack of fundamental safety, security, ability to accumulate, and radically de-stablized relationships and lives this causes — a journey through the century from an African-American perspective. With my two list communities, I’m reading EBB’s Aurora Leigh, which I know I ought to be more affected than I am, and Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart, which, by contrast, I’m having a visceral personal response to the point I find myself blaming the heroine for not caring enough about her children, for in effect abandoning them, while on what seems a sort of whim at first, she pursues a divorce.

Wednesday I leave for Denver, Colorado, to endure a three-day conference on the 18th century (ASECS) and have my paper, “After the Jump:” Winston Graham’s use of documented facts and silences,” down to 19 minutes. Winston Graham has taken up much of my time therefore, with intervals filled by absorption (when I can) with Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’ve added Somerset Maugham as an author who would shed light on Graham’s peculiar story of a blind man in internecine post-WW2 southern France (the hero stalks a heroine of the resistance), Night Without Stars, and am into Jeremy Poldark, a deeply melancholy troubled yet loving book once again. I now see that the murdered young woman in his Take My Life (I understand the title as a cry of the soul) and this heroine as seeking safety, the first women was destroyed by cruelty, meanness, the tunneled ambition of a schoolmaster; the second rescued as a fellow disabled person to return to quietude in a quiet corner of England. I came to this by watching a modern so-called “thriller:” In a Better World: To call it a thriller is so wrong, it’s hilarious: The film brings out the trauma underlying some thrillers which the thriller distorts in order to sell widely, and there are authors who appear not quite to understand the fundamental groundwork of such texts. I must write this up separately.

I’ve gone on to the intelligent Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (which begins in the 19th century and takes the story to the 21st) and Ann Rioux’s Writing for Immortality, on four American women writers whose determination to write well for the sake of their art will be explicated as a fight for self-esteem and creating works of integrity, so am now eager to include at least one 19th century American women writer amid my Anomaly women. When I read Traister, I realize I am somewhat compensating for the loss of Jim: in small ways I am learning to live the way she has, learning about a world outside my coupled life. It is as yet on the edges of my existence because I have not managed to hold onto friends or a group of friends locally. Throughout my life with Jim, though, if the truth be told I would have one girlfriend usually, a kind of best friend, and so this pattern is one I know, only now I see this in a different context. I know I am right to value my FB women friends (and men too). I understand Laura’s life choices better too.

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My solitude, my self … at night (when I write these blogs too, gentle reader)


Shadow of the Tower: Episode 4: The Serpent and the Comforter

I’m riveted nightly by yet another episode of the truly astonishing 1970 BBC multi-episode studio drama, The Shadow of the Tower, with James Maxwell — why is not this more famous? A blog will follow when I’ve gone through all 13 hours twice. I started it after it was recommended by an uneven Future Learn on the Tudors I’m following just now.

Episode 4 is a study of people about to burn alive a man who has a set of radical common sense beliefs — one guard becomes unwilling and realizes this is all wrong and so does the king but goes through with it — so it’s idealized but this allows for conversations between the man and guard and king. We don’t see the torture off stage as they attempt to make him recant — just hear it and it’s agonizing to hear and then see all the signs on the man’s body. The real thrust is to shove in our faces at length the deep inhumanity of man to man and also the fierce unreasoning religiosity of the era as a cover up for power plays and fierce demands for obedience to strict conformity. James Maxwell is brilliant as the king throughout the series: witty, somehow likable, warmly human in his closest relationships, subtly intelligent yet peevish, neurotic, but effective, slowly becoming a terrifying inexorable monster to others because he has been given such power

I am also nightly now making my way through all Andrew Davies’s films, beginning with deeply mourning from within as I sit up and feel with Claire Foy’s inch-by-inch agon as she copes with her half-mad neurotic father played by Tim Courtney. Half hour by hour I am her — as I am Lila and Lenu.

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On the Net, I’ve been stirred by the life and work of another woman artist, one I won’t write a blog for (as I would be wholly inadequate) but can here invite my readers to dwell in the Spitalfields bloggers’ essays: on Dorothy Rendell:


Dorothy Rendell, View from Standhead (1955)

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/an-exhibition-of-dorothy-ren…/

Then Stephen Watts, described as a poet and novelist, wrote about her art, the legacy of what’s left:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/the-legacy-of-dorothy-rendell/


Rendell, Studio Parrot (1960)

Now the gentle author preparing for a lecture, shares with us the Rendell’s drawings and illustrations:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/03/12/dorothy-rendells-london/

Her first (posthumous) solo exhibit:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/16/dorothy-rendells-solo-show/

The gentle author is pseudonymous; I originally assumed the writer is a woman, but recently I’ve become aware the writer is a man — he has begun to use a pronoun for himself. Also that more than one person writes this blog (Gillian Tindall has written here) — it’s astonishing high quality, frequency and point of view are all outstanding, but also the amount of knowledge displayed. Probably it’s find-out-able if I tried or asked someone who knows people who are part of real art worlds in London.

One we learned in another blog that a pub that has been on the site since the 17th century, with one period of total obsolescene and desuetude (between 1970s and 2000) is now to be razed and replaced with a hideous mall that will look like a thousand others

http://spitalfieldslife.com/20…/…/13/so-long-the-water-poet/

This touches me because in one of my periods of being alive I spent all my time reading and writing about the early modern Renaissance and 17th century. Anne Finch was a later 17th century poet who lived into the 18th century. This blog is or should be of interest to anyone interested in the long 18th century.

Most recently, at and on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/17/dorothy-rendell-at-whitechapel-bell-foundry/


Camille Cottage, Castle Hedingham with red chair (1970)

W.S. Merwin has died, and an FB friend pointed me and others to a New York Review of Books essay-review by Ange Mlinko on Merwin’s life and poetry as that of an whole earth troubadour, who learned his art by the humble practice of learning other languages and translating wonderful poetry in them. I liked this (though I taught myself Italian enough to read and to translate it, and now need to return to it and to French

There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you may not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can only learn one part at a time.

The ghost of a sestina (invented, they say, by the troubadour Arnaut Daniel) haunts these six-line stanzas, with their repetitions of individual words (though they don’t repeat mechanically at the ends of the lines, as they do in the sestina). What is repeated? Learn, dead, remember, understand. As the poem goes on, it repeats saved, intention, order, passion. Here is the fifth and final stanza:

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.


Merwin in his last year of life

The question is, how to recuperate the self. Mlinko believes translation is the suppression of self and that in poetry at its finest we suppress the self, we make something from nothing tangible or new as I have done tonight: Guilhem IX’s “Farai un vers de dreit nien” (“Sheer nothing’s what I’m singing of”)

This reminds me of Virginia Woolf: she wanted Anne Finch to transcend herself. This is mistaken, or need to be put another way. We can never leave ourselves, but what we can do is throw off the attacks and pressures from all around us (the wolves of society) and recuperate by following our true bends with integrity. That is the work of a lifetime. Finding who we are, and as Pope said, following nature, our nature. Making what we can. Recuperating by flowering out. I can link August Wilson’s plays to Shakespeare’s this way too: although we do not know what was his private life, only that he is incarnate in his plays.


Dorothy Rendell, Jerena at Harry Gosling School (1960): recuperating the self — look how beautifully Rendell has caught the child’s hands, the textures of her jacket and skirt, her body inside them ….

I have taken to going to Evolution Home, a consignment shop for furniture where older things are rescued. I am making my home comfortable by buying appropriate (for my needs) tables, retro clocks, rugs, baskets for my library of DVDS (kindly sent by a friend so that I have such a collection of splendid wonderful movies, often BBC). Rearranging furniture, making corners for pretty things and where I do my work. All recuperating the self, having respect and concern for myself and what I see. I hope you don’t need photos of these, for there’s not much to see. It’s the inward experience behind such changes I’m trying to steady myself with.

Ellen

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Friends,

Izzy departs from her usual music with this one by Lorde:

The lyrics:

I do my makeup in somebody else’s car
We order different drinks at the same bars
I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth
She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar
Those great whites, they have big teeth
Oh, they bite you
Thought you said that you would always be in love
But you’re not in love no more
Did it frighten you
How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?
On the light up floor
But I hear sounds in my mind
Brand new sounds in my mind
But honey I’ll be seein’ you, ever, I go
But honey I’ll be seein’ you down every road
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it
‘Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it

Lorde’s name is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor; she is a New Zealand singer, writer, record producer who also holds a Croatian citizenship; she is known for curating the soundtrack for Hunger Games. She has been politically active, performs her own music, whose themes are solitude and heartbreak.

Miss Drake

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I photographed “Grey malkin” from the other side of my glass porch door

the day’s shadow is gone in the moment
it was here with all that went before
gone the same way into the one night
where time means nothing that is visible
— W. S Merwin

Friends,

I thought I might be in the process of adopting a small grey cat about half-a-week ago. I first saw him or her (after this to be denominated her because she reminds me of Clarycat in size) under a bush near my door; I heard loud mewing and there she was. She looked combed recently, brushed, not starving, and had a black soft collar. I put out a bowl of dry food and she rushed there and ate a great deal, and then stopped. A neighbor on a local listserv said she had lost a grey cat but when the neighbor finally showed up (it took all day), in a tennis outfit and gargantuan SUV, and took a look at this grey cat, she said it was not hers. Hers had a micro-chip. I did see the cat was not keen to come to her.

Since then I’ve tried several times to get the cat to come into my house, but she eludes or fiercely resists. I become nervous and drop her as she hisses and squalls, but I have now noticed she has no claws. De-clawed, poor creature. Soon she may be torn to bits by a raccoon. At first I thought if I could get hold of her and find a phone number of name on the collar, I’d phone the owner. But when the woman who denied it was her cat, got onto the listserv and in these pious tones told of how the next day the cat was found dead under a bush, I began to suspect this woman just wanted to get rid of her cat. Someone had a photo of this woman’s cat, a close-up and this woman’s cat looks like “my” Greymalkin. Greymalkin from Macbeth would do for a male or female.


This is probably the cat now sticking desperately around my house when she was in her home; her face has become pinched and her fur color darker (dirtier) than in this close-up

Meanwhile I put food & water out for 2 nights; for 2 nights the next morning the food is mostly eaten, the bowl drunk from. If this proceeds and there is no name or phone number and she comes in, I thought I’ll take her to a vet first thing.

My cousin on face-book pointed out she was bluish, a Russian blue. She had such a female cat and called it Shadow.

For a few days she showed up the same time in the afternoon, mewed loudly. But then stopped coming out. She began to look much worse for the wear. I put out a cat bed and toys and the first morning after I found the toys had been played with ferociously. Since then the play is milder. She comes at night when she feels safest — invisibly visiting me for food. Today I thought to myself when I took the photo (around 5 in the afternoon that she is so frightened she might stay under the branches most of the day — not go very far. though this afternoon when I passed by — having gotten out of my car and going to my door I heard her mewing under the branches. I couldn’t find her though.

The question is, how do I lure her to show herself to me and then inside. I put out tuna and the bowl was licked clean. A third bowl was almost emptied this afternoon. I don’t want to leave the door open and that’s dangerous for us and will let my other cats out. I could call a pet rescue place for advice. I’ve queried this neighborhood list if another person in the neighborhood is missing a cat or has this kind of cat. No answer.

This morning the bowl was 2/3s empty again. Someone on this neighbor list has emailed me to say she would bring it to a shelter where they’d check for a chip (it has a collar) but she in the same sentence talked of having a “foster” for “end of life” if that’s necessary so I don’t think so. If I can catch it, I’ll take it to the vet myself; if not, just wait until it stops coming. If I took it to a vet or the Humane Society and they discovered it was sick and they wanted to euthanize it, I would have deprived it of life. Not doing it a favor then. Maybe I should just let it be a perpetual guest, and become a feral cat.

I decided to phone the Humane Society for advice. I disbelieve that woman’s story about a chip now. There is a collar on that cat and it has a tag only it’s locked. Typical of the exclusive American upper middle class. For my part when the vet proposed to me to put chips in my cats, I thought to myself what a money-maker for you .Not as life-threatening as the way I was told she would clean my cat’s teeth, not as cruel as de-clawing, but the same drive towards expensive tech. She used it to pretend the cat wasn’t hers after all. She didn’t show up for a time when I announced it on the listserv.

But when I phoned two Humane Societies, I got advice but no direct help. Not until I have the cat in hand or in the house will some be sent. Then I’m warned if I let it in or capture it, it could be angry or get under a bureau and then I have a problem. Yesterday afternoon it was in the garden meowing loudly. I see it’s now drinking the water. The toys (I put out another) were mildly played with. She had come over to me on the sidewalk, let me pet her. She has stopped that. I have a perpetual guest until such time as she gets friendlier again and can get herself to come in. If she lives, perhaps when it goes very cold. My two cats have watched her from the window of my workroom.

Laura has said that she has a friend with three indoor cats and three visitors. I admit I don’t want to pay for a third cat when I have to board them when I go away. I worry lest the other two attack her or the three not get along. Would she chew on wires? do her natural business in the litter box? OTOH, it seems to me she’ll die if she doesn’t come in.

Many years ago, in 1970 to be precise, I took in a stray feral cat. A large male black cat. Jim and I were living in Leeds 7, a small flat and one day a black tom cat just walked in. I fed him and he rubbed against me. He didn’t stay but he returned the next day, came in and this time I had cat food for him. It took a little while but eventually he would stay in the flat with me for hours. He sat near the fire. He began to sleep next to me — on my side of the bed. Jim said, fine, as long as he stays on my side of the bed. Sometimes he would go out and not come back for a day or so. One night he was bleeding from a paw. He had been in a fight and when I was all poignant affecion, he looked at me as if to say you should see my opponent. I cleaned his paw.

What I didn’t realize was an illness I had, which I thought flu because I ran a high temperature and was in bed for a few days, was connected to Tom. I called him Tom. In 1984 when I gave birth to Izzy, she was pre-mature but she had anti-bodies to a dangerous illness that was only known about publicly after AIDS began to spread. Before AIDS, it was hardly ever seen because the average person’s immune system fought it successfully. As in most hospitals, the staff had a very ambivalent attitude towards me, the patient. They suspected I had AIDS! but if I had, I would have died. Anyway they asked and then insisted on taking blood and lo and behold found the anti-bodies to this disease in me. They then asked me, had I ever owned a cat. Cats were one way it was transmitted to people. I thought back to Tom.

Yes. I was young then, never thought of trying to take Tom to a vet to see if he was well. Now I would think of it even if I hadn’t this experience. I tell about it partly to show my character: I have taken a stray in.


Jim and Llyr, 1973 in an apartment near Central Park, NYC

I had dog for 12 years and I loved her — though did not treat her as well as I should have, and cannot retrieve that time. Part German shepherd, part beagle, a mutt. Big paws, floppy ears, mostly brown and black. I was too young and didn’t credit my dog with the true feelings she had. She was my companion when I stayed home all summer and studied Latin until I could pass a test reading medieval Latin. She walked in the park with me. She saved Laura and my life once. A man came to the door, knocked hard and when I opened it, demanded to be let in as the electrician. But there was Llyr, three times her size, growling terrifying. The man demanded I put the dog away. Some instinct told me not to. I shut the door. The next day I learned he was a rapist and had attacked another woman. Another time she saved me in the park, scenting danger and become three times her size again.

Jim and I were on the edge of having no money at all; we were in a desperate way because neither had a decent job. Laura had been born. His dissertation was declared wrong. None of us ate right for two years. The dog grew thin and she wasn’t loved enough. My father saw something was wrong. He should have intervened, I would have listened.

We had had years of happiness with this dog. We’d take Llyr to the beach in summer: Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Jones beach and she’d go into the water and play. We’d walk with her by the Hudson River. Shes slept with me on my side of the bed but when we ran out of money she was hungry with us and I had little energy to play any more; I had a young baby and then she was 2. What I had in me to give went to the child. Then Llyr got sick: she began to have growths. I realized how she was suffering and improved my behavior, began to walk with her again, try to sleep with her, show affection, but it was too late. My father paid for one operation, but then the vet said the cancers were spreading.

Great grief when she died. I cried hysterically. I had not thought how a dog or cat must predecease us. I had not realized how much I was attached. I felt forever after I had not been affectionate enough. I know I was not in that last two years. Once when we first had her, Jim and I tied her to a radiator by a leash. She began to cry and we pulled it right off. But that we could think of doing that to go out. Shame on us. When I get much older and can’t travel, maybe I’ll adopt a dog too. Make it up. A rescue one from an agency — he or she can be older, that’s fine. I wouldn’t want the animal to outlive me now.

How naive I was, not responsible enough. I now am open to an animal’s love as I need love so too now. So now I would take this cat to a vet and care for her, give her a good home if she’d let me. I love the affection my cats give me, physical as well as emotional, their presence, their company. They have individual personalities. But perhaps the situation could stay as it is. The problem would be when I go away. Izzy and I are supposed to go away for 5 nights, 6 days the first week of October to a JASNA AGM. I won’t be able to put food out then. What will happen then? As usual I wish I were not going. There will be large stretches of time when I have nothing to do and plan to go to my room and read. If the cat were to come near I would try again. I have so much of physical comfort, I could be of help to her. I would be affectionate too. Two stray souls. I am unmoored and with all my activity don’t have a meaningful center.

On Saturday Laura has helped me buy a new ipad, learn how to use Notes and Pages, put all my apples (cell phone, ipad, and laptop) in sync and made me an icloud! So when I finally take the plunge and try to reach libraries to do research I will actually have equipment to do this with. I am planning to take this ipad with me so I can reach the Internet and won’t feel so much alone far from home and the comfort of Internet companionship and friends. I went to an excellent exhibit on Sylvia Plath at the National Portrait Gallery and heard a pair of intelligent lectures by Dorothy Moss and Karen Kukil on Plath last week. This made me return to her poetry and I found these lines on the word and reality of a

Widow (re-arranged … )

Widow, the compassionate trees bend in,
The trees of loneliness, the trees of mourning.
They stand like shadows about the green landscape­
Or even like black holes cut out of it …

A paper image to lay against her heart
The way she laid his letters, till they grew warm
And seemed to give her warmth, like a live skin.
But it is she who is paper now, warmed by no one …

That is the fear she has — the fear
His soul may beat and be beating at her dull sense
Like blue Mary’s angel, dovelike against a pane
Blinded to all but the gray, spiritless room
It looks in on, and must go on looking in on.


Another of Greymalkin on the sidewalk

Miss Drake

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It is an odd feeling, writing against the current: difficult to entirely disregard the current — Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

mapletreeendofsummer
Maple tree on front lawn — end of summer colors

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! — George Eliot in her letters

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been puzzling over the term “friendship” more than usual for the last couple of weeks, and this morning thought I’d help myself by reading what Samuel Johnson has to say in two of his journalistic essays memories of which have stayed with me down the years (Idler No 23; Rambler 99). In my mid-twenties studied Johnson for my orals for my Ph.D, and again in my mid-forties I used to teach at George Mason university a volume of his writing (in the Penguin series, edited by Patrick Cruttwell): we’d read his Journey to the Western Islands,” his literary biographies (especially the life of Savage), his journalism, letters, poetry

The one I recalled better starts with the sentence (now I’ve found it) “Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than friendship,” only to devolve into how fragile are such relationships: how frighteningly easy (“very slender differences”) can “part” people after “long reciprocation of” courtesy or generosity. Sometimes people long to meet after years of being apart (or let’s say Internet friends) to find there is no similitude where it counts such as had been imagined. He talks of more than “opposition of interest:” his focus are “a thousand secret and slight competitions, scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate,” and how “minute ambition” once found out (and “vulnerable” to the other) will be become a sort of fear, and resentment and the shame felt will not be explained as the last thing the person wants is discovery. This “slow malignity” can be obviated if you know your friend (frenemy?) well enough.

But then there is “a dispute begun in jest” becomes a desire to triumph, then vanity takes over as anger grows, and before you know it you are in the midst of strong “enmity:” “Against this hasty mischief I know now what security can be obtained: men will be sometimes surprized into quarrels.” Friendship appears to have so many “enemies:” caution becomes suspicion; delicacy becomes and repels disgust; people grow angry that compliance with another’s taste is “exacted.” The most “fatal disease” is “gradual decay:” when gradually people just don’t want to or are “unwilling to be pleased.” He regards this situation as “hopeless.”

To become friends in the first place requires “mutual pleasure” in one another’s company. This is not always in our power to feel. To be “fond and long-last” it seems there must be “conformity of inclination.” People must share tastes; I’d put it have a closely similar sensibility. Appreciate how the friend spends his or her days (and/or nights). People practicing the same profession can understand and respect one another. They must enjoy one another’s conversation is another area I’d bring in. Contradictorily, Johnson does say (just briefly) people who are (as we might say) stuck together (families, in his era that would include coerced marriage) should try to “approach towards the inclination of each other,” see if you can conform in things that don’t carry a weight of need, show curiosity. By his own admission this is hard. Jane Austen would have us consider Mrs Smith:

“Even the smooth surface of family-union seems worth preserving though there may be nothing durable underneath” — Persuasion

I am now touched (as I probably was not when young) by how he says we all “require” acts of “tenderness” because we have “grievances which only the solicitude of friendship will discover and remedy.” (The need for and offering of tenderness is seen in grandparents.) Johnson says people have to care about you beyond the usual need, have bothered to know, recognize, try to “remedy” miseries usually “unheeded in the mighty heap of human calamity.” Again, hard.

My reader will scarcely believe that I used to read disquisitions like these I’ve paraphrased and quoted from to find some comfort and strength. But I did.

latonnellehenrimartin
Henri-Jean Martin (1860-1943), La Tonnelle (an imaginary gazebo)

It happened that later in the day a kind friend here on the Net pointed me to an essay by Audrey Lorde in which she suggests that we wrongly avoid the erotic in life; the emotions that comprise eroticism can provide power for creative and good change (“The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sexualities and Communication”). My first reaction was to remember Carol Gilligan’s In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development and Lyn Mikel Brown’s Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development, two of many books on female psychology where the authors argue women have and further develop out of their innate nature and the experiences of life our social organization imposes on them an “ethic of care,” of concern for one another; instead of interacting through competition, as individuals vying to be superior to others, to wrest the necessities and luxuries of life by purchase (after doing what one must to get money), act as one in a community looking out for one another to enjoy in companionship without regard to status. This could be norm encouraged which Gilligan and Browne feel would give the deepest pleasure and gradual security were it central to structured experiences in life.

But then I thought it’s not “care” and “love” but “erotic,” and the use of the term erotic changes the idea. Lorde wants us to enjoy sex with one another, or sensual experience and says if we do so, we will open up to one another, feel good and then be powerful to do something. Tonight I find myself worrying over that second word, “power.” After all the context seems to have something to do with competition, and control over someone else, getting them to do something out of the sensual and sexual. She is trying to get power out of nature and to manipulate. In my experience opening up to most people, and especially sexually has ended in their trying to take something, and a feeling of self-directed self-felt triumph is central to the erotic. The sexual postures and things we do are or can be humiliating when I’ve felt the other person feeling this triumph. Can we ever rid ourselves of our position literally as well as figuratively to one another.

In classic characters from Don Juan to Lovelace to Austen’s Lady Susan, what is actuating the character when they proceed to move through erotic experience is a desire to triumph and use. My experience has taught me there is yet worse: the person takes over your character as your self-control may dissolve away, as you start to trust; and what they call cooperation with them becomes form of submission. The next step is bullying.

This relates to my theme of friendship tonight as my experience since becoming a widow is people do their best to avoid getting deep with one another to be safe, not to be obliged, not to get into troubles and ignite all those enemies to friendship Johnson surveys (I particularized only a few of these, admittedly the ones that have causes me most hurt). Lorde seems to suggest people are refusing to be loving; refusing what comes natural. Does it? The world is filled with people completely oblivious to other people’s actual minds, who cannot participate in another’s experience unless they have known it in a literally similar way. They begin with a fierce egoism. They hear and interpret what you say in terms of their particular attitudes of mind. They enjoy aggression and threatening hurt and get a kick out of avoiding someone aggressing at them. People who go out hunting to kill animals are not doing that to protect themselves.

There are dozens of great stories about this — from the old movie, The Servant (if you’ve ever seen that one with Dirk Bogarde and James Fox where the servant becomes the master) to the Lord of the Flies — the person who ends up the scapegoat and whipping bag for others. People go so far to justify these happenings by claiming the hurt person is masochistic; they want to be hurt, they enjoy it. I am here to say they do not. The woman who does not try to escape her abusive husband fears if she does she will suffer more from it; she will not be rescued; if she is freed of him, the authorities will see her weakness and take her children from her.

My friend said Audrey Lorde used the term “erotic” instead of “care” because she feared her reader could ridicule the term and vision. To use use the word “erotic” is sexier, more provocative (ah! so now we are provoking some one) and would gain attention (as sex usually does). This reminded me of why George McGovern was quickly labelled as “out of the question” someone no one could vote in for president the way Jeremy Corbyn is described in the British press. No one will go for such a person because they are too nice. My father said most people in their minds are mean, small, operate out of what they see as justifiable mistrust, expecting others to try to take all they can. If someone behaves better than this, they resent this as an indictment of their own nature, as “hypocritical.” That’s not fair. I have seen groups of people work together for the common good in narrow causes, and they are helped along enormously if values like care and concern as in our mutual interest and leading to good things coming, and not promoting hardness, competition and especially any kind of violence. Here you need to be in a middle status group that does this.

So to return to Johnson who is trying to explain friendship so we may by lower expectations have what our natures will allow of it, although repression of an instinct to have and find and share love is impoverishing the best we can know, cuts us off from the best and deepest fulfillment people can have in one part of their natures, leaves us so alone, more at risk, it is also a necessary guard. Gilligan and Browne believe (or affect to) that the “masculine” psychology that has been allowed to rule the world and have full play into the very privatest of our moments together (as in relationships set up on the basis of what each gets out of it materially) can be offset, modified, qualified by the feminine, even overturned — as it is for some when they are bringing up their children. They feel we can extend what can happen in mother-child, parent-child, friend-friend, lover-lover relationships beyond these. That we should try.

jeanluceyprattandhercats
Jean Lucy Pratt and her cats (see “Blunted Joy” by Catherine Morris, TLS, Sept 7, 2016)

Mac is one of the men Jean loves and loses (later, she records that he has been killed in a car crash). Her loneliness is oppressive, at times – almost crushing; but as the years go by, her yearning starts to dissipate, or evolve. “Why does anyone worry about ‘love’,” she writes in 1958, “about being loved and finding the Right Person, and about missed opportunities and ‘I’ve never had a chance?’ and ‘It isn’t fair!’? There is no need to let these moods ­colour your life. Love can illumine every moment of it, whether you are ‘loved’ or not. But let us not nail that poor butterfly. Make your own discoveries and keep them secret” — Jean Pratt

All very solemn you may think or say — if you have got this far. But I have been very hurt this past month, a kind of culmination, or hammering blow, after much less stunning events and trivial ones too over the past three years, and as the third anniversary of Jim’s death draws near, I want to understand what has happened since my world fell apart and I tried to build a new one for myself, and gain strength to pull back. i said the fourth wall of my house had vanished; well now I have to rebuild that wall.

Two long-time friends, mostly known by years of letters here on the Net, told me when I told them I had been accused of being a “false friend,” offering “false friendship” for years, and offered a clause the person refused to explain (“you threw my friendship back in my face”) that this was senseless, not using words meaningfully. By going over what Johnson wrote I feel I have been enabled to understand what happened recently and over the course of all the cases I’ve been brooding about, and this helps because I feel what happened was not my unique doing or fault. In these various instances I see a general version of what has happened to me, what I’ve seen and been told happens to others. So myu case is that of many others. I feel like Austen heroines who will sometimes say they have looked and looked and find nothing crucial to reproach themselves with, and that helps. Sometimes eighteenth century texts really do help against large and petty pain too.

harden
An later 18th into 19th century (?) illustration

I nowadays divide my days into three types (most of the time): quiet reading days, days where I am writing either on and for people on the Internet, or for teaching, or for papers and reviews. And days where I go out somewhere to something social (teaching), sort of (a lecture) or a movie, play, concert, HD opera, a reading of poetry. Here is something hopeful: for nearly three years now I’ve also been taking a pill to help me sleep at night and in the last year I think I now get deep sleep (REM sleep) each night: I’ve not experienced such a period like this since maybe before I was 12. And I find I can read at night, understand what I am reading and even more wonderful, remember what I read the next day. Gentle reader, that is why I am blogging less. Tonight I was reading Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina’s biography of Dora Carrington, about whom I hope (that word) to write my next “woman artist” blog.

To show affection is to comfort oneself — From Kobayashi, Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees

Miss Drake

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TheMillatTidmarshDCarrington
Carrington, The Mill at Tidmarsh — I watched the very great film, Carrington last night (written and directed by Christopher Hampton, featuring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, with a moving performance by Samuel West)

In the morning when I wake up and go to the computer, put it on, it reaches the Internet and I have letters from friends.

When I read my gmail and find evidence that other people are carrying on cheerfully, doing different things in their lives and finding it worth while.

When in the blogs I read I see a like spirit has read a good book and is talking about it with real interest, has deeply felt thoughts about it, cares about the book or author, and clearly has spent at minimum an hour writing this and many hours, more, in preparation (in effect).

When on face-book I see friends telling some truths about their lives (not just presenting themselves as having achieved this, or see me in this group or that, happy), involved in various political and work-related causes, sending a note to me or someone else, offering up good-natured jokes, or interesting videos, or some political view that is humane. I feel I watch other people’s lives who I know and how they get through. Over the years I’ve watched lived change and evolve, some suffering a good deal (other widows, people deserted, cut off from a job, getting sick, losing connectivity) and others going on trips

When I go to my listservs (I read three at this point and have a fourth I wish I had time for) and find email about the topics under discussion, and people communicating. Just now on Trollope19thCStudies we are having such a good time with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and many threads connected. We are trying to stay together, 3 of us reading about Virginia Woolf (Hermione Lee) on Wwtta. Earlier this summer we read and discussed a good book written by one of us, published.

My daughter who lives with me. My cats. Izzy had on a video by Simon about cats as I woke this morning. One cat was laying next to me, and the other came over to nudge me and show affecion as I woke.

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Clarycat on my lap while I read Oliphant’s powerfully truthful Hester

If I have someplace pleasant to go to, either the JCC gym classes, or during the term times go to teach, or go to a movie by myself or with a friend, a play (Shakespeare), an HD opera. The good lecture at the Smithsonian. The wonderful concert. These things cannot happen every day but when they do, they help.

Later in the day the superb book that keeps me sustaining company and validates my experience or extends it; in the evening, the great movie where I am led to feel I am not alone and I’m watching an intelligent group of people acting out important issues in life, or wonderful versions of this in love and adventure tales of the type the BBC does, and PBS used to play a lot of. Images Beautiful paintings, illustrations, drawings

The very occasional visit to a friend. I’ve had one friend visit me who lives in another state: four days. Once I’m at the friend’s and spending time with them in a beautiful or interesting place. This is necessarily rare.

My house. Sine qua non.

Routine, to keep me stable, a sane kind of motion over the day through time. Listening to good books read aloud beautifully, with full tones of all the characters so I am not out there forging ahead on the road alone. I feel I’m with someone. Comfort. My mind’s eye sees the characters in a kind of inward stage of my mind.

Solvency so I feel safe. Sine qua non.

Some food and wine so I don’t feel weak.

I think watching other people go through their days enduring it, carrying on, seeming cheerful, saying hello, those who know my name and smile seems to me a reminder life’s okay, doable without Jim, a kind of relief comes over me. I don’t want to die. As Hamlet says, once you are led somehow to decide to be, so much kicks in. So when I am reminded life is a form of enjoyment for these people, of all kinds,it helps.

These are the things that help, that enable me to live on, from one day to the next. That give me strength to do the things that are so hard for me to do. To cope with the outward world when it demands practical things I must satisfy — bills, making things work.

And above all, writing itself. Just what I’m doing now. For its own sake. And then the reaching those parts of people who can respond to where they live within, the self that matters, bringing it out. When they write back. This is life itself as I do it with others.

Which is what I began with on this blog …

Instead of an alphabet,

Miss Drake

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J. W. Turner, Junction of Gretna and Tess at Rokeby (1816-18)

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This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

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Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

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Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

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Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

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Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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