Sunday 21 July 2019

A short quote from Catherine Lacey's story 'The Grand Claremont Hotel'

As far back as I can remember, I've always been concerned about 'fairness' of inanimate objects or my own body parts. If I would scratch one hand, for example, as a child, I remember feeling I would have to scratch the other hand so that it wouldn't feel neglected or left out. If there were two of anything, I would have to mirror my actions on both objects for this same concern for their 'feelings' and a fear of one object or hand feeling excluded.

I don't think like this as much as I did as a kid, but I have always wondered where this urge to maintain equilibrium (where it doesn't matter) comes from. Where does the concern for the potential of hurt feelings of things without feelings come from? Even from a young age, I recognised these thoughts as irrational - to care for the feelings of objects or distinct body parts - but I've still consistently identified the thought appearing in my head to do something / perform an action to make things equal...

Saturday 20 July 2019

Rachel Cusk on Katherine Anne Porter

I was delighted to attend a conversation hosted by the London Review Bookshop between Rachel Cusk and Bernard Schwartz on a 1952 two-hour recording of Katherine Anne Porter reading her novel Noon Wine, archived by The 92nd Street Y in New York. The audience got a sense of the story through listening to selected snippets, Cusk reading passages, and both Cusk and Schwartz storytelling and revealing relevant biographical information on Porter. 

It is truly a remarkable experience listening to Cusk speak and absorbing/consuming her consistently apt and eloquent descriptions and observations. 

Some notes I made, mostly phrases by Cusk that so immediately blew me away: 

- the novella has a certain homelessness about it and as a form, it isn't always clear what to do with it as it is with a short story which is like a photograph

- without solidity and situatedness (like Virginia Woolf), mid-20th century women writers get lost and their status is precarious when it is based on an honest and admirable "fragility" and "frailty" but also having had a rackety life as Porter did - there is much merit in this vulnerability 

- Porter was reviled for making up stories about herself and reinventing herself as a southern belle, developing her own deliberate manner

- Cusk described the characters in Porter's Noon Wine as giving birth to themselves through the act of consciousness. She spoke about how for her, the characters are in the process of becoming but reach an impasse when they have to confront themselves 

- reality as an equipoise of good and bad / love and destruction 

- Porter as not writing about extremes or exaggerations, but rather the randomness and amorality of action. Cusk used the phrases the "unattainability of happiness" and "benign practices of acts of violence" to describe the plot and the emotional confrontations of the characters in Noon Wine. She describes Mr Thompson's fate as coming down to an inability to understand the moral structure of the act he committed

- Cusk revealed that it is hard to write an innocent sentence that isn't predetermined and she praised Porter for the lack of ego in her writing. We briefly discussed autofiction and how difficult it is to write sentences that don't have bits of one's identity embedded in them 

- it was important to acknowledged the difficulties in Porter's lifetime but also today for female writers to defend their own legacy 

Luxury Water - how is this real?

The Guardian recently published an article titled $90 for a bottle of melted iceberg? Inside the world of luxury water, which elucidates on some seriously disturbing facts, one being that the luxury water company Svalbar├░i sells $90 water bottles, advertising that their water is "freshly squeezed from – wait for it – melting Norwegian icebergs."

It was also reported that in a recent "social-psychological study on water consumption choices" conducted by The University of Waterloo (Ontario) researchers have connected death anxiety to challenges in "environmentally sustainable behavior change":

"Death reminders reliably increase humans’ selfish exploitation of natural resources,” writes [Sarah] Wolfe in her related work explaining that when humans consider our impending demise, our instinctive denial and need for distraction leads us to make irrational decisions. Such as, perhaps unconsciously, thinking: “How could the planet be dying when I hold in my hand a bottle of such unfathomably pristine water? How could I be dying when I’m making such healthy decisions?"

A screen capture from Svalbar├░i's website:

Not entirely sure why they think that stating that one man's interest in the Arctic and subsequent capitalising on the climate change crisis is good for the environment? They pride themselves on being carbon-neutral yet their business model literally depends on global warming to ensure they have a product. Commodities should not depend on the continuation of our harmful and irresponsible habits that are destroying the planet. 

Sunday 14 July 2019

Catherine Lacey, Certain American States

I've really been enjoying Catherine Lacey's short story collection. 

There are times when what you get out of a story is that it teaches you something or you gain access to an emotional perspective that is so different from you own, you get to temporarily inhabit a life so unfamiliar and insightful. Other times, you relish in your identification with a character, relating to a story, situation or feeling that results in a deep comfort that your feelings and experiences are not alien or known only to you. 

Reading this story made me feel something rather new: a relatability so profound and exact, that it was not comforting at all, but deeply disturbing and disruptive, as if to have it on paper, even written by someone else, might realise fears or anxieties that you work to daily dissuade yourself from. As if, to read something so acute to your own lived emotional terror might destabilise all efforts to convince yourself over and over again that your tendencies are irrational: somehow, someone else knowing this fear, could make it real. Similarly as the below quote insinuates about your mind causing something into being, stories have the capacity to destabilise you: even someone else putting your fear on their paper could make it possible for your own life to enact their fiction. 

Wednesday 3 July 2019