Wednesday 30 March 2016

I mostly read books by writers who are dead and from countries I don't live in but have visited, like France, America and Italy. I read them two or three times, or more. It's a pleasure to find one that has been forgotten for years. An old Penguin like The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani, 136 pages of big type and short chapters, soft yellowed paper. I choose fascism and homophobia in Ferrara, 1937, over any tale of Ireland or Britain in 2016. Distance is endemic, it seems. Not sure where that is in the genome sequence, or what pruning of the synapses in my tumultuous youth brought about the need to see things from far away.

If they are as far away as all that. In my mind the decades before I was born take place primarily in Europe. That's my preferred version. I like to read about Europe of that time, to ride my bike round the wall that bounds the garden of the Finzi-Continis in Ferrara, hear the sound of tennis, the golden afternoon from which I'm banished—if I ever went in.

This is also Modiano land. Another outsider on his bike, on patrol around the periphery, anxious, distracted, too literate for his own good.

Saturday 26 March 2016

I can't easily find myself in any family, institution or society. Easier to sit with a pack of magpies in a sycamore tree. I'm an avid borrower though. This week I watched Visconti's The Leopard and read the book by Guiseppe di Lampedusa. The leopard in his territory in 1860 is a character but not a fiction, unless a fiction is someone we do not know how to be in a place we do not inhabit. Lampedusa knows. He's writing about his grandparents; rueful, reverent, suffused with the weather in Sicily, the smell of the land, the readiness of peaches in the garden.

Burt Lancaster is the leopard prince who graciously cedes to jackals and hyenas as Italy begins to unify.  Lampedusa, the writer, gives his grandfather a benevolence he hopes is true. Visconti, through Burt Lancaster, confirms it. Alain Delon is the Leopard's nephew; he has popped straight and lively out of the novel, give or take a moustache. Claudia Cardinale is the daughter of new money, sumptuous in the garb of the era: all entrances and composure but a stableyard laugh. Waltzes by Nino Rota. An endless palace with a radiant ballroom.

There's nothing more wonderful than our two young people, says Burt Lancaster as Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale waltz around the centre of our picture.

Cinema can't resist large sweeps of land, a pan around chandeliers, a voyage through a hundred palace rooms as Garibaldi lands in Sicily. But it is the novel that focuses on the activities of ants, and thus, between the ants and history, weighs a prince's responsibility.

I can't imagine knowing this much this clearly about the society that brought me where I am today. I can only see ancestors in a miasma of discontent and departure. I can't reckon, as Lampedusa does, eighteen hundred years back to quasi mythical queens and princes. I know more about those magpies in the sycamore and the equinox which comes to rest, if the cloud thins, in that there pack of pine trees up the hill.

A book or a film becomes another layer through which I look at the view outside my window. No view is innocent or I am not a zen mistress, just a woman with an associative affliction and an unwillingness to find herself in any history at all.

Friday 18 March 2016

What a film has to do to render a person's interiority. The actor's face has to answer for most of it. I have been re-reading The Talented Mr Ripley after re-viewing the film. Books are better at rendering psychosis. The absolute flatness and purity of it, the certainty. In a film two men have to fight as they play and play as they fight. Later there has to be an argument for one to be inflamed enough to kill the other. In a book it comes out of nowhere, no argument, no reason, no premeditation. From then on you know you have entered an abyss. In the film you have rumbles and nudges. Matt Damon stares at Jude Law in the train, learning how to be him. The second half of the film, and the book, is Tom Ripley as Dickie Greenleaf, keeping Tom Ripley in reserve till he's allowed out again.
Yet he felt absolutely confident he would not make a mistake. It gave his existence a peculiar, delicious atmosphere of purity, like that, Tom thought, which a fine actor probably feels when he plays an important role on a stage with the conviction that the role he is playing could not be better played by anyone else. He was himself and yet not himself. He felt blameless and free, despite the fact that he consciously controlled every move he made.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Clarice Lispector's Complete Stories startle most if chosen at random during an idle moment. This afternoon, waiting for Pat the fox Kelleher to come round and walk the field, I read 'Boy in Pen and Ink', a perplexed investigation of a little boy sitting on the ground, resembling thirty thousand other little boys sitting on the ground at that moment. Then the little boy has a triumph: he reproduces the sound of traffic outside, beep beep, and his mother is proud.  So little in this little boy that can be known; and then everything.

The story about the little boy sitting on the ground is followed by a story about a girl who observed, and eventually ate, chickens. The less a story seems to be about, the more I am ready to like it. Like looking at a nearby stranger, looking for the kernel even in one glance, which you can only do by becoming that person. Involuntary incarnation, Clarice Lispector calls it; she cannot help becoming the stranger she is observing, like the missionary she sits next to on the plane for three hours, whom she will become, she realises with a certain regret, for at least the next three days.

Will I incarnate Pat the fox Kelleher after walking round the field with him for half an hour? Or will we both incarnate the fox he's going to call some evening soon, with polystyrene rubbed on glass which sounds like a rabbit in distress, will we both become the fox he's going to dazzle and shoot?

Thursday 3 March 2016

A cold storm called Jake came out of the north-northwest today, so I was in, by the stove, with two unread books by Krzhizhanovsky and Lispector, who are adjacent in the alphabet and both born in Ukraine, if thirty-three years apart. He moved to Moscow in 1922, age thirty-five; she, age two, had already been moved to Brazil. There is nothing similar about their subsequent lives, probably nothing similar about their Ukraines either, but wheresoever they gathered it up, they wrestle with reality as the only way to be sure it's there. Krzhizhanovsky is more analytical, more parallel universe and absolute reversal, subject to forces he doesn't name, mysterious strangers, gods and philosophers. Lispector is more emotionally brazen, her reality streams out strange and ordinary, overtaking people on trains, in cities, mingling and separating, prone to enormous changes at the last minute.

I read one then the other for the afternoon and gradually the two writers came together, their soul storm and soul seepage as one by evening.