Sunday 29 August 2021

Virginia Woolf, To the lighthouse, on Castle Island

Eleven years later we take a while to recognise our camping spot, as if it needed to come forward from its past, or we from ours, till we knew where the tent went, where the fire spot must be, in a hollow with a grassy edge, for sitting and looking southwest, seals looking too, at us, we suppose. We pitched the tent, found mushrooms and a thick green net for carrying wood. Meanwhile a small east wind was getting up, so there was the question of a sheltered place to sit, or lie, or read, or not. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse. In this case the Fastnet Rock coming and going in the haze. 

I found a hot spot and stretched out. Reading Virginia Woolf on Castle Island, re-reading sentences and paragraphs, settling the layers, closing your eyes: no greater pleasure.

.... it was a relief when they went to bed. For now she did not need to think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of — to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.

Later we walked to the other side of the island where the ruined houses (west) stand, and, among the sheep and gorse and ghostly lazy beds, we had a conversation I'm sure we've had before, about what this island, those islands, could or should become, their swansong, perhaps. We are solitary shapemakers. I don't know the word for people who imagine looking out of empty frameless windows in roofless buildings facing southeast, but there must be one. As there must be a word for people who re-read Virginia Woolf and sit, like Mrs Ramsay knitting reddish-brown socks for the lighthousekeeper's son, in case the weather is calm enough to go out there next day.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

The pond life of Gertrude Stein

Reading Ida by Gertrude Stein up at the pond, watching pond skaters, whirligig beetles and today's hawker dragonflies in their stop/start survey of our locale. Inexplicable compelling movements by insects and sentences alike in their nearly industrial rhythm. Ida is everywhere with her husbands and dogs and translocation of a kind that sentences do so much better than life. No wonder Ida spends her life resting. 

Gertrude Stein makes you feel the world has got stuck on its way around but that getting stuck is comfortable as well as the only way to be. She is of the era of Fritz Lang's M, the start of robotics. After railways, cars and planes and multiple viewpoints, staccato rhythms, narrative suspended. 

A pond can work wonders reading Gertrude Stein, watching the movements of insects and observing them when they come up close, their brilliant spots and stripes, their compound eyes, is an exercise in integration. Immediate crossover of sentences to insect movement. The dancing flies have gone, bring on the pond skaters.

Listen to me I, I am a spider, you must not mistake me for the sky, the sky read at night is a sailor's delight, the sky in the morning is a sailor's warning, you must not mistake me for the sky, I am I, I am a spider and in the morning any morning I bring sadness and mourning and at night if they see me at night I bring them delight, do not mistake me for the sky, not I, do not mistake me for a dog who howls at night and causes no delight, a dog says the moonlight makes  him go mad with desire to bring sorrow to any one sorrow and sadness, the dog says the night brings madness and grief, but the spider says I, I am a spider ...


Friday 13 August 2021

Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje

Yesterday fell out of the continuum. I ate only pap and lay down a lot, dozing or reading Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. 

When your family is running in the lushness — societal and botanical — of early-mid-twentieth Ceylon, there's lots to tell, lots to recover, all the drama, the drinking, the heat, the large snakes shortcutting through the house, lots to inherit, lots to clarify, to seek out and confirm, lots to run with. 

Lots to run from. 'There's nowhere worse than home' (Bruce Gould).

Michael Ondaatje left Ceylon when he was eleven. Jean Rhys left Dominica when she was sixteen. Running in the Family is not Wide Sargasso Sea. It's a question of degree. Jean Rhys had five more years than Michael Ondaatje; and a wilder more rotten family, or the rot was closer to the surface. She had to act for a living, and drink and walk the streets in expectation of nothing and everything. Michael Ondaatje's father drank, by the caseload, buried under the lawn.  He was Tamil, the mother was Dutch, in the Ceylonese uppercrust way of miscegenate or drop. Drop anyway. Scatter. To the highlands in the hot season. And eventually leave, for England, for Canada. 

I understand that people want to make clear what isn't, what wasn't, what remains, of the family. But I have more sympathy with those who want to obfuscate, to veil and veil again, till what you can see of family is the hand, the fingers, the hardwired knuckle, in front of you. 

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Brideshead Revisited, Again

Slightly more sleep, slightly more sun, in fact hot beneath the westerly breeze, when it wasn't raining, then sometimes a clear blue day with rushing clouds; then a shower. A lush day to finish Brideshead Revisited. Revisited. I was saying to Mickos the other Saturday that I reread books all the time. He was incredulous. He had just handed back a thriller he had borrowed, its task completed. The idea you'd want to go again to feel the pace or rush on towards a savoury end you already knew, this was a passing conundrum. Like the beleaguered river we looked onto.

Recently I watched the Brideshead film, which does not touch the TV series but sends me back to the book  extra-receptive and keen. The wind in the aspen this afternoon now at the same remove as that ripe and distanced english catholicism, straight out of religious paintings, all drama and despair and scant decorum that propels Brideshead along. Not much to do with the irish version I have absorbed all these years. Both of them fictional.