JUDY KRAVIS

www.roadbooks.ie

Friday, 13 May 2022

Reading in hospital: E.M.Forster and Virginia Woolf

 Reading E.M. Forster in Room 19 at the Bon Secours hospital, the Bons, in the a large magnolia outside the window—one of the oldest trees in Cork, said the woman who came to disinfect the room—over a hundred years old, it's fablous isn't it, fablous. There were only a few flowers left, but the leaves were young and tremulous. 

I started the Collected Short Stories the day before, in the Medical Assessment Unit, amid bleepers out of sync with each other, cubicle to cubicle, interruptions and diagnoses in the offing, I couldn't read, but needed to be turning the pages. At the end of the day the stories were a bumpy-jolty geography of bald panic and resignation.

Next day, I read the Collected Stories again, sitting by the window, magnolia leaves run through with weather I couldn't see, with the road I couldn't see either, only people's feet as they walked by; a fly on the outside I'd let in if I could, for a bit of life, but the window doesn't open. No flies in the horsepiddle, please.

Fauns and sirens, other kingdoms, hollow trees, the other side of the hedge, a celestial omnibus driven by Sir Thomas Browne for the journey before dawn, Dante for the journey after sunset. 'The Celestial Omnibus' is a heightener in your average hospital room.A young boy who believes in dreams and signposts To Heaven until he's whacked back into nursery tea and common sense. And Mr Bons, of this hospital, perhaps, who went with him and Dante out of Surbiton and into the beyond, was found dead next day in the vicinity of the Bermondsey gas-works.

E.M. Forster wants his systems and dichotomies, his frustration, his Table of Precedency. Underlying all that he wants a Sicilian diver naked on a rock, crossing himself before diving into the blue waters of Capri to rescue a precious notebook on the Deist Controversy.

Few things have been more beautiful than my notebook on the Deist Controversy as it fell downward through the waters of the Mediterranean. It dived, like a piece of black slate, but opened soon, disclosing leaves of pale green, which quivered into blue. Now it had vanished, now it was a book again, but bigger than the book of all knowledge.

All this makes me want Virginia Woolf who wants a quiet chair and a mark on the wall. Which is what I've got here. From there she contemplates 'those real standard things', 'what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses. Nothing is proved. Nothing is known.' The real standard things are men. 

Men, perhaps, should you be a woman: the masculine point of view which governs our lives, which sets the standard, which established Whitaker's Table of Precedency, which has become, I suppose, since the war, half a phantom to many men and women, which soon, one may hope, will be laughed into the dustbin, where the phantoms go, the mahogany sideboards and the Landseer prints, Gods and Devils, Hell, and so forth, leaving us all with an intoxicating sense of illegitimate freedom — if freedom exists ...

Near the beginning of 'The Mark on the Wall', freedom exists. 

Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour —landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one's hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels, in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office! With one's hair flying  back like the tail of a race-horse.

E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf were contemporaries. I find myself in hospital with just two books, his Complete Stories and her A Haunted House

The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane ... I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interpreted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with is hard separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that passes ...

Signed: Virginia Woolf, and me.

Friday, 6 May 2022

The woman in the dunes, Kobo Abe

Up at the pond, reading Woman in the dunes by Kobo Abe, and, a while before I've finished, the book comes back already in the series of stances, defences you need in the face of moving sand. You have to read according to the philosophy of sand and holes. An entomologist, Niki Jumpei, finds himself trapped in a house with a woman, unnamed, who spends all night shovelling sand, to protect her house and the village. The rope ladder he descended when he first arrived, looking for somewhere to stay for the night, is removed. He's a prisoner who must shovel sand at the bottom of a shifting dune.

Up at the pond I sing the song of the sands. A leaf with new life propels itself along the bottom of the pond. A caddis fly larva wrapped in a hawthorn leaf moves through the pond forest. 

I'm turning Japanese I really think so.

A story set in sand is a philosophy, like Camus or Kafka, you can read it anywhere and in any order. The ground, the walls, shift constantly. Find a sand dune up at the pond. Spit out sand. Bathe your sand fever. Take a short dip. Check the tadpoles. Plan your escape. Fail again. Fail better. Dance an internal tango of the sand dune and the pond.

Around page 183 a piece of paper fell out of my new-last-week copy, published by Penguin Modern Classics, with a message:

Life itself is the Supreme Guru; be attentive to its lesson and obedient to its commands. Monday JUNE 1st.

Is there someone who goes around bookshops inserting short texts into random volumes? Now there's an idea. From Woman in the dunes I could select my texts. Less supreme guru, more sand. More down to earth eternity. For example:

The beauty of sand, in other words, belonged to death. It was the beauty of death that ran through the magnificence of its ruins and its great power of destruction.

Or:

Sand not only flows, but this very flow is the sand. 

Or:
You yourself become sand. You see with the eyes of the sand. Once you're dead you don't have to worry about dying any more. 
I saw the film of Woman in the dunes when I was twenty, the grain of the film the sand of its subject, the erotics of sand, the dampness at the heart of the desert, on the edge of town. A one way ticket to the blues. Escape is the same as staying put, once you've found fresh water deep in the sand. When the rope ladder is let down again, he doesn't escape.

Only the man who obstinately hangs on to a round-trip ticket can hum with real sorrow a song of the one-way ticket.