JUDY KRAVIS

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Friday 1 March 2024

LEAP DAY

Yesterday afternoon I nearly dozed reading Sleepless by Marie Darrieussecq, by the stove, entranced by these literate non-sleepers, Kafka, Proust, Duras and many fellows who wrote out of and into their sleeplessness. Nothing like other people's failure to sleep for making you sleepy. This a leap year so we should leap. With friends, if possible. 

Friday 23 February 2024

the oligarch's son, a harsh male predicament

A few pages into The Man from the Sea by Michael Innes, last of the old green penguin mysteries I've been reading at night, I found this:

Even as he stared at the other naked man he recognised within his own physical response a thrill of pleasure. What had risen from the sea was some harsh male predicament to which he responded as a release.

The one on the beach is naked because he is on, in, an assignation — the dark word still excited him — with the wife of local nouveau laird and scientist, Alex Blair. The man from the sea is a fugitive, a belt about his middle and a wisp of fabric round his loins, his secrets everywhere.

I read The Man from the Sea over a week or so, at night, without interest in the plot or its outcome, pausing where I paused, absorbing the costume and circumstance of new characters, then forgetting them. On the last page the man from the sea, a nuclear scientist with not long to live, walks back into sea in the clothes of the local nouveau laird and scientist, his daughter, not his wife, now the focus, as well as an Australian girl cousin called Georgiana, like someone out of Jane Austen gone walkabout. 

Dovetailed into this in my reading life, an article in the New Yorker called 'The Oligarch's Son', about a boy called Zac Brettler aged nineteen in London, who jumped off a posh balcony near Vauxhall Bridge, in order to live or in order to die, is unclear.  Another harsh male predicament. He changed his name, he was a not-quite from Maida Vale, he thought, a fabulist in a maelstrom of russian and arab rich kids.  He would rather be an oligarch's son, his mother in Dubai, everyone at a distance, various businesses on course. His actual parents in Maida Vale utterly perplexed and sad. 

At the end of The Man from the Sea I'd learned more about the author and his times than about the plot. A nineteen fifties fable. At the end of 'The Oligarch's Son' I've learned the fragility of whoever jumped off the posh balcony, to live or to die, the fabulist teenager in oligarchs' London laundry, in deeper than he could manage. Whether or not he was on heroin is immaterial, who he called and what he googled before jumping off the balcony towards the Thames. To live or to die. All part of the harsh male predicament.


Thursday 15 February 2024

INCURABLE

This afternoon I listened to Daniel Michael Kaiser's translation of incurable into music, a music of disappearing, almost a non-music, DK says. All rhythms were suddenly strange, every pause uncertain. The singing voice dancing over what I wrote and how I have read it out loud, to say nothing of how it took form in the first place. A manifestation of how DK made his way through it, what resonances he found and how the singer sings them.

The best part of listening is I have no words for it. I barely have words for what I write. I listened with bated breath on a broad plain. A thin fabric, translucent, seemingly improvised (although it is not). I wanted to focus on the resonance, he says. The reverb was recorded in an abandoned sugar factory tower.

Hard to listen on the computer, such thin sound. Brings you up short. I wanted to hear this sung version in all its literal resonance, this light incantation, translucent, yes. And all the time I was pulling on what I wrote seven years ago. incurable 'A tense and gnomic journey into the past as it resonates during a difficult long moment in the present, with personal photographs and influential images from the dangerous years of growing up', I said.

Thursday 8 February 2024

BLOG MYSTERIES

At night I have been reading mid-twentieth century mystery novels, the penguins with the green covers, by Margery Allingham, Josephine Bell, Carter Dickson. There was a moment in the 1970s when people I knew were reading mysteries, as well as a brief moment when a well-digger asked me what I wrote— mysteries? No, I said, I write about here, and waved an arm around.

Margery Allingham wrote in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, a few miles from where I grew up. Josephine Bell took medical tripos at Cambridge and poverty in Shadwell Basin. Carter Dickson, one of his names, writes a faux breezy pulp style.

Dream fodder. Expurgation. People running through. He Wouldn't Have Killed Patience? The Port of London Murders. Who wants to know? I, said the sparrow, with my bow and arrow. 

The solution is there. Any problem will do.

In a mystery there are so many people with attributes —looks, job, circumstance — in truth I have little patience, but to be led along the mystery of death or deaths is to ignore nearly everything else, which is the whole idea, and only incidentally or par hasard, find what you are looking for. 

Last night I dreamed I looked around at this line of people, that crowd, these few, who would all soon be dead, all of us, I knew — look again, dead again.

Sunday 28 January 2024

SELF-PORTRAITS, AGED THIRTY-ONE

When I was thirty-one I wrote a self-portrait every day for a year. I typed it out, a folder per month, a page or so a day. For example:

I like valleys, not wind, and sea and mountains only on royal days when I'm ready.

What I like best of all is a hand upon my forehead or the world somehow exactly equal to that as I watch from beside a tree.

I'm honestly selfish, and in lucid, plain moments think that others are mostly dishonestly unselfish.

I've always thought I'd never really been hurt. But sometimes I believe I've been hurt on a grand scale.

For a week in March I drew a self-portrait instead. Mostly patterns, one or two words. In July I went to visit my parents. Hand-written and noticeably blunt. I have been clearing out a filing cabinet and found these, among other files, manuscripts, clippings, photographs, envelopes—many envelopes. Hard to know what speed to take a dismantling of this kind. How much to read and how fast. Lecture notes on Pinget, Cocteau, Baudelaire. A story collection called Cacti and Succulents, three copies. Music notes for Monday Night At Home, a radio piece. An early artist book called Suckling Herd, hand-written on a blotting paper book, with tipped-in extracts from the Farmers' Journal.  

Dizzying.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

NOT READING BUT FLYING

I knew as I neared the end of Inland by Gerald Murnane, that I would immediately start reading it again now I was attune to the shifting forms and spaces, multiple identities and unfulfilled histories, now I was a fully-fledged reader, I wouldn't need to keep re-reading the beginning, as I did the first time, to settle, as I thought, questions of who was where and in what language, between which rivers, with a view of what kinds of grasslands, inner and outer. This time I would not need to settle anything. As I began, I found I was turning the pages with the joy of dream-flying, Look! no hands, on a bicycle, the glorious understatement of the moment when horses no longer gallop but are said to break into a run.

The boy-man between two streams, on the grasslands, the same and different grasslands, same and different girl-woman, many names, many plants, a science everywhere if you're looking, the more you look the more enraptured and uneasy you become. Gerald Murnane, like Proust, like Virginia Woolf, makes you inhabit your own thoughts in the guise of his. The hungarian puszta, the faux american prairie, the grasslands of Melbourne County, the grasslands beyond where you live, between two creeks that flow down the map but never join up. People live between them and are fashioned by them, they have been ousted and must resettle between another pair of creeks, the same and different. As every person is many people, every name many names, every word many words, every grassland multiple within and without. There is another world but it is inside this one. Gerald Murnane kneads this Eluard line across several pages, stays with it, plays with it in the middle of the book, and we, his readers, often invoked, stay and play too. The room in which we read splits slightly for a moment to show what's inside.

When we were driving around Australia I wrote down the name of every creek we crossed. When I drove round North America in 1980-1, south from New York, west from New Orleans, north from L.A,  east from northern California, I noted all those You Are Now Entering boards at the edge of towns with name, elevation and population. Entering Ideal, South Dakota, elevation 12, Population 57. 

Wednesday 17 January 2024

LITTLE WOMEN KNOW THEIR FABRICS

On foot of seeing the last half hour of a film adaptation of Little Women the other day, I started reading the book for the first time since I was maybe ten or twelve. On page 37, a word leapt off the page: spandy. Not sure I've ever had the experience of a word coming to greet me in quite that way, sharp and clear after many many years. I must have liked it when I was twelve or so. I may not have seen it since. According to the OED it is American English and first appeared in 1830. Frequency: 0.01 in a million. Louisa May Alcott comes up as one of the prime users.

The two older girls are getting ready to go to a party. They'll have to wear their poplins, and be presentable.

"Girls, girls! have you both got nice pocket-handkerchiefs? "Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers", cried Jo. "I do believe Marmee would ask that if were all running away from an earthquake."

The March family are poor (somewhat fallen, one gathers). There is much discussion of clothes, especially Meg, the oldest, and Amy, the youngest. Dresses are referred to by the fabric they're made of. The word tarlatan caught my eye later in the book, and my ear. Their poplins, or pops, are the older girls' best  dresses (they yearned after silk, Meg did anyway), there was tarlatan in summer and gingham with sashes. Always gloves. Jo is impatient with all this. As Louisa May was too. But you have to know your fabrics whether you're a little woman or an incipient boy, awkward and antic, always losing hairpins. Dresses were made by a dressmaker then, and mended by the owner. The fabric was the thing, not, as now, the label. There were no labels. If there was a burn or a tear at the back of your dress, you spent as much time as possible against the wall. If one glove was less than perfect, you wore one and carried the other.

By page 239, Meg has her first silk dress. The impossibly sweet Beth has recovered from scarlet fever, the absent father, who has also been ill, has returned from the war. It's a cloying tale. Too much principled goodness, too much Marmee in her corner, faithful servant Hannah, wonderful neighbours, Mr Laurence and grandson Laurie, many references to The Pilgrim's Progress. Goodness winning through, whatever you were wearing.

Louisa May Alcott, like many of her readers, took refuge in Jo, up in her attic, reading and eating apples, playing with the rats — yes. Whenever I have thought of Little Women since I first read it, I have thought of Jo reading and eating apples in the attic — I forgot the rats.


Thursday 4 January 2024

FOU T'SONG PLAYS SCARLATTI

Fou T'Song was the first Chinese pianist to become well known in Europe. In the eighties I saw him on tv playing Scarlatti with such gentleness, his face seraphic. I was new to tv and this was one of its early moments, along with the bbc adaptation of Henry James' The Golden Bowl and The Old Grey Whistle Test.  Later I bought the Scarlatti CD and listen to it when I need to bring the days to size in the early evening. Fou  T'Song is good for managing your reading in deepest January, snowdrops nearly out, frog spawn beginning, lots of indoor time with upstairs reading, nighttime reading, reading in the bath. A great deal of my being is spread out over these books and New Yorkers, Hortus, the newspaper before you light the fire with it, to say nothing of the label on the organic milk, etc. Fou T'Song brings it all together, Eileen Myles' Working Life, mine, Elizabeth Strout's, Elizabeth Taylor's. Elizabeth Strout has said that when she meets people she absorbs their molecules and that is how she is able to write her characters. Elizabeth Taylor, half a century earlier, english rural middle class, does not have the concept of molecules. Eileen Myles does  not have the concept of character. She is on her own planet. I absorb their molecules, all of them. Often on the same day. That's where Fou T'Song and his seraphic smile come in.