Tag Archives: narrative

Lacking a heart without dichotomies

I’m on my travels again for Cinnamon Press. Last Thursday the launch of Sue Hubbard’s exquisitely lyrical novel, Girl in White, a fictionalised interpretation of the life of Paula Modersohn Becker told through her daughter’s search for her mother on the cusp of Nazi Germany (Paula died of an embolism six weeks after giving birth to Mathilde). It’s a story full of human contradictions – the clashes between loyalty and betrayal, the flashes of integrity and the accommodations that are made along the way. Above all it’s a highly particular story and I was reminded of that forcefully, reading the last third of Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist on the train on the way to the launch. Leo, an academic mentor to the main character makes the point that,

As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify, but to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, to imply the contradiction … to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow for the chaos, to let it in.


Literature disturbs the organisation … because it is not general …the intrinsic nature of the particular is to fail to conform … Keeping the particular alive in a simplifying, generalising world — that’s where the battle is joined.

Leo sees the world in clear camps, and I would want to nuance some of his own certainties, but I resonated with his analysis that the antagonism between political solutions to suffering and narrative treatments of suffering often revolves around this dualism (perhaps false like so many dualisms) between the general and the particular. In particular the main character, Nathan Zuckerman, who appears in several Roth novels, is unable to make the final leap to side with left wing influences in his life and join the revolution because, as he says of himself,

I lacked …a heart without dichotomies.

Of course a heart that is over-abundant in dichotomies can be reduced to a murky pool of liberal guilt and sentiment unwilling or unable to take any stand, but a heart with none would be ill equipped to empathise with Paula Modersohn Becker’s story or any human story. As a writer and publisher I hope to go on lacking a heart without dichotomies.

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Aporia, Narrative and Saying Goodbye to the Old Co-op

This has been an extraordinarily fruitful week for immersing myself in writing of my own. Part of the magic was timing, I was longing to get going again, but also this place. I always love coming to Hebden Bridge, but I only left the apartment once this week and then wanted to be back and writing again, so in a sense I could have been anywhere, but a steep sided valley is always good and this little apartment is perfect. The welcome was lovely, including freshly baked lemon cakes, and the place, the ground floor beneath the owners’ home, is beautifully set up and was once the Industrial Co-operative Society’s building so it has good ghosts, even though I don’t believe in ghosts.

For my last day I’ve been working on a couple of poems that connect more personal material with the physical location of Cwmorthin and its history. I’ve got one good draft and one ropy skeleton that needs a lot of work or putting out of its misery– we’ll see. I’ve also got lots of notes from Paul Ricoeur, exploring doubt further. Doubt is clearly an important through line in both the process of writing and the material, I’m discovering. Ricoeur says:

The poetics of narrativity corresponds to the aporetics of temporarily

.

In other words when we are at a loss in the face of time the human response is to narrativise, to tell stories, to construct poetry.

Ondaatje, whose work I love, says something similar in In the Skin of a Lion, about how art orders ‘the chaotic tumble of events’. Ricoeur also talks about how narrative is restorative – it validates the humanity of those written about, the writer and those reading, he considers. I like that. We tell stories to reconcile ourselves to time – to the huge events of cosmology, the big and the mo hidden events of history and to our personal journeys. As Ricoeur so brilliantly puts it:

The whole history of suffering cries out for vengeance and calls for narrative.

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