a small emperor
September 13, 2011, 3:36 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,


When we were kids, the day we were in was all there was:  overflowing with possibility, rife with potential for joy and cataclysm, made to be shaped by our persistent wills and the limits of our imaginations.  Then, suddenly, slowly, we grew up.

Now we are grown, the long childhood days have shrunk; the obligations of the present shares equal time with memories and lessons of the past and hopes and preparation for the future.

I like to think the best among us once in a while – perhaps even regularly – let the day grow long again, let it fill like a languid balloon with the fanciful preoccupations we had long ago.  Like dipping a tin cup to drink in the abject joy and the wonderment we lived every day as children.

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as it always is
December 13, 2010, 5:36 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here is a lovely description of life in three stages.  It begins in childhood wonder and love of all things new surrounding us and filling our young lives; grows into the bittersweet adolescent confrontation with desire – eventually craving – for more; and finally wakes into an adult epiphany, that though we feel we are missing out on a better life, real life is already there with us in the people we share our lives with and the places we inhabit now.  It’s our lives.  It’s mine in truth, the joy, the craving, the desire to return to a sense of wonder by fully participating in what matters around me today in this place.  Isn’t it also Promethius’, his descent and ascent?

For author Janice Galloway, art, particularly the paintings of Pieter Breugel, brought her through the anxiety of wanting more back to the wonder of everyday life.  Here is an excerpt from her essay:

As a child, I knew what I loved. Pictures and growing things, words and animals – any or all of these and I was in seventh heaven. Animals delighted in their openness and purpose: curious, non-judgmental and never prey to self-pity, they simply were. Coloured pencils to draw with, flowers, trees and folk tales, yielded delight for much the same reason. All could be played with. I had no desire for exotica, for everything was exotic by default; new, fresh-peeled and incontrovertibly present. That intense pleasure in my own back yard remained till I reached puberty, when – as happens with so many of us – a notion of more insinuated its way into a craving and would not insinuate back out. I had no idea what kind of more I wanted, or even what it looked like, but I lusted after it anyway, sure it was out there somewhere, waiting for me to find and pluck it, straight from the tree. And by somewhere, I meant somewhere else. The local was, or so I thought, seen-it-all territory: like mangoes, more might be found only further, much further, afield.

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the flock of bridges is bleating this morning

(apollinaire, various iterations | gare saint-lazare | sante)

Luc Sante is the Belgian American writer who wrote Low Life. This is his description of how a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire described perfectly his experience of leaving Belgium. The poem, however, does far more than address his identity as an immigrant: it is a clear revelation, a flash, of his place in the world that lays bare his desire for the clarity of modernity in the face of the confusion of religion. He comes to a point of exhilaration and comfort.

“A la fin tu est las de ce monde ancien.” “In the end you are tired of this old world.” Thus began “Zone,” by Guillaume Apollinaire.

Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin “Shepherdess o Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning.” The poem was speaking directly to me, to me alone, as proven on the second page: Voilà la jeune rue et tu n’es encore qu’un petit enfant / Ta mère ne t’habille que de bleu et de blanc. “Here is the young street and you are but a little child / Your mother only dresses you in blue and white,” which was exactly true of my early childhood; that tu clinched it. Tu regardes les yeux pleins de larmes ces pauvres émigrants / Ils croient en Dieu ils prient les femmes allaitent des enfants / Ils emplissent de leur odeure le hall de la gare Saint-Lazare. “You look with your eyes filled with tears at the poor immigrants / They believe in God they pray the women suckle infants / They fill with their odor the hall of the Saint-Lazare station”—I had been there and seen that! Furthermore, the poem seemed to be about a yearning for modernity in the face of confusion as to the truth of religion, a clairvoyant depiction of my own central inner drama of the time. But there was more: the poem was fluid, rhyming but in an elastic meter like an improvised song, with phrases strung together without punctuation but always clear in their meaning, with an unlabored syntax close to conversational, with capitalized names like cherries in a box of chocolates, with sudden movements in time and space executed with a casual legerdemain, with a flash and whirl and continual surprise that was just what I wanted from the modern world but with a palpable kindness that reassured me as the poem flung me about.

~excerpted from French Without Tears, by Luc Sante

my experiential home
March 17, 2008, 6:09 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , ,

(Global Village Shelter)

Here is a description, by Juhani Pallasmaa, of how the imagination helps us to live.  He says it constructs virtually a home that will do, is a comfort, is fixed even when our lives are not.  It is tempting to think that a fixed life is best.  But, I like this neutral description.  The imagination works for stasis and the family keeps on moving.  The net effect is a life of adaptability and tension.

The image of home
Before I reached high-school age, my family moved several times due to my father’s job and, consequently, I lived in seven different houses during my childhood. In addition, I spent my childhood summers and most of the war in my farmer grandfather’s house. Regardless of having lived in eight houses, I have only had one experiential home in my childhood; my experiential home seems to have traveled with me and been constantly transformed to new physical shapes as we moved.

~Pallasmaa, Juhani. Identity, Intimacy and Domicile, Notes on the phenomenology of home

suddenly, literally, in the past: The Child In Time
February 3, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , ,

Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child In Time, the protagonist Stephen loses his young daughter in a supermarket, and his response to this trauma is the content of the book.  In an astonishing passage, he finds himself in the past where he encounters his parents in a pub discussing whether or not to abort him.  It is described here by a journalist:

“In the midst of these memories comes the astonishment of chapter three in which Stephen journeys by train to visit Julie months after their separation (Stephen observes architectural styles during the trip from London to the suburbs that signal a movement from the past to the present). Having embarked some distance from her cottage, Stephen walks through a field of wheat, and while doing so, he loses his sense of time. He emerges from the field near a pub located in what he perceives to be an earlier, more rustic English landscape. Here he approaches the pub’s window and sees a young man and woman talking over their drinks. Slowly he realizes that he is looking at his parents at some point in time before his birth. He senses something else in their pantomime and recoils, fleeing from an “infant despondency” (McEwan 65). Later, as if awakening from a nightmare, Stephen arrives at Julie’s where she cares for him and where they later make love. However, the “moment of tenderness” eludes them again as unspoken sadness drives them apart at the chapter’s end”.

~Michael Byrne, Time and the Child in Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time

Non linear time and temporal displacement are used to problematize normal conceptions of time.  A man enters a moment between his conception and birth.  Time here is a dynamic social construction not an intractable reality, according to this quotation from another writer:

“In the chrontopes of postmodern novels, non-linear time and temporal displacement are often integral to the thematic structure and content of the novel:  they are not just stylistic elements of the novel.  Although there are sometimes rational explanations for the reversals of time and time slips in these chronotopes, they are designed to problematize scientific, social and cultural constructions of time, constuctions that are associated with western concepts of reality.  Non-linear time in particular has a number of political and ideological implications in the postmodern novel.  This is most clearly the case in Ian McEwan’s, The Child in Time, where the time of childhood is becoming re-institutionalized as a political act, where one man regresses into childhood, and another man is able to enter a moment of time between his conception and his birth.  This is a political novel, and one that recognizes time as a persuasive social construction rather than the hard-edged and incontrovertible reality that supports the tyranny of the clock.”

~The Postmodern Chronotope by Paul Smethurst

The protagonist is given proof that he had been there, and that his presence influenced his mother’s decision, as described by this writer:

“An even more dramatic result of time’s activity occurs when Stephen, on the way to visit his now-estranged wife (their old intimacy torn asunder by their shared loss), finds himself suddenly, literally, in the past, witnessing a conversation between his courting parents, during which they consider whether or not to abort him. And this experience is not presented as a figment of his torment. Quite the contrary, he is given outside corroboration that he had been, in some sense, there at that time, that his perceived presence was what determined his mother’s decision.

~He Turned Around and She Was Gone, Rebecca Goldstein, October 11, 1987, The New York Times