Early Constructs

Domesticity is easy if you find a system of language for it.

*

In the first few phases of life, the word is “mother,” because there is no career–not hers, and certainly not yours, not yet. Not even now. To cook meals, there was only ever heat and crumbling kitchen tiles, made alive by the dread of being told, as a child, to set the table.

Now, nearing “old”–“older”?, domesticity means you bought your own food supplies but forgot all the basics that you’ve stored in your heart these long years. So in the end, you starve. Nothing comes of nothing, after all. If nothing were salt. Or pepper, or vinegar, or fish sauce.

*

The first recipe you ever really learn from your mother, and execute on your own, is this:

You take out the shrimp from the freezer. You immerse it in water to defrost. You look for the olive oil, make sure there’s butter. You gather eight to 10 cloves of garlic, and crush them with the flat side of the knife. You place the pan on the stove, on medium heat, and wait a while until it’s warm enough: ready for the oil and butter, and just when it melts, you know to put the garlic. And then you must wait just before it burns to pour in the gray-black of raw shrimp, mixing it a little, waiting to turn them all pink.

*

There are other things to learn from the hands of a father. Things like: Should you really leave that mess on the table what will happen if you do why didn’t you throw this out this is why our life is anything but spotless but where is every little thing–

And then there is resourcefulness. The first thing that comes to mind (because you wanted to do it yourself) is a project in elementary, when a number of you were failing, and for extra points, were told to construct any three-dimensional shape, wrap it up in fancy paper, and pray to god that the points added up to say you might be, for now, just enough.

You wanted to construct this yourself. As in a narrative, there was (always will be) a shape in your mind. Points on a plane serve a purpose, though no one ever tells you this project can be taken away from you. Paternal resourcefulness means you should have used the balustrade to make the illustration board pliable, should have had the hands of a man and the patience of a father to do so, and you can do this, too, sulk and be memorable.

*

Domesticity is easy to spell and savor now, the way you learned, on your own, to scramble eggs and add cheese and olives. The way you know, exactly by the ironic fact of estimation, how much milk to put and to never stop stirring until you see the fluff of it, the promise of many healthy mornings and idealism, but we were talking of your mother, and now of yourself, when you remember:

*

You add only half a packet of tomato paste to the shrimp in the pan–any more and there you have it, yesterday’s disaster. And then a little water, and cover the pan a while–But not too long! Less than five minutes will do. You add the sweet-and-sour sauce, and mix and mix and mix, and laugh at the shrimp that falls out of the pan (onto the counter, onto the floor) because your wrist is unpracticed, because the aim of your hand isn’t yet true. You add a little ketchup and sugar and salt (all by estimates) and stir, and cover, and stir again. Easy, easy, tell yourself. It’s all so easy. Repeat your mistakes, repeat yourself.

*

You know you can only claim culinary success if you cook what your mother does with eyes closed, but eggs sunny-side-up are difficult enough as it is.

To wit: success means nilagang baka, tinola, or real sourness, real flavor, sinigang.

*

In the end, teaching students empathy boils down to this. This is not pathos, this is not writing, this is not cooking, this is not domestication, this is not flight, this is not sadness, this is not life, this is not work, this is not a CV, this is not a career, this is not an emotion. She writes, “You want to learn how to stop feeling sorry for yourself. You want to write an essay about the lesson. You throw away the checklist and let him climb into your hospital bed. You let him part the heart wires. You sleep. He sleeps. You wake, pulse feeling for another pulse, and there he is again.”

But empathy is craft, too, and careful construction, and messy estimates. I stop, I breathe, I disagree again.

sinigang

not today, not yet

Pagwawala

if the art of losing isn’t hard to master, consider waking up to disaster.

more importantly, consider the probability that what you fear the most probably has very little to do with sympathy. if, at the moment that the unimaginable occurs, retreat to sorrow. if they want to tell the world, let them. and if you must follow suit, learn, at least, to be invisible.

(Ibig-sabihin: posible palang salamin ang marinig sa diskurso ng pagsusulat; maaari palang ibang saloobin ang naisusulat at pagsasarili ang nangyayari. Hindi lahat ng bagay na kailangang mangyari, kailangan mangyari ngayon)

Natsuo Kirino’s Out: now this is what suspension of disbelief should be. Do not offer readers a variety of choices when faced with the textual violence of a body cut up and placed inside forty plastic bags. Accept that there are two paths. One can read on, and follow Masako. Or one can, despite continuing to read, reject the idea that without compulsion, four women can be bound by one gruesome act that has little to do, inherently, with three of them.

(Clue: dugo at pera)

a funny story, though probably not uncommon: you know a friend with whom you can converse about each other’s pain without making the conversation a matter of either/or (i.e., either we only talk about me, or we only talk about you). the sound of “and” always infiltrates the discussion.

Minsan na raw niyang sinabihan ang isa: Wag kang iiyak, wag kang iiyak; ikaw ang aalis, wag kang iiyak! Kasi nga naman, wala raw karapatang umiyak ang mismong lilisan.

(Clue: mahirap ipaglaban ang katarungan kung hindi mo sigurado kung sila o sarili ang ipinaglalaban mo sa bansang ito. Tandaan: baka naman kung sila ang iniisip mo, kailangan mo ring i-lugar ang sarili mo. Tanong: saan ka lulugar? There is no goatherd at luncheon, stupid; you are the goatherd; you must not finish your meal)

Natsuo Kirino’s Out: for days when I had the time, I devoured the novel, but stopped more than halfway through. Functionality means: you must pace your pleasure. Functionality means: you are your own Masako, learn to conceal someone else’s murder.

how to speak of the insufferable; how to speak of things one cannot manage to endure; how to write if there is no metaphor; how to speak of “alone” if there is no point of register:

don’t.

 

 

Relative Bearings

28th

Words read are also forms of haunting.

This seems obvious, until one sits down to notice what is given, and therefore ignored. The easiest example is breathing. I argue something else. The most indignant right is only so because it is the most basic–that is, somewhere to stay and thrive.

A memory from the other side, in a room of chairs and one table, years ago: the instructor asking us, What else do mothers tell their children but “Tahan na”? Then: And where do you go home? Tahanan, tahanan.

Everything around, inside, and about a threshold can also haunt, for all that everything happens too fast. Just yesterday we resisted, the reason for this resistance being hope. So one sees that when every emotion has been wrung dry, motherhood statements are dangerous because accessible, because seemingly facile, but most of all, because even in one’s insistence on intellect, these comforting words catch one’s attention and keep histrionics at bay.

Hope, then, is dangerous because even in one’s meandering in matters that seem more urgent, even then hope rears its head. Summer reading, from what seems like ages ago:

It is important to recollect the energy, dynamism, and optimism of the decolonizing and immediate post-independence era, both for the sake of the historical record and also to enable us to register the successes of this period, however slender, partial, provisional, or unsustainable they proved to be in the long term. (Lazarus 5)

Easier to ensconce oneself in another discourse altogether. After all, distance is everything. Of course, this is also one’s excuse, and what betrays one’s cowardice. If another leaves, that is enough to justify loss of contact; if plans change, lives need not intersect. This is laziness at its best. When life threatens to leave me behind–life, I say, not merely an individual or childhood connections–my own reaction is half-hearted. One would think memory holds meritocracy, but in fact it is easier not to resist. Only half-listen to future plans; imagine a vague future where all these are possible and money can change hands. It’s all very exciting, a little too over-the-edge, so what else can possibly await me but a precipice and a long, long fall?

The school memory says, tahan na(n). Indicates: too much space for garden in the front and grotto in the middle; muddy, rocky expanse at the back, room called “hall” but smaller than one; squarish spaces with paint jobs gone wrong; all the furniture that once was.

Turn to fiction, then, because there, everything can be found. Enough research will tell you what year a character should have lived in given his age in the textual present. Proper Googling will describe riots to you in detail. But here we need nothing so mundane or dramatic.

A constant favorite (those are forms of haunting, too) in times like these:

People come to me <…> They begin to talk and I go with them back to their childhoods <…> Between their words I see the way the light fell across the wooden floor. The way he lined his soldiers up under the hem of the curtain. How she laid out the little toy teacups. Their childhoods, because it is only the ones who were children who come to me now. The others have died. When I first started my business, he said, it was mostly lovers. Or husbands who had lost their wives, wives who has lost their husbands. Even parents. Though very few–most would have found my services unbearable. The ones that came hardly spoke at all, only enough to describe a little child’s bed or the chest where he kept his toys. Like a doctor, I listen without saying a word. But there’s one difference: when all of the talking is through, I produce a solution. It’s true, I can’t bring the dead back to life. But I can bring back the chair they once sat in, the bed where they slept. (Krauss, Great House)

There is an audacity here: I write to become separate from these things, but my attempt is to establish presence. This is what disturbs me in Danielewski, previously discussed. I only root for Sam and Hailey because even the cover flaps tell me to. But as reader, I can only ask how Hailey goes beyond “the US”? Feb 18 2052 from her epic poem tells you: “Because without him I am / only revolutions of ruin,” but something about her calm (in contrast to her lover) tells you she is capable, too, of soaring beyond Sam: “I’m the prophecy prophecies pass. / Why desire dies at last” (Danielewski, Only Revolutions).

So I am left to wonder if the frenetic nature of current events is just another excuse to move. I think to myself: I must keep up with the pace, too! But for a world in constant motion, with love always in transit, where is stasis, where is departure? Note to self: not everyone who leaves is a traitor; not everyone who stays is good for you.

Tahanan: But if I leave too soon and rip the band-aid from my skin without a second thought (less pain always the excuse), I fear that the desire will, in fact, not die, and will merely be rescheduled.

Things don’t last forever. The bed that one man remembers as the place where his soul was overwhelmed is, to another man, just a bed. And when it breaks, or goes out of style, or is no longer of use to him, he throws it away. But before he dies, the man whose soul was overwhelmed needs to lie down in that bed one more time. He comes to me <…> So even if it no longer exists, I find it <…> I produce it. Out of thin air, if need be. And if the wood is not exactly as he remembers, or the legs are too thick or too thin, he’ll only notice for a moment, a moment of shock and disbelief, and then his memory will be invaded by the reality of the bed standing before him. Because he needs it to be that bed where she once lay with him more than he needs to know the truth. You understand? And if you ask me whether I feel guilty, whether I feel I am cheating him, the answer is no. Because at the moment that man reaches out and runs his hand across the rail, for him there are no other beds in the world. (Krauss, Great House)

But living with what is familiar is also terrifying, not because it hints at missing out on something else, or implies redundancy, but because it denies transcendence. When one’s dwelling becomes a site for ways of old, ways that are cyclical, “experience” must turn to “event,” must be turned into what seems impossible: concrete, yet metaphysical. Thus,

Ziarek argues that the political radicality of the avant-garde should be understood primarily as an attempt to reconfigure experience as event. By the “event-structure” of experience, Ziarek means an experience that is, like the “propriative event” (Ereignis) in Heidegger’s phenomenological formulation, always a “simultaneous coming into presence and withdrawal in which what is becomes measurable and representable only at the expense of suppressing historicity” (Ziarek 2001, 13). Because Ziarek’s Heidegger is deconstruction’s Heidegger <…>, Ziarek’s event-structured or historicized experience is never a self-identical “temporal punctuality or an instant presence, but instead, a dynamic and open-ended field of forces…” (Nieland and Juengel 195)

Thus to accept politics as aesthetics, as naturalized, too, on some level brings to the fore a nugget: fascism in an archipelago, and what feels like it in the smallest unit of this archipelagic society–gardens, grottos, yards, familiar spaces–is ridiculous, unjust. Previous summer reading again, this time Quentin Skinner: look at the question that the answers stand in position to (Scott 391). Does it matter, then, if you choose one space over another?

The usual suggestion, also a temptation, is to lay back and let yourself be surprised. But critical mass demands otherwise: “uncanny discipline…as certain political imperatives in our own time urge us…” (Nieland and Juengel 191). And something similar must happen on the national level, too, this urgency in a pre-election season that seems to aestheticize crass fist fights and the teleserye-level search for a daughter’s origins.

But also, in this urgency: tahanan; retain control. This is calm.

*

Danielewski, Mark Z. Only Revolutions. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. Print.

Krauss, Nicole. Great House. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Lazarus, Neil. Introduction. The Postcolonial Unconscious. Cambridge:  Cambridge U P, 2011. Print.

Nieland, Justus and Scott Juengel. “Review: Benjamin’s Urgency.” CR: The New Centennial Review 5.2 (2005): 189-213. PDF.

Scott, David. “The Social Construction of Postcolonial Studies.” Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Eds. Ania Loomba, et al. Durham: Duke U P, 2005. 385-400. Print.

 

Girl Walks into a Cafe

Finds her bearings.

A parenthetical as much as it is a reminder: find your moral compass. No, no. The woman she must interview sits in front of a large, over-dramatic window, behind which an entire flower bush attempts to conceal the sidewalk outside. And fails. She can already imagine the essay she has been commissioned to write. All these features are the same, which heightens their pleasure, makes the illusion between author and reader so much more joyful to break because I know that you know that I know that you know. Fun fun fun.

Anyway, the essay: As XXX sits across from this writer, she looks nothing like an entrepreneur preparing for an interview. And why would she? Numerous international magazines have attempted to uncover her business tour de force so that she can finally be revealed as a simple woman. But as I sit down and she insists I have what she’s having (some reinvented, fusion dish, originally French, now so much more), I realize that this woman is the face of a franchise because she is Complex, nothing more, nothing less…

No, no, this piece digresses.

Finds her bearings.

If you say: women have no sense of direction, you are wrong. If women say they have no sense of direction, they mean: but I will ask for the north as starting point, and then I can imagine where I will live.

To find your bearings, read something confusing. Case in point: Danielewski, Only Revolutions. Do not attempt annotation. Only highlight. Learn to enjoy cadence, be frustrated it does not make sense. Learn to flip the book upside down every eight pages. In this sense, your departure is your own choice.

The what-if: But what if, instead of a year, you only have two months left?

Marx demonstrates the derivative nature of culture, in this case, the arts, from the material conditions that afford its creative materials. Using Homer as his example, Marx argues that the epics of Homer could only be achieved by a culture in which mythology is the manner of fundamental explanation, in which ‘the real mastery of nature’ represented by ‘the self-acting mule spindles and railways and locomotives and electrical telegraphs’ have not yet replaced mythology’s ability to dominate nature ‘in the imagination and by the imagination.’ If the subject of Homer’s epics is dominated by the mythology of a simpler time, so too its form is only possible in an age in which the printing press is still unimagined (Deneen 29).

I don’t mean to alarm you, the interviewee says when it is over, But my next appointment’s been cancelled. I know the interview is over, but…would it be too much to ask for some company? My chauffeur’s coming from somewhere far off, you see…

In some other life, she would be allowed polite refusal. The proper answer, the dream answer, would have been: I’m sorry but I’ve got to run. I have two more deadlines and a Skype call that I must make on-the-dot, plus I’m meeting an interior designer in the afternoon…

Find your bearings.

Sometimes this means sitting uncomfortably. Listening to things you don’t want to hear. If you leave one place you cannot destroy it, if you find joy elsewhere you cannot stay.

This is the essay that does not get submitted:

As they conversed, they discovered they were like old friends. Certainly they didn’t know each other, and never would speak to each other again, but the communal spirit was there, because they knew the same people, or had different perspectives of the same, much-talked about events, and could thus imagine a kind of parallelism between their lives. Sometimes, one served to tell the other what to do, sometimes the other can only listen in rapt attention, surprised that language is culpable for being able to enunciate indescribable sorrow. This exchange stretches forever for all that it lasts an hour.

The recognition that ‘enlightenment’ and ‘myth’ are intertwined in human historical development–which would continue to reappear continuously in the thought of both Horkheimer and the entire Frankfurt School–indicates a significant departure from strictly materialist (i.e., Marxist) versions of history. Indeed, Marx himself also writes on the “mythic” origins of human history but rejects the idea that those origins exerted any control over future, ‘progressed’ humanity. As he argues in the Grundrisse, humanity’s mythic origins were a consequence of their irrational and nontechnological minds, in short, their ‘childishness.’ Once matured, humankind was no more susceptible to these childlike fears than was an adult subject to anxieties about the monsters under the bed. With particular attention to the epics of antiquity, Marx begins, undoubtedly correctly, by recognizing that certain narrative forms are subject to technological considerations: ‘Is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or the Iliad with the printing press, not to mention the printing machine?’ Marx, however, does not stop with that and concludes that the human concerns that undergird the epics are equally timebound: ‘Do not the song and the saga and the muse necessarily come to an end with the printer’s bar, hence do not the necessary conditions of epic poetry vanish?’ (Deneen 181)

Imagine a house.

Anaphylaxis, skin lesions: These things, I’m told, wax and wane. Sometimes everything will be a shock–your chest constricting eyes watering heart palpitating, or the work that piles up in ungraceful proportions. There’s only one body, there’s only you. At the end of the day, there is only one question to ask, and it is not about happiness, but about fear, namely: What is the relation of your fear to the tangible?

Finds her bearings.

The essay that wants to be written is this:

That critics have hailed Danielewski as a genius is undoubted. But there is something that disturbs the work. Between finding out the epic quality of such a work, and after acknowledging that it is a love letter to American history, a heartbreak that takes the form of fragments because Sam and Hailey, in their separation (they are always rushing towards, running away from, never still, as countries in a continent drift apart although forever under the facade of federal law and unity) can never take on a monolithic form, can only agree to be separate in the shades of their o’s: a miracle, no doubt, of technology, ink, the printing machine, indeed, after all of this, a better realization surfaces. Something in the narrative fails because never singular, and it turns out, I am just not as dedicated as all that.

Leaves: everything, everyone, earlier than planned.

first

 

Reading Report: Structure vs. Construction

Novel concerns:

Reading about an American photographer; the war in Vietnam; America pulling in, folding in on itself; her Vietnamese husband; a dream of lotus flowers; a mere paratext; the excuse for a title; I am unfinished; feelings are lackluster; long chapters make me dream; I ask: please do me better.

Some people one always return to–by which I mean, only that: I have myself to blame.

What I find questionable in Gündoğan: that according to him, Gramsci proposes that the relationship between civil society and the state is identical, elevated onto a higher scale (beneath this: Gündoğan believes that consent and force become one)

It was fulfilling to have met with you, Dr. Ercan Gündoğan: in summer we are told: keep your minds sharp, do not find relief, do not dawdle. I can believe in volume, I can believe in the faithful, chained to wood, clinging to a consensus that might argue against the dialectic. I can believe in method. Gündoğan, here:

One of the pillars of Gramsci’s revolutionary strategy is his discussion of the permanent revolution thesis. This strategy, adopted especially by Maoist theories of revolution in the twentieth century, was based on the assumption that the bourgeoisie was inadequate for its own complete revolutionary power and, for this reason, the working class had to complete the bourgeois revolution on behalf of the bourgeois class before its pure socialist struggle to be able to develop in later phase…

The dialectic holds: there has to be some kind of stability. I propose, like a dogfishBlack as a fisherman’s boot, / with a white belly. Can I offer you this white belly for your synthesis? Much obliged. I am often puzzled when people mention Hegel and Kierkegaard. My favorite is Da-Sein, because I imagine that Heidegger is speaking only to me. I submit my corpse to your care: being-for-others (how long since I have typed those words!). I like Ms. Oliver, too, because she seems so calm. And she seems to be teasing me: And you know / what a smile means / don’t you?

I don’t. But I know of visceral reactionsI can and will take comfort, so succinctly found exactly where the world is sharp. Shire tells me: the phone ringing is your own fault, because you are capable of making a call on your own. But unlike her little girl, you can follow contours. The straight lines on the sides of your nose; sloping mountains; curved cheekbones; cupid’s bow. No one is naked, or bleeding on the floor. But one thing you are allowed to agree on:
you lick your lips, you taste like years of being alone.

Fall short, fail miserably. The only excuse is to be Jack, and invoke Icarus. But no, thank you. Learn to construct continuity through correspondence:

However true it is that art is no replica of the subject and that Hegel was right in his criticism of the popular idea that the artist must be more than his work–for not infrequently he is less, the empty husk of what he objectivated in the work–it holds equally true that no artwork can succeed except to the degree that the subject gives it shape from out of himself. It is not for the subject, as the organon of art, to overleap the process of divine inviduation that is imposed on him and not a matter of opinion or accidental consciousness. This situation therefore compels art–as something spiritual–to undergo subjective mediation in its objective constitution.

Consider–your mornings: structure. The research: construction.

I already told you: I am running a marathon: I can throw it away. For all you know, I commit myself to a progress chart every night. What happens between me and development is meaningless. It tastes like honey. I can throw it away.

or more than this

learn to wait for–

The Memory of Slowly Reading: Returning to The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

It’s been a little more than seven months since I last wrote about Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and to be honest, the memory of the book is now more sentimental and distant, if more complete than detailed.

Since that last entry, I’ve finished other books. At the same time, the feeling of being harried and having to slow down to enjoy written language has, for the most part, also faded. It’s a necessary outcome, I think, of being relieved for the moment of day-to-day tasks, and being allowed to schedule the day as I please.

But now I realize that the reason I love(d) The Well of Loneliness so much is because it is starkly different in thought and crafted world than the one I am used to. It’s not merely that this is an early work that explores the dimensions of lesbianism, the kind that also acknowledges the complexity of dressing after one’s own flair (not to mention one’s own innate, non-binary sexuality), but that its editorialized narration touches, I realize now, on a historical context broader than previously imagined.

What Stephen Means

There comes in every narrative a complete change of events. Especially in a novel, it sometimes seems insufficient to call this a turning point. In terms of character, particularly in the case of Hall’s Stephen Gordon, the death of a beloved, occurring in a place like Morton, a place that is so dear so as to seem alive in itself, the change becomes palpable because so much of it has to do with its impact on Stephen’s psyche.

But of course, we are tempted to think, obviously Stephen’s character cannot be pinned down, cannot be simplified by the death of another character, since she herself sticks out like a sore thumb in her textual world. Rightly so: named after the boy she was thought to be in the womb, loved by her father and allowed, for the most part, to ride like a man, dress like a man, and learn as much as she can as any son would, her pains are also uniquely multi-dimensional. Her desire for human interaction, coupled with her fear that she is being jeered at behind her back, the crippling awkwardness that haunts her in social gatherings, becomes identifiable and relatable because it transcends the concept of sexuality but is distinctly brought about by it; simultaneously, however, it is something which, presumably, readers have experienced in their own lives.

But it is betrayal and distance that endears Stephen to us.

A Mother’s Discourse

Literature has always managed, in one form or another, to express failure, and to express it as pain. If one is realistic enough about Stephen’s story (unlike, I admit, me), then one can perhaps foresee where the narrative road was inevitably going to bend for her. However, Stephen’s painful relationships with two women are preceded by the one great failure to launch a steady, loving relationship with her mother.

Still, the pain comes because this failure has not come about for lack of trying. This is what makes Anna Gordon such a fraught character to behold. We want her–of course!–to be the loving, perfect mother, and so does she. Together, we want her to embody the ideal mother who would consider sexuality as only another aspect of her child to love without further worry. Yet at the crucial moment that Stephen’s love for Angela Crossby is revealed, the revelation itself being a betrayal, Anna proves ruthless. One becomes certain, at that point, that her intolerance of Stephen is borne not so much because she would spare her child the cruelty of society, but because she herself cannot bear its shame, and further because her daughter’s existence defies all her personal beliefs.

What do we gain, then, from a story which never held much hope for the mother-daughter relationship in the first place? Perhaps nothing? Thematically speaking, the cooling relationship between mother and daughter substantiate the coming of age of Stephen. This is not just because she and Anna are left to deal with each other after her father’s death, but because their failure to communicate with one another signifies the change of relationship between Stephen and Morton, which, for most of the story (despite its increased absence during the rest of the novel) remains the ideal safehouse, the loveliest of childhood homes for our protagonist. With Phillip Gordon’s passing, Morton becomes a distant memory, an unlikely refuge because it is now the threshold of Anna, who cannot stomach the thought of what Stephen has become.

Stephen’s relationship with Angela, on the other hand, is a little more stereotypical than I would have preferred, but, becomes of interest when considered with Stephen’s relationship with her father.

Forms of Departure and Betrayal

It is the mark of a great work, I would think, to court hope at the same time that it can hint at impending tragedy. Early on in the novel, it is clear that Phillip understands his daughter’s predicament; that, although he fears for her, he would at least negotiate a possible existence for her which would allow her to earn income, live comfortably, and prove her worth to the world through talent and learning if not by conventional sexuality. Again and again he does for his daughter the parental duties that Anna cannot fulfill not merely because she is a woman but because, the reader suspects, she is not eager to shoulder such a responsibility for a daughter like Stephen.

But the tragedy of Phillip is that his actions are ultimately incomplete. For, in all the moments he could have spoken for Stephen, could have said the words that no one else dared speak about her, he remains silent, until eternal quietude claims him, and leaves his daughter alone. The harsher pain, of course, comes only later, when Stephen discovers that her father knew about her all along–knew too well the deeper reason behind her manly clothes, her awkward demeanor, her excellent hunting skills.

On the other hand, Angela Crossby’s betrayal is one of words rather than silence. To be honest, I could not read the novel without developing an initial preference for Angela, and any realization after finishing the novel that there is something distasteful in her character is an afterthought. I love her character because it stands for Stephen’s first foray into loving another woman, but I cringe at the thought of her because her relationship with Stephen, though perhaps necessary, feels to me like the common trope of a doomed first love, especially since theirs is none other than an affair.

When Angela’s husband writes to Anna about Stephen, there can only be relief that her relationship with Angela is over, although the reader, at the time of reading about the confrontation between mother and daughter, can only fear it.

But see, this is why Stephen’s experience cuts across so well: because in her is realized the pain that is substantiated by personal betrayal both romantic and filial, where at one point it becomes impossible to distinguish from where the most hurt comes.

The Potential World

It’s easy enough to believe that Stephen’s world is not one that we’d like to live in. I don’t know if there’s something about classics, though (and I haven’t read enough of them, honestly, for this to merit any kind of considerable weight, since I am basing this on the few I’ve read), that makes me believe that maybe, just maybe, I can live in that kind of world, if only I can momentarily forget the hygienic risks. It is a beautiful world, after all. And that, I think, is part of what endears this work to me, too.

The Villa del Ciprés was a low stone house that had once been tinted a lemon yellow. Its shutters were greener than those on the hill, for every ten years or so they were painted. All its principal windows looked over the sea that lay at the foot of the little headland. There were large, dim rooms with rough mosaic floors and walls that were covered by ancient frescoes…however, they were all so badly defaced…the furniture, although very good of its kind, was sombre, and more over it was terribly scanty…But one glory the old house did certainly possess; its garden, a veritable Eden of a garden, obsessed by a kind of primitive urge towards all manner of procreation, It was hot with sunshine and the flowing of sap, so that even its shade  held a warmth in its greenness, while the virile growth of its flowers and its trees fave off a strangely disturbing fragrance. (Hall 362-363)

Of course the wonder of such a world only becomes clear because Stephen and her newfound love Mary Llellwyn have survived the war; because Stephen’s new raison d’être has become a personal mission to protect Mary and give her every happiness possible. This is what differentiates her love for Mary from that for Angela; whereas the latter involved secrecy and self-destruction, the former, however bright and new, faced Stephen with another impossibility. Refreshing but harsh in its reality, the truth of the matter was that she could not keep Mary forever if she was also to offer her the kind of life that she could enjoy–one that included the company of friends, the welcoming arms of society, the security brought about by a loving community–all impossible in the novel’s context and in Stephen’s love.

The world they lived in was beautiful, true, but only because such beauty, for the likes of Stephen and Mary, could not be fully achieved or realized.

The Why of Sacrifice

Fiction, I’ve been told, is a matter of what happens after a character makes a choice. For all that there was something innocent and therefore seemingly worthy of being preserved in the world as built by Stephan and Mary, the story would have amounted to nothing if Stephen had not made a choice to resist its impasse.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t upset with Stephen’s decision. That I didn’t fret when I realized that at page 507 out of a total 527, something inevitable though vague was about to descend upon them. That I wasn’t angry at Stephen for taking matters into her own hands and deciding everything with an almost demented finality.

Without saying it in so many words, this so-called salvation that Stephen brings about, at the risk of her own self, cannot be celebrated without cheapening the tension that gave birth to the novel in the first place, that stubbornness that is human bigotry. Instead, though the novel be lovely and worth many more slow reads, what occurs in its pages, the heartbreak Stephen undergoes–all these cannot to be celebrated. Instead, they must be deplored. That, perhaps, is where the well of loneliness will always be found.

A chapter I enjoyed

A chapter I enjoyed

And thereafter?

What else, but the hope that the world outside the novel can offer, does offer, something better.