Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Break In The Clouds?

I haven't written much on here recently. In fact I haven't written much of anything. A mixture of childcare, the end of summer, eight days in the bookshop on the trot and some sort of general apathy has stunted my output. Then a woman came into the bookshop yesterday with an acid-green, badly printed leaftlet about her "happiness" courses. A few hours with her, at a cost to you of £25, and she would help you to become more happy. Well fuck that lady! After reading her leaflet I felt better already.

I'm sitting here at the kitchen table listening to the extraordianry beauty of Richard Strauss's four Last Songs. What are they about? Death. And yet they are profoundly moving and, especially at this time of year, fill me with complete joy. I'm reading The Girl From The Fiction Department, a biography of Sonia Orwell, that is full of tragedy and death. An incredible cast of intellectuals, writers and artists crop up in her life and here are some of their musings on happiness and perfection.

When Mahatma Gandhi claims that , as a good Hindu, he would see his wife and child starve sooner than give them chicken broth Orwell had the following to say:

This attitude is perhaps a noble one, is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but...Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.

Leiris, writing on the death of Alfred Metraux:

he and his old friend Bataille were among the few who taught me that nothing matters as much as that combination which only a handful of individuals manage to bring off: a fierce love of life joined to a pitiless consciousness of just how derisory that is...He was a wanderer, a man who understood most things but took no pride in it, someone who retained in the depths of his being a grief needing consolation...

Joe Ackerley writing to Sonia passing on a tip from E M Forster:

Many years ago Morgan Forster, trying to guide me through some miserable love affair, wrote to me "But happiness may not be your deepest need." ...He himself is a happy man, he has cultivated his garden. For many of us, at any rate for me, that has not been possible, but why? It is an unanswerable question...I have never been happy, I believe, nor ever can be, I was not equpped for that, though what my "deepest need" was and is I do not know. These are things I never say, but I can say them to you, who understand so well...were it not for one's friends, life would be past bearing indeed.

And finally Francis Bacon:

"All I do is cast my rod into the sewers of despair and see what I come up with this time."

So stick that in your happy pipe and smoke it lady...

Take Roberto Bolano. He roams the world as a poet, drinking and smoking and thinking. Then, seriously ill and close to death from liver disease, he begins to write at a furious rate. Most of his ouvre was produced in the last years of his life when he knew he was dying. I feel he came close to capturing something essential within the net of words he cast into the world in those years, though trying to express exactly what that might be is like searching for the right words to describe anything profoundly beautiful - impossible.

Let's leave these Sunday morning autumnal musings when the sky is blue and the garden out the back window is drenched with slanting light with a little more from Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Writing about Sonia, thinking about himself and the fame that was to come, these words echo back and forth through Time into the life of Roberto Bolano and William Blake and countless other brilliant artists:

the girl from the fiction department...was looking at him...She was very young, he thought, she still expected something from life...She would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated...All you needed was luck and cunning and boldness. She did not understand that there was no such thing as happiness, that the only victory lay in the far future, long after you were dead.

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