When I Went Away From the World

There’s no doubt I’m a Fan-Boy of Rachel Cusk, the British-Canadian novelist. I’ve read everything she’s published. And would likely dig through her trash to read her innermost, unpublished thoughts. (Now that’s getting creepy.) (And what a coincidence to be reading through the week’s papers to trip into this article with Spouse & #1 Son visiting the Greek Islands.)

Cusk has done it again with “When I Went Away From the World,” an essay in the NY Times Magazine, where she goes away to the Greek Islands on a commission to write an essay about marble.  The entire essay is worth reading but here’s a few nuggets.

…At another time I’m not sure I would have chosen to approach so cold and formal a subject. I tried not to see it as my duty to explain things to people, and nor did I want to become a copy-maker myself, since I was sure marble had been written about already in every conceivable way. I believed that everything could and should be understood by means of self-examination, but my self was tired and discouraged…

…We currently have a poor appetite for living, a result of being force-fed with experiences that have not agreed with us…”

…My addiction to incessant moving, bequeathed to me by my restless, discontented parents, had started to appear to me not as a matter for reconciliation and recovery, nor even as a panorama of losses, but as the steady accretion of some much greater entity, a dark growth inside me to which I had never been and would never be reconciled. Whatever it was — a debt or a disease or a fault line — this entity seemed to have arisen out of a fundamental disjuncture between appearance and reality that, I increasingly saw, had been allowed to eat out the heart of my life. I had made one home after another as a ship might frantically try to weigh its anchor in a storm — yet what was this storm that I alone was embroiled in?…

“…Marble, the metamorphic rock, embodied for me a dark paradox: It is change that produces changelessness. I had begun to read about the process of its formation, its subjection over epochal time to unrelenting heat and pressure where it lay buried in the earth, until finally the stone generated a response, recrystallizing and becoming more durable. An alteration of character occurred, a metamorphosis that was a reaction to extremes. A result was a loss of fallibility, of weakness. One might almost have said that the rock’s sufferings, its experience, had brought about its immortality. It was tempting to translate this notion into a metaphor for human development, except that the hardening of age felt so much like a move into powerlessness. With the feeling of increasing and unavoidable stasis, the power of change receded, to be replaced by a sort of helplessness before the facts. At a certain point the past becomes larger than the future, and its inalterability perhaps comes as a shock, because to be embroiled in living, in formation, is to forget the hard outcome of reality…”

“In the bars and cafes, groups of red-faced men and women sat drinking beer in the fierce sun. Smartly dressed young couples consulted one another across their tables in murmurs or sat in silence, looking at their phones. Older couples, sated with knowledge, surveyed their surroundings as though some challenge from outside to their choices and decisions might present itself at any moment. Flocks of shrieking delirious teenagers moved hilariously from one place to another, settling and then taking off again into the distance. The threads of association were almost visible, a net in the blue air, the way humans related to one another and clung to that relation or were fettered by it, their belief in themselves and one another, how hard it was in that state to remember that you could be dispassionately observed, that your world could be swept away in an instant. Their happiness was faintly astonishing…

Portrait by Laura Pannack, Time Magazine.


  1. wow, amazing thoughts and conclusions –

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny how the last paragraph seems to contradict itself. On the one hand the couples surveying their surroundings, vaguely alert to invisible challenges; on the other how hard to remember that all of this could be swept away in an instant. Both true as we ride the constant shift between wave and particle, as all the joys and fears of the world pass through our beings. Oh, I am happy that while the accumulated facts of the past may be inalterable and ultimately make up the majority of our lives, the lessons are infinitely mutable and increasingly strengthening as we move ever closer to our own transformations. What a thinker she is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And now, the next time my hand unashamedly lingers on a polished marble surface, I will smile!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve only read Second Place…I’ll need to dig deeper David thanks for sharing this🤓🙏☺️smiles hedy

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the heads up… I’m subscribed to the New York Times Magazine but don’t often find such nuggets. Thankfully, I have you to direct me… Now, off to read the whole thing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for sharing her imaginings and observations Dave. Worth diving into!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. *is silently wondering why DK’s spouse’s spouse passed up the Greek Islands…!*

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m a Cusk fan too – and marvel at the way she can string connections – the immutable solidness of marble and the fluidity with which our days create the layers that define us…She is remarkable and always, always leaves me reading and re-reading and shaking my head in awe.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Simon!



  1. […] ‘constellating’ from David W; thank you LW for pure gift from John O’D; and thank you DK for valued intro to Rachel […]

    Liked by 1 person

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