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 And would likely dig through her trash to read her innermost, unpublished thoughts.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.

Miracle. All of it.


Notes:

Serenity on Sunday with Marina…


Marina Kanavaki has been a gracious blog follower from the early days of my journey.  Not sure how we connected but I’m happy we did.  Marina was born in Athens, Greece.  She studied art and music in Athens and London including Classical piano, jazz improvisation and classical singing.  She is now a creative art director.  She has had her work shown in Smith΄s Gallery (London) and painting exhibitions in Epohes gallery, in Athens.


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