Saturday 12 February 2022


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Aug 9—Fog by Kathryn Scanlan   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
At what point does literature begin, he wondered, if there is such a thing as literature and if it does at some point begin. Is it not after all the case, he wondered, that we are assailed at all times and in all circumstances by an unbearable infinitude of details that we must somehow resist or ignore or numb ourselves to almost entirely if we are to bear them, we can only be aware of anything the smallest proportion of things and stay alive or stay sane or stay functioning, he thought, we must tell ourselves a very simple story indeed if we are to have any chance of functioning, we must shut out everything else, we must only notice what we look for, what our story lets us look for, he thought, the froth now frothing in his brain, or rather in his mind, our stories blot stuff out so that we can live, at least a little longer. We are so easily overwhelmed and in the end we are all overwhelmed, the details get us in the end, but until then we cling to our limitations, to the limitations that make the unbearable very slightly bearable, if we are lucky. All thought is deletion. The stories that we think with, he thought, are not possible without an ongoing act of swingeing exclusion, thought is an act of exclusion. What would we put in a diary? What would we put in an essay? What would we put in a novel? If we boil it all down how far can we boil it all down? We find ourselves alive, the details of our life assail us, eventually overwhelm us and destroy us. That’s our story. We die of one detail too many, but if it wasn’t that detail that finished us off it would be another, they are lining up, pressing in, abrading us. Can we resist what we understand, he wondered, to the extent that we even understand it? Is art just this form of resistance? At what point does literature begin, if there is such a thing as literature and if it does at some point begin? Is there something in our life that resists exclusion, something that when the boiling down is done is not boiled completely down? Can we move beyond simplification to a countersimplification, he wondered, and what could this even mean? If Kathryn Scanlan found a stranger’s diary at an auction and she read this diary so often that she felt she almost was its eighty-six-year-old author, if a diary’s keeper is an author, she too became the dairy’s keeper, certainly, at least in some sense, and then if she further edited this dead woman’s year, this dead woman’s words, though the woman was not yet dead, obviously, in the year that she kept the diary, when she was the diary’s keeper, not quite yet dead, whose work do we have in Aug 9—Fog, the boiled down boiled down again, this rendering, this literature, we could call it, rendered from life, here in a two-step rendering process? That is no place for a question mark, he thought. The story of the year is a story of death plucking at an old woman’s life, she loses her husband, her health, her spirits, so to call them, a strange term. The details of her life are the ways in which what she loves is torn away but also these details, often even the same details, are the ways in which this tearing away is resisted, he thought, these details are the ways in which what is loved may be clutched, in which what is loved is saved even while it is borne away. “Turning cooler in eve. We had smoked sausages, fried potatoes & onions. Dr. says it’s a general breaking up of his body. I am bringing in some flowers.” Every very ordinary life, and this is nothing but a very ordinary life, he thought, no life, after all, is anything but a very ordinary life, every very ordinary life is caught in the blast of details that will destroy it but or and these are the very details that enable a resistance to this blast, through literature perhaps, so to call it, resistance is poetry, he thought, an offence against time, a plot against unavoidable loss. We resist time and succeed only when we fail. “Every where glare of ice. We didn’t sleep too good. My pep has left me.”

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