Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September and Reading Jean Rhys

Now it is September. I remember this is the hot month. The month of my birthday and the birthdays of many of my closest friends.

I'm nearing thirty in a little over a week. What to think about that? Hard to say. I'm not desensitized to this event but merely, each day, I'm coming closer to a proactive acceptance of it. I won't lie to you either and say that there haven't been mild implosions of self-doubt and self-loathing, of a comical sort, comical in that what I perceive as deficiencies are in all likelihood mere blips, and little breakdowns of will and confidence that have been pathetic to behold -- and yet I know that what I cherish intuitively is what will see through me and make me an active part of reality, and not a passive, shrinking wallflower.

What you make intuitive, or what intuition makes of you, are your saving graces.

The fact is you want to add to the world, and if you're convinced you're doing this, a sense of peace isn't too far off and even if it remains elusive, you can take peace from that as well.

There were a handful of books I read in July and August or so that I didn't really talk about here but which served to exert a sometimes menacing influence on my own creativity. I got into a vein of writing which I can only describe as "male-hysterical" or even "male-histrionic." This very much has to do with my own writing which I know, all too well, stems from a hysterical/obsessive view of reality.

Perhaps the fact that the authors were males had very little to do with the things I read, except for the fact that the male imagination is a pervasive unspoken reality, that informs and colors so much around me and defines so much about being a writer in general.

A lot of it was science fiction/speculative fiction. A lot of it was about cities, relationships, sex, that came from a Freudian place. A lot of it was about indulgence, the loss of control.

I needed, I decided recently a break before moving on to other male hysterical specimens.

Right now I'm reading Jean Rhys, The Complete Novels, beginning with the first one, Voyage In The Dark. Recently, she's been discussed because of the new biography about her that just came out this year, The Blue Hour.

The phrase, the blue hour is beautiful and reminds me of the title of a book by a quintessential male hysteric, Georges Bataille called Blue Of Noon.

So far what has been refreshing about Jean Rhys's prose is the starkness. The love affair with sumptuous language has reached an impasse. At all points you feel it literally as a voyage in the dark, reduced to the most naked nouns and modifiers. A cold voyage, a lonely voyage, a voyage made nervously and without any anchorage.

A voyage that, as a man, I can never viscerally understand. But that I'd like to.

The beginning is perfect:

It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known. It was almost like being born again. The colours were different, the smells different, the feeling things gave your right down inside yourself was different. Not just the difference between heat, cold; light, darkness; purple, grey. But a difference in the way I was frightened and the way I was happy. I didn't like England at first. I couldn't get used to the cold. Sometimes I would shut my eyes and pretend that the heat of the fire, or the bed-clothes drawn up round me, was sun-heat; or I would pretend I was standing outside the house at home, looking down Market Street to the Bay. When there was a breeze the sea was millions of spangles; and on still days it was purple as Tyre and Sidon."

The six novels in the collection, which culminate in her masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea, all seem to document her own real life experiences as a woman going against the grain and suffering much rebuke for it, and inflicting, in turn, her own retributive malaise full of alcoholism and compulsive passivity and relinquishment to the nurturing condescensions of men.

There is a lushness to starkness, a biting heat to the iciest, most suffocating interiors.

I'd like to read all six of them and see where it takes me, before hiding again in the male hysterics I've learned so much from and really would prefer to loathe.

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