“Ha ha yes, Stifter is crushingly boring most of the time, but it’s maddeningly on purpose, he knew what he was doing. And it’s fascinating how he refuses to play by some of the most basic novelistic rules. It’s also possible (he’s so repressed he just seems to be asking for it) to apply some muckraking criticism to his writing. Sebald, for example, has a couple of interesting essays touching on the morbid aspects lurking behind his petrified prose (it’s true that Stifter was a troubled man, and had a difficult life and horrible death): fetishism, borderline paedophilia, bulimia (?!), millenarianism (!!), as if he was some kind of Sadean subversive in disguise.
“…I find it very difficult to read Simone Weil, maybe because she’s so painfully earnest, there isn’t any kind of distance.”
—Thanks for this. Hmm, Stifter, I don’t know. Though near-paedophilia, bulimia, and millenarianism are universally recognized as the mirepoix of great literature. I’ll put it on the list. Intrigued by the juicy biographical details, I just lurked his Wikipedia page, and was amused to see that Friedrich Hebbel apparently offered the crown of Poland to whoever could finish “Indian Summer.” Nice burn.
As for Weil, I feel you on her “painful earnestness”—not to mention what sometimes feels like, I don’t know, non-humanity (not “inhumanity”). So severe, so stubborn, and such a willful pursuit of suffering and persecution—which would be easier to call neurotic (and certainly it was neurotic, which is not simply to dismiss her, not at all)—if it weren’t so beautifully rationalized. But of course that’s what it is to be a mystic or a saint, it’s to scorn balance, and to explore the intellectual and psychological payoffs of extremity, of overkill, of life reduced to one thing. And naturally, the Hellenist within us finds this lack of balance distasteful, unnecessary, immature. Extreme self-denial and willful suffering are indeed a form of excess, and can be—if they constitute a life’s sole practice—a kind of ethical simplism, rather than that ever-sought simplicity; a shirking of life, not a mastery of it.
Which is not to inweil against sainthood (went out of my vay to get that in, for sure. I’m here all week, folks!). There is, undeniably, enormous wisdom in Weil, enormous heart, for all her intellectuality and her absolutistic vision. And that mind—what a mind! (Not being a huge fan of Simone de B., I always derive a little Schadenfreude from the fact that Simone W. edged her out in that ENS entrance exam. Poor de B. had to endure second place only to play bridesmaid again, this time to JPS in the agrégation. A joke, after all, can’t possibly be exhausted until you repeat it.)
As for thinking and writing, which are the same thing, you’re dang right, girl, they IS hard. Sometimes when I’m down there—fully realizing that what’s deep for me is ankle-wading for others—I’m not sure I can find my way back up before I run out of air. I get disoriented, I get loopy, I get desperate. Therein lies the thrill, I suppose. I’ll try, by god, to “keep bringing interesting things to the surface,” but sometimes what seems marvelous when you’re down there turns out, when you return to the surface, to be commonplace. See Musil’s epigraph to his Törless; here I’m a Rock Bottom Riser. (o my foolish heart)
…But then the question persists: which is the illusion? The water’s transfiguring effect on an ordinary stone or shard of glass? Or the perception of ordinariness itself?
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- msodradek said: I still have a lot of weiling to do myself, hopefully when I feel less cynical. Extremities are a great temptation for me. (Lol, the crown of Poland must be crowded with all manner of unsavory endurance reader-types.)
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- noxrpm said: I suggested to msodradek we read Indian Summer together; she kept her bargain but I bailed =P She is the queen of Poland. (Try S’s short story, “Abdias”, very very good…)
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