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Olivia Laing

To the River

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  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    It struck me as curious then, the idea of a whole town of people attending to their business, a whole town of people driving cars or walking the streets, their faces only partially betraying the magic lantern show that flares in utter privacy within the confines of each skull. Do animals think in these bright spools of colour, I sometimes wonder? Do they walk in their minds through landscapes known and unknown, both during waking hours and within the course of dreams? They do not replay conversations, or add great registers of numbers in their heads, but do they revisit past emotions or think on faces that have gone? It seems astonishing to me how alone man is, though he can touch and talk and gaze on others of his kind. But that picture theatre within his head: no one but he will ever see it played, and there is no medium on earth that can accurately catch its luminosity or speed
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 3 år siden
    It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on this earth unless there’s a river nearby. ‘When it hurts,’ wrote the Polish poet Czeslaw Miłosz, ‘we return to the banks of certain rivers,’ and I take comfort in his words, for there’s a river I’ve returned to over and again, in sickness and in health, in grief, in desolation and in joy.
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    it began to occur to me that the whole story of love might be nothing more than a wicked lie; that simply sleeping beside another body night after night gives no express right of entry to the interior world of their thoughts or dreams; that we are separate in the end whatever contrary illusions we may cherish; and that this miserable truth might as well be faced, since it will be dinned into one, like it or not, by the attritions of time if not by the failings of those we hold dear. I wasn’t so bitter now. I’d begun to emerge into a sense of satisfaction with my lot, but it would be a long time before I trusted someone, for I’d seen how essentially unknowable even the best loved might prove to be.
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    This piece of writing is, as I have said, fragmentary. It was written when bombs were falling on Sussex: at one point Woolf begins a section by noting ‘London battered last night.’ Her childhood world and the ghosts that populate it seem very distant, and yet what she discovers as she delves gropingly backward in time is surprising:
    In those moments I find one of my greatest satisfactions, not that I am thinking of the past; but that it is then that I am living most fully in the present. For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else . . . I write this partly in order to recover my sense of the present by getting the past to shadow this broken surface. Let me then, like a child advancing with bare feet into a cold river, descend again into that stream.
    It echoes what she concluded in Between the Acts, which was written contemporaneously and also to the accompaniment of falling bombs: that one can only make sense of the violent – the violating – present by looking back, to what has disappeared from view
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    In her unfinished memoir, A Sketch of the Past, Virginia Woolf turns again and again to the question of how one can make sense of what has gone before. This document – part diary, part autobiography – was begun on 18 April 1939 and added to spasmodically over the next year and a half, the last entry written on 15 November 1940, four months before she died. It eddies musingly through her early life, beginning with the gleeful free-range summers at St Ives and bowling on into the claustrophobic years of mourning that followed the deaths of her mother, Julia, and her half-sister Stella, when her father’s grief made him a tyrant prone to periodic and horribly childish rages.
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    ‘Is it not possible,’ Woolf asks earlier in the same piece, ‘that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?’ It’s the same argument ghost hunters tender: that events are locked into the ground just as surely as gold coins lie buried there, invisible to the eye but emitting their own small disruptions to the magnetic field
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 2 år siden
    The past seemed to have fallen across the landscape like a body that though voiceless somehow still leaked or bled its language without pause. The horror of what had happened here had seeped into the soil as rain will do, waiting in the hidden interstitial spaces like groundwater before a flood. ‘The past only comes back,’ wrote Virginia Woolf in her unfinished memoir, ‘when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths.’ I wondered if the river itself was holding it, for some things are drawn to water and behave differently when they are near it
  • Aïda Adilbekhar citeretfor 3 år siden
    When it hurts,’ wrote the Polish poet Czeslaw Miłosz, ‘we return to the banks of certain rivers,’ and I take comfort in his words, for there’s a river I’ve returned to over and again, in sickness and in health, in grief, in desolation and in joy.
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 3 år siden
    I’m often frightened in a wood, in a way I’m not anywhere else in the world, except perhaps a multi-storey car park. It’s the fear of what might happen when there’s no one to see, when you’re caught in a maze no less entrapping for being built of trees than concrete.
  • ueremeevahar citeretfor 3 år siden
    I kept seeing notices on telegraph posts offering a ‘substantial reward’ for a lost Siamese cat. It wasn’t until I passed the third that I realised the date was 8 September, almost a full year back. They added, those signs, to the sense of stopped or stoppered time that is anyway the knack of midsummer, the fulcrum of the year, when everything seems to brake for a moment before swinging through ripeness and into decay.
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