Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘stories

Catalogued: The Summer Without Men >> Siri Hustvedt

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 Hustvedt, Siri. 
 The Summer Without Men / by Siri 
     Hustvedt. - New York: Picador, 2011

1. “In Athens, they formalized ostracism to rid themselves of those suspected of having accumulated too much power, from ostrakon, the word for ‘shard.’ They wrote down the names of the threats on broken pieces of crockery. Word Shards. The Pathan tribes in Pakistan exile renegade members, sending them into a dusty nowhere. The Apache ignore widows. They fear the paroxysms of giref and pretend those who suffer from them do not exist. Chimpanzees, lions, wolves all have forms of ostracism, forcing out one of their own, either too weak or too obstreperous to be tolerated by the group. Scientists describe this as an “innate and adapteive” method of social control. … The Amish call it Meidung. When a member breaks a law, he or she is shunned. All interactions cease, and the one they have turned against falls into destitution or worse.”

2. “It is impossible to divine a story while you are living it; it is shapeless; an inchoate procession of words and things, and let us be frank: We never recover what was. Most of it vanishes. … Time is not outside us, but inside. Only we live with past, present and future, and the present is too brief to experience anyway. It is retained afterward and then it is either codified or it slips into amnesia. Consciousness is the product of delay.”

3. “In his journals, Kierkegaard writes that dread is an attraction, and he is right. Dread is a lure, and I could feel it’s tug, but why? What had I actually seen or heard that created this mild but definite pull in me? Perception is never passive. We are not only receivers of the world; we also actively produce it. There is a hallucinatory quality to all perception, and illusions are easy to create.”

4. “The whole story is in my head, isn’t it? I am not so philosophically naive as to believe that one can establish some empirical reality of THE STORY.”

5. “We must all allow ourselves the fantasy of projection from time to time, a chance to clothe ourselves in the imaginary gowns and tails of what has never been and never will be. This gives some polish to our tarnished lives, and sometimes we may choose one dream over another, and in the choosing find some respite from ordinary sadness. After all, we, none of us, can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self.”

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Written by ENB

September 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

the trouble with personal essays

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I’m taking a personal essay writing class from MediaBistro right now. For my second assignment, I wrote an essay about getting back together briefly with an ex, and the comfort that provides.

My instructor and classmates’ comments were helpful. Some details of the timeline and relationship were fuzzy; I did need to provide more context, and make my point of view more clear. But a lot of the assumptions implicit in the comments surprised me.

Where I wrote about our initial breakup, my teacher asked, “Why did you break up? Did you want more from the relationship than he did?” Where I wrote about meeting back up initially a year later, she asked, “Did you contact him?” Where I wrote with mostly nonchalance about the initial breakup, she asked, “Did you really feel this way?”

Okay, I thought. Gender assumptions aside, I just need to clear these details up. But when I turned in the revised draft, I continued to get these sorts of comments from classmates. “You two seem to have a connection that is still there,” one wrote. “Did you really not care?” Everyone seemed to want me to feel more than I felt.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I know that personal essays, at least in the commercial market, are designed to provide just enough glimpse of a perspective to make the story unique while still managing to be relateable/digestible to a large audience. But I can’t (or won’t) conjure emotions or attitudes that didn’t exist.

I’m not sure if there’s a larger extrapolation here about commercial personal essays, or if I’m just musing …

Written by ENB

February 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Media

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