Saturday, December 07, 2019

Disagreeing with your own destiny

It was interesting to consider, said the long-haired boy – Georgeou, as my diagram now told me – that a story might merely be a series of events we believe ourselves to be involved in, but on which we have absolutely no influence at all. He himself had noticed nothing on his journey here: he habitually did not notice things which did not concern him, for that very reason, that he saw the tendency to fictionalise our own experiences as positively dangerous, because it convinced us that human life had some kind of design and that we were more significant than we actually were.
I'm not sure what Outline, by Rachel Cusk is. Some readers claim it is the mere outline of a novel. For some reason, I had high expectations of this book; I feel like I was led to believe that it revolutionized the form and how we talk about the female experience. But it is not angry or devastatingly emotional (it doesn't pull any strings; it's a rational work). It doesn't hint at anything bigger than itself.

I found in Outline something quietly beautiful and meditative. And it was sometimes boring.

The narrator relates encounters, mostly discussions, she's had while in Greece teaching a writing course. Her life back home in England is hinted at, such that the mood of her whole time away is one of displacement, unsettledness.

If there is a theme to the conversations, it is about the creative writing process, the "tension between what's inside and what's outside."
I suppose it's a bit like marriage, he said. You build a whole structure on a period of intensity that's never repeated.
And so it's about marriage too.
It was impossible, I said in response to his question, to give the reasons why the marriage had ended: among other things a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious.
[What is the narrative I had outlined in my mind when I first embarked on something like marriage? At some point, the characters took on a life of their own.]
I told him that his taking a photograph was, in fact, the thing that stood out in my mind from that day. I remembered thinking that it was an unusual thing to do, or at least a thing I would not have thought to do myself. It marked some difference between him and me, in that he was observing something while I, evidently, was entirely immersed in being it.
As an aside, one writer character sweeps in with commentary about Poland:
The publishers there can't afford to invite many writers to come, she said, and it is a pity, because they need writers there in a way that people here do not. In the past year, she said, I have visited many places for the first time, or for the first time in my own right, but Poland was the tour that affected me the most, because it made me see my books not just as entertainments for the middle classes but as something vital, a lifeline in many cases, for people – largely women, it has be admitted – who feel very much alone in their daily lives.
Why do they need writers? Why does Poland need writers over any other Eastern Bloc country? If there's one thing Poland has always had, it's writers.

I have stayed away from reviews of this book, as many of them cover the whole trilogy. Touted by some as a top read of the century so far, I'll work my way through the rest in the coming months.

While this novel didn't blow me away, it gave me a quiet place to consider the story of my life and its next chapter.
I realise there's no point me trying to get back to that place because I never could. I could never reproduce that particular tension in myself: life is sending you in one direction and you're pulling away in another, like you're disagreeing with your own destiny, like who you are is in disagreement with who they say you are. Your whole soul is in revolt.

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