This week for my writer’s group, the topic was to imagine sitting down to tea with your wisest self and giving your less wise self advice. Letter writing was encouraged, but the verse form appealed to me most, which is not surprising. Even though my strength is not poetry, poetry has always called to me — and I do not apologize (anymore)!
An affluent womanizer, Tony Bream. The nicest, sweetest girl, Jean Martle. A desperate lover abroad too long in China, Dennis Vidal. The odd Rose Arminger.
They all seem like characters from the famed game Clue.
Who was the murderer of the little girl Effie Bream; who held this child’s delicate body under the water until she drowned?
In The Other House, Henry James writes an awkward murder mystery vis a vis a novel of manners that begins with some piquant flavor of the supernatural. As in many of James’s works (such as The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age), a child is in grave danger of a horrific and unnameable threat from the adult world. And as all good fairy tales do, this wayward genre-shifter begins with the death of a damned good mother.
The theatrical nature and content of Sologub’s The Little Demon had me envisioning a play on the stage for the first third of the novel. Hilarious dialogue, telling imagery, and one of the most paranoid and depraved characters in fiction made visualizing this text taking place physically before me easy. For much of this novel, I thought that Sologub would surely continue to circuitously loop Peredenov’s mad antics into infinity. He “loved nothing and no one, and as a result the real world could only have a depressing effect on him.” Depression surmounts as his extreme paranoia builds and he believes that his friends intend to poison him, his lover wants to shoot him, colleagues are jealous of his success, and children want to have sex with him.
Finally, I have read my first Doris Lessing novel. I admit, it may not have been the best one to wet my feet.
The Four-Gated City (British, 1969) is the final book of a five-book series called the “Children of Violence.” I didn’t read the first four but only the last. I felt as if I was doing what I told myself I would never do anymore when I was fifteen: like I was reading the last pages of the novel before beginning it.
Lessing is touted as a major British writer for a reason. I see that clearly. Her exploration of Martha Quest’s psychology is intricately bound to a complex critique of the political climate in post-World War II Britain. Not having read the earlier novels of the series, I was pleased to find that I could jump onto the caravan and understand the story.
William Blake, in many ways, polarizes innocence and experience in his book of poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience. His exploration of these are literally separated by a frontispiece and title page. Moreover, he marks the primary differences between innocence and experience by showing the evolution of poems — “Infant Joy” in the first half becomes “Infant Sorrow” in the second, for example.
For Blake, there is, I think, a too-clean cut between the states of innocence and of experience. But then again, such dichotomy reflects the nature of each enterprise well. Innocence is an extremely isolated state, as it is pure and even natural (if you’re a Romantic). Experience, on the other hand, is dredged in the muck of “reality:” labor, questions of faith, and urbanization.
When I was called out for teaching some provocative contexts in my “Strange Children” course this quarter, my supervisor came to my defense by saying, “Well, it’s not like you’re teaching Death in Venice, or anything.” I had heard of Thomas Mann’s novella — and really enjoyed reading the obscure The Transposed Heads, which I consider a really masterful work despite some scathing criticisms to the contrary — but had never read it. I headed to the library and checked it out right away. Would Mann prove to be more dirty and provocative than Alice’s Adventures? Was it possible?
Today one of my soon-to-be students for my Spring quarter course called “Strange Children” mentioned that the course description reminded her of Mark Ryden‘s art. I, of course, looked into his work directly.
Indeed, Ryden’s oeuvre is almost entirely dedicated to depictions of children — mostly prepubescent girls — and nature. The children are grotesque with large comical eyes and predominantly pale skin (except for one rare portrayal of the face of a Black girl in wood), and appear in natural settings, often alongside flora and/or fauna.
Ryden’s skillful lowbrow art problematizes the child-body in nature.