Having finished Coetzee’s Age of Iron, my intertextual feelers now doing overtime: I establish links to Toibin’s Testament of Mary, his The Master, to Derrida, to Hegel and to more scholars/writers than I need mention here as I pursue the link to history (history…) as gendered narration. History. Memory. Life. Death. Re-member. Forget…
Another side step to take a closer look at the tender underbelly of our thoughts and deeds: shadows clot, giving contour to the light, qualifying (resisting?) Reason:
the undecidable is not a clean break it is a quick leap between two opposing possibilities but that touch (Cixous, 2004:11)
the subtle fabric of textuality tenders its thinking network, holding the lips of the wound together by means of signifying subterfuges (op.cit., p111)
I return to history; to slippages, to subterfuges, to the stories that got away and like Coetzee, I must ask: who holds the camera?
I allow it to change hands:
‘I tell myself my grandfather, who died six years before I was born, was a good husband and father. I tell myself I visited my grandmother during the last three years of her life. I ask her if her name was changed to Julia in the 1940s. I ask her if she really hates dad or just resents him for trying to finish the house. I ask her how she survived the death of her first born. I tell her how beautiful she looks in those photographs with the white gloves matching the purse. Were those shoes red? What colour was your dress?
I imagine grandmother and I are sitting in her living room next to the kitchen. A huge wooden table stands in the middle of the room, almost touching the hip-high cupboards. The wood of the furniture is dark and smooth; the morning sun drowns the room in light and heat and makes the cupboards shine. The portrait of André, her husband, hangs on the wall next to the old television set with its two antennae trying to reach the ceiling.
The sofa is not covered with an old blanket and the radiator does not stand next to it to keep her warm in winter. The corner of the room is not filled with a mountain of clothes which have not been ironed or washed in a decade. There is no bread crust under the table fighting with dust balls to occupy the last red tiles in the room. Millions of dust particles do not dance before my eyes in a ray of sun. It does not smell of rotten food and dampness; the heavy green velvet curtains are not loaded with nicotine. There is tea on the table, a delicate teapot and matching cups with golden rims. The air is filled with the sweet scent of cookies baking in the oven. My grandmother opens the lid of the teapot and I can smell peppermint escaping in thin threads of fume.
I talk to her and ask her how she met her husband, how they fell in love. I ask her how she survived the war and how she managed to cope with her husband’s cancer. Did she miss him much? I ask her if she feels alone. I ask her to forgive me for not having visited her in her new flat. I ask her – many things.’
Not Coetzee, not Toibin. Not a Nobel Prize winner but one of my creative writing students – Sophie Gitzinger – exploring the underbelly of history, facts, identity, of time, of the concepts that push and shove around a higher order (if such it is), and about which we artists and scientists (love to?) bicker. I learn a lot from my students. I learn a lot from so many who purport to have little to say. You’re wrong. And I love pointing that out to you!
(photo by Joan Barbara Simon, copyright 2013)