Gullible's travels

In my mind, I have a picture of Gulliver tied down with thousands of tiny ropes, especially his hair. This is not the exact image but it was the closest thing I could find. I think of it sometimes when I am lying on the couch. Psychoanalysis is a question of carefully cutting all the little ropes, but the ropes don’t want to be cut, and they automatically grow back, and you have to cut them again and again. In other words, you have to be really serious about being free or the bars of your prison will find you again.

Another similar image is of elephants. The cruellest picture I have of them is the adult females chasing pubescent males out of the group and forcing them to trot off and do their own thing in the jungle. The boys become a nuisance when they reach puberty, so they are excluded. It sometimes takes days to get rid of them. They hang around and cry and try to sneak back into the herd, but the females are relentless in keeping them out. I don’t know exactly how human mothers are supposed to push their male offspring out into the world, but I hope there is a less cruel method.

Here I was thinking of how elephants are trained. One ankle is tied to a post when they are young. They rebel and push and try to free themselves. They find they can’t run away because they don’t have the strength to break the chain or uproot the post. Then they grow up and increase in strength but they have internalised the experience of not being able to run away so they don’t even try anymore. Analysis is a way of identifying the parts of our behaviour that were adopted in childhood circumstances and no longer correspond to our adult setting and means. And ideally adapting the behaviour!

I've just bought a brilliant version of Basin Street Blues by Keith Jarret from I-tunes. I can’t put it on here because it is “protected”. The same goes for The Blower's Daughter I bought specially for my life’s soundtrack. This is frustrating. I’ll have to find a way round it, somehow. Anyway, I was humming the song “Halleluja” the other day and was surprised to learn it was by Leonard Cohen, the man who moved me to take up the guitar to learn to play Suzanne and Bird on a Wire. The best version I found was Alison Crowe, and what do you know, I then found a You Tube tutorial on how to play it! Somebody took the trouble to clearly and slowly explain what to do and how to do it in front of a camera for people like me! That restored my faith in human nature. I never managed to play Danny Boy fluently enough on the piano to be able to sing along with it, so it looks like Leonard could be another first. Watch this space! For the moment, here is Alison Crowe singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.


Notes on quotes

There are sentences we read that immediately become a part of us forever. They strike a deep chord and stay there. Taken out of context, they evolve inside us, and polished by our needs, turn into something slightly different. One of mine comes from Proust. The context is a shared student flat in Dowanside road, just off Byres Road (what a name! they tried to change it to Victoria but the residents refused. It is a rather good antidote to the pretension that can grow up around Universities, especially ones as old and beautiful (if you like old things) as Glasgow.).

I remember Cath MacClean from Prestwick reading a passage to us that she found too beautiful to keep to herself – from the untranslatable “à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs” (Within a Budding Grove or In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower...). It was breathtakingly beautiful, I think we all understood how beautiful the writing was without understanding really what he was getting at, which is as good a way as any of discovering aesthetics. My memory is of Cath enthusiastically reading a very beautiful passage from Proust which came to a satisfactory end with the words “les après-midis bleus de ses fenêtres” (“the blue afternoons of its windows”). In my mind’s eye, I can see the full-stop on the page, Cath’s finger on it, her eyes looking up at us in wonder, and then the book slowly closing with a sigh.

As the University was not in session in the summer, all my memories of it are in the other three seasons, and very dull, almost damp. So I suppose those few words encapsulated everything I imagined about France, a place where there was warmth, lots of bright sunshine, blue sky visible through the windows, and people who could live in cork-lined rooms and write for the pleasure of the words, write as a way of worshipping language, live completely for the activity of the mind, totally unconnected to anything involving physical work. If human experience was a spectrum then this was the opposite end from soul-destroying manual labour.

Today I looked up that quote and was horrified to find it ended with a semi-colon; “un tout petit (salon), vide, que commençait déjà à faire rêver l’après-midi bleu de ses fenêtres;”. It was unlikely that Cath would have stopped reading with such an emphatic feeling of satisfactory completion at a semi-colon; I was also horrified to realise that I had no recollection whatsoever of the preceding passage. And so my memory was part fiction.
Another Proust quote I live with is “J’avais un rendez-vous urgent avec moi-même” – ‘I had an urgent appointment with myself’.

Apron strings. The idea of a “mummy’s boy” has always annoyed me, as a jealous female sibling, d’abord, then as a girlfriend - they say that mother-in-law/daughter-in-law animosity is genetically programmed, for the survival of the species, which does not make it any easier to bear. I hate the idea of a man being “attached” to his mother. There is something unpleasant about the very words sycophantic infantilism. Maybe this is because one of my biggest worries, as the mother of a male teeneager, is “will he be able to stand on his own two feet?”. So imagine my horror as a translator when I read that Proust wanted to translate Ruskin, but his English wasn’t up to it, so his mother translated the text literally for him so that he could “write Ruskin in excellent French”. Yikes! Talk about silver spoon feeding!!

Tipping point.

Looking for info on Byres road I came across a passage from Alasdair Gray

Who did the council fight?"

"It split in two and fought itself."

"That's suicide!"

"No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation."

"I refuse to believe men kill each other just to make their enemies rich."

"How can men recognize their real enemies when their family, schools and work teach them to struggle with each other and to believe law and decency come from the teachers?"

"My son won't be taught that," said Lanark firmly.

"You have a son?"

"Not yet."

Lanark, p.411

One of my Shakespeare ones is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Nancy Huston did not win the Orange prize for fiction, but was shortlisted. As a translator, I feel compelled to react to the following delicious comment:

"First published as Lignes de Faille, the novel sold over 400,000 copies in France, was then translated by the Canadian-born author herself with a level of creativity and confidence simply not achievable by the average translator."

Well, I wanted to react, but words fail me...