Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: Autobiography

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Every time I browse through the selves or I pick up an autobiography or a memoir, I wonder … why? Why this man /woman has the need to write the story of his / her life. What’s his /her motive?

Writing the story of one’s life it is challenging; writing about your life must be one of the hardest things that one has to do. Autobiographies is one of most beloved forms of writing. A good autobiography can be fun and fascinating.  A good autobiography must also be brutally honest.

An autobiography can take several forms, historical, philosophical, or poetic. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is an experimental memoir, a blend of autobiographical writing, literary realism, analysis, and philosophical quotations and comments.

At a job interview at a university, three man sitting across from me at a table. On my cv it says that I am currently working on a book about the colour blue ….. One of the mean asks? “Why blue?” People ask me this question often. I never know how to respond. We don’t get to choose what or whom we love. We just don’t get to choose.

Bluets is a personal exploration, a captivating, candid, funny at times, book about the blue colour, about what blue means to Nelson, where blue is identified with love, loss, depression, sex, loneliness, shame, pain.

It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is a solitude with a problem. Cn blue solve the problem, or can at least keep me company within it? – No, not exactly. It can not love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink- Here you are again, it says, and so am I.

Bluets is written in fragments, the way Wittgenstein did, in order to think sequentially. Some of the fragments may seem district but together they create a unified, intense and beautiful narrative

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Knausgaard’s first book of a six – volume autobiography is a mosaic of utterly real scenes of his childhood and adolescence up until his father’s disturbing death.  It is a book about a life told in its most minutiae, from the most mundane to the most disturbing moments, an amalgam of hybrid confessions, self-analysis and fiction, an exploration of the psychological and emotional changes of a boy caused by a strong, cold and judgmental father.

Despite his feelings of inadequacy and instability, the young Karl Ove dreams of doing something special one day. Writing is his way to success.

Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows”, he writes. “…Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing’s location and aim. But how we get there?

For Knausgaard the way to get there is by destroying rather than creating. With a remarkable intensity and raw insight, he is trying to make sense of the emotional wounds of his childhood and escape form the oppressive influence of his father. In a sense, Knausgaard destroys what destroyed him in order to break free.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage” says 40 year-old journalist at the Atlantic, to his teenager son. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor. Enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. “It must be rape so regular as to be industrial.”

Between the World and Me is an open letter, addressed to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ son, Samori. It is a powerful and emotional journey that starts with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man by a white Ferguson police officer. Learning that Brown’s killers would go free, Samori went to his room and cried.  Ta-Nehisi did not try to comfort him, he told him what his parents tried to teach him when he was growing up in a West Baltimore neighbourhood dominated by violence and drugs: that this “is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

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He tried to tell Samori how one should live within a black body, with in a country lost in the Dream, where the Dream is associated with the “other world” of suburbia, where people who think they are white live in “perfect houses with nice lawns. …. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.”

Coates recalls Prince Jones‘ death, a friend of his when his was a student at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., at the hands of an undercover police officer. He recalls the fear, the rage he felt, “the old gravity of West Baltimore, that condemned [him] to the schools, the streets, the void.”  It was this gravity and awareness that left him cold and unmoved, when in Prince’s funeral the people asked for forgiveness for the officer.  Forgiveness is irrelevant, Prince “was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth.

This premise, that the blacks in America are living in permanent fear, is the underlying idea of Coates’s story. It is a “bodily fear that lies at the heart of the daily lived experience of racism, and the mind-trick” people play by saying that the racism isn’t real.” (1) There are two  great divisions in America, he says, and they are not the rich and poor, but white and blacks. And the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.

A blurb from Toni Morrison declares the book, “required reading” and Coates, the heir to James Baldwin. Following James Baldwin’s steps, Coates also went to Paris. Like Baldwin, he does not see Paris as an escape, as one cannot escape from what the “whole society has decided to make you, a nothing”.

With extraordinary, beautiful prose, Coates exposes America’s racial dilemma. He shows us just how much the country’s racist past is still very much alive today, and how much it affects the way the black Americans think about themselves and their lives. That does not mean that one must see them as permanent victims. As James Baldwin said  in an interview in the Paris Review “…it seemed to me that if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check….”

Ta-Nehisi Coates warns his son that he has “been cast into a race in which the wind is always at  your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life.” But he wishes for him to feel no need to constrict himself to make other people comfortable.  He would have him to be a conscious citizen in this terrible and beautiful world”.

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