Writing about my grandfather

June 17, 2007 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Writing | 4 Comments
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I am currently working on a piece about my grandfather, grandfathers in general, and I need to finish it soon, as I intend to read it on my good bye lecture next Sunday. It’s going to be tough, though, I weep easily, and it’s a cruel, sentimental piece and I start to weep while writing it, how am I supposed to read it then? Might need the help of Greg. It’s not even about things that I have witnessed myself, it’s about how I imagine that things might have happened at a time when I wasn’t even born (and at one point I’ll have to write about WW2, that’s going to be tough) and about things that happened while I was away. Of course I’m dramatizing things, that’s what I’m good at:-) But need to learn to read this without crying.

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  1. Sounds quite difficult. I’m interested in your juxtaposition of cruel and sentimental. Does sentiment always entail some countervailing cruelty against which it narrativizes (not a word, but anyway)?

  2. I need a moment to come to grips with this:
    _Does sentiment always entail some countervailing cruelty against which it narrativizes?
    _Hat Gefühl immer eine entgegenwirkende Grausamkeit zur Folge gegen die es narrativisiert?
    I am slow today and don’t seem to able give a response to this, although I can see the meaning of this question flicker somewhere on the horizon of my mental capability.;-)

    I would like to support my notion of sentimental cruelty with Artaud, but of course it’s not such a refined notion:-) Or probably in the sense that I have returned from that writer’s forum with the (new) intention to write about things that touch me, even though it’s easy to dismiss these things easily. I think I am hoping to find some form of personal union of the mind and the soul, if I dare to say something so anecdotal and folkloristic, because it seems as if an intellectual approach to writing does prevent me from being (another no-word) ‘authentic’.

    ‘Authentic’ as a vehicle for saying that the words gush out of you when it feels right – whereas the intellectual approach forces me to write and revise, write and revise, and sometime spend hours on a paragraph (which can be quite frustrating – my first encounter with this form of blockade was, of course, not in creative, but in academic writing).

    Writing about your grandfather and the things you cherished about him is sentimental labour. One of the differences between writing about parents and grandparents is that the latter are closer to death. Writing about them in a way that it makes you choke reveals that this is a also a way of facing cruelty – you don’t know what to write, but you feel it, precisely because it makes you choke (Artaud would at least have felt sympathy for this line, I suppose).

    Now, this sounds absolutely non-academic, and it is non-academic (but honestly, the few of the novels written by literature professors that I have read – there wasn’t a single one in them that I liked, but plenty of bloodless confusion), but I hope one can somehow make sense of it, even if this type of explanation means to kiss all the instruments of literary studies and cultural criticism goodbye.

  3. I think sentiment, in its narrative form does manage to hold death in abeyance or make meaning of a life not yet gone. I like your sentence: Writing about them in a way that it makes you choke reveals that this is a also a way of facing cruelty.

    Out of the blue, over pancakes at a diner recently, my mom explained that she and my father would like to be cremated and not placed in a fancy urn, but on the compost pile by the garden out back. This, perhaps, is the kind of information one attains upon turning an august 31. I remain in steady denial about their mortality. Death is something that happens to other people–people one writes about, and in that moment, controls.

    We choke. And our bloodless confusion is mitigated, perhaps, by the sense that in writing about people we love, we somehow enliven them with the full-bloodedness of our prose. An aesthetic transfusion, if you like.

    A transfusion requires a certain set of instruments, literary studies and cultural criticism another. It may be that to shed the accoutrements of critique feels emancipatory. I think that it may also be that they provide a different kind of comfort in so far as they reveal, not unlike a scalpel, the tissue of a better world.

  4. […] read the piece that I had submitted to the writing competition and another one, a new one. I was nervous only for seconds, and then found it surprisingly easy to read to this audience of […]


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