Saturday, June 30, 2012


The position of the Department for Education is that while it would like to see a library in all schools, "this should be a local decision, not one mandated by government", and it is "up to schools to target resources appropriately".

British authors campaigning to make it a legal obligation for every school to have a library.  The whole thing in the Guardian, here.

(I'm afraid it had simply never occurred to me that any school could not have a library.  Many of the schools I went to overseas had SMALL libraries.  I remember exhausting the resources of the Escuela Americana in Brasilia, reading everything I might LIKE to read and then going desperately on to Davy Crockett, Frontier Boy and such; going up and down the shelves at the Colegio Americano de Guayaquil, searching for something to read or trying to dredge up material for a paper in 11th grade. The idea that one might need to pass a law to REQUIRE schools to provide-- )

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Found in Translation

“I read foreign novels because they’re better,” was a remark I began to expect (surprisingly, a senior member of the Dutch Fund for Literature also said this to me). I asked readers if that could really be the case; why would foreign books be “better” across the board, in what way? As the responses mounted up, a pattern emerged: these people had learned excellent English and with it an interest in Anglo-Saxon culture in their school years. They had come to use their novel-reading (but not other kinds of reading) to reinforce this alternative identity, a sort of parallel or second life that complemented the Dutch reality they lived in and afforded them a certain self esteem as initiates in a wider world. 

Tim Parks at the NYRB

Friday, June 8, 2012

perfective vision

I call it the pederasty of autobiography; the older self actually loves the younger self in a way the younger self never could have felt or accepted at the time. There is a kind of lapse in time in self-approval. One is filled with self-loathing at sixteen but when one is forty one can look back with this kind of retrospective affection at the younger self—which is very curative.

Edmund White interview at the Paris Review (long time ago), the rest here

White goes on to say:

Piaget makes a very good case for the fact that the language, and even the concepts and the thoughts we have as adults, really don’t fit with childhood experience. There is a radical discontinuity between childhood experience and adult experience. We complain of a kind of amnesia, that we don’t recall much of our early childhood, and Freud of course said that this was because we were repressing painful or guilty desires. But Piaget argues this couldn’t be true, because otherwise we would forget only those things that were painful but remember everything else—which is clearly not the case. We have an almost blanket amnesia, and Piaget argues that the terms in which we experienced our childhood are incommensurable with the terms in which we now think as adults. It’s as though it’s an entirely different language we knew and lost. Therefore I feel that any writer who is writing about childhood, as an adult, is bound to falsify experience, but one of the things you try to do is to find poetic approximation; an elusive and impossible task. It is like trying to pick up blobs of mercury with tweezers—you can’t do it. You nevertheless attempt to find various metaphorical ways of surprising that experience. I think you oftentimes feel it’s there, but you can’t get at it, and that’s the archaeology of writing about childhood.

It seems a lot less complicated to me.  I was given a diary for my 8th birthday, and I decided to write in it, because I thought from what grown-ups said that they forgot.  I thought that I would grow up and forget how miserable I was, so I was going to write it down to make sure I never forgot.

I don't think I do now think of my childhood in terms incommensurable with what I felt at the time, because many of my memories are linguistic memories, memories of what people said, what I said, what I felt I could not say.  I can remember adults saying things to me, announcing the death of a relative, say, knowing I was expected to react in a particular way, trying to work out what would be appropriate, sobbing and being comforted and feeling that I had acted in the appropriate way (this at the age of 7).  I can also remember, a bit older, finding books on child development on adult's bookshelves and reading them to find out what the adults thought was going on.  I don't mean that I accepted what I read - I read these books the way a Chinese dissident might read Mao's Red Book.  A friend of mine said a while back that he could never see the point of a diary; I felt that I was embedded in a world of people who were rewriting history, rewriting events at which I was present to construct stories they thought better than what actually happened, and so felt I must have a record, what I had seen must be set down somewhere even if it was absolutely inadmissible.