Friday, June 26, 2015

A Great Good Place

Richard Davenport-Hines on page 234-5 of his Audin, quotes Griffin as saying, Audin “prides himself on his freedom from worldly possessions. . . . with him lack of a permanent habitation formed a humanistic release; he only wanted to search for men who actively believed in things he did.”

Further down Davenport-Hines writes, “Norse often saw Auden eating alone in a restaurant on Barrow Street.  ‘Barely looking up, he would grunt hello or merely nod and return to his book as if it demanded every precious moment of his attention.’

“Auden’s milieu on Cornelia Street is crucial to his creativity in the late 1940s.  He chose to make it his Great Good Place.  Caliban in ‘The Sea and the Mirror’ had presented a railway journey as a parable of life.  The dirty human traffic in waiting rooms, ticket queues and parcel offices provides the traveler with his chance: ‘it is in those promiscuous places of random association, in that air of anticipatory fidget, that he makes friends and enemies, that he promises, confesses, kisses and betrays’.  By contrast ‘the main depot’ of the railroad is only ‘the Grandly Average Place’.  The inspiration for Auden’s railway parable is a short story ‘The Great Good Place’ by Henry James which opens with an author named George Dane in his rooms, like Auden in Cornelia Street, engulfed by ‘an immense array of letters, notes, circulars, the pile of printer’s proofs’, by ‘periodicals of every sort’, but above all by books, ‘in wrappers as well as disenveloped and dropped again – books from publishers, books from authors, books from friends, books from enemies’.  Dane, who is near to breakdown changes places with an acolyte and is spirited away to a retreat which may be a sanatorium, or a sacred convent, or a hotel without noise, or a club without newspapers, or ‘a sort of kindergarten . . . of some great mild, invisible mother who stretches away into space and whose lap is the whole valley’.  Here the persecuted author finds ‘the vision and the faculty divine’. 

Comment: On page 236 Auden is quoted as saying ‘From now on the poet will be lucky if he can have the general living room to himself for a few hours or a corner of the kitchen table on which to keep his papers.”

As it happens I am using a kitchen table, a small circular table in the corner of the kitchen.  I’ve moved more and more books and things down from my study so I can read or write while being able to see or hear any change in Susan who is about ten feet away. 

A couple of hours ago I got a call from a very talkative lady who went on and on much too long about how she and another lady wanted to come over and be with Susan right then and perhaps give me some time off.  She was worried about me she said.  She didn’t mean to be pushy she said, but she and this other lady could stay downstairs with Susan while I went upstairs to rest.  I told her that I had moved everything I needed from my study downstairs, and that I was resting well enough unless guests got too noisy talking, singing, or playing music for Susan.  She kept on, really wanting to come over tonight.  I put her off.  I had a reason.  I had given Susan morphine for pain and she wasn’t able to respond to questions or even understand what was being said.  “Come tomorrow,” I said, after the morphine wears off.  But call first.”

I was never in circumstances like George Dane, at least not in regard to my writing, but I have begun to feel some pressure from the various people who come here to see Susan.

When I invited all Susan’s friends and family to come here to visit Susan I didn’t fully appreciate what that would mean.  They come according to their own convenience; which isn’t unreasonable; however I’m used to taking a nap whenever I feel like it, but I can’t do that any longer, that is not unless I shut my phone off.  And if they are here and stay too long and I need a nap I am out of luck.  Most people visit and stay a short time, but not everyone wants to do that.  Not everyone wants to leave.

My Great Good Place is my study as it has been since I retired in 1999, but it could be the rest of the house as well.  I’ve gotten used to this little corner of the kitchen.  Maybe if I have the whole house I’ll get used to other places.  

Would I ever eat alone at a place equivalent to Auden’s restaurant on Barrow Street?  I tend to think not, although I might spend an hour or two drinking coffee if a place is great enough and good. 

The parts of my house that are not my study were selected and arranged by Susan.   She set up a fairly nice kitchen with every thing a cook might need and I’ve learned to cook a little. 

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