Saturday, March 28, 2020

The impulse to transcend ones physical limitations

From the 2-28-2020 issue of the Times Literary Supplement: “Clouds Left Far Behind, the impulse to transcend physical limitations through writing,” an article by Darran Anderson, the author of Imaginary Cities, 2015, and Inventory: A River, a city, a family.

The title had me thinking of Tolkien who literally got so caught up in the world he had created that he transcended his limitations, but the author has in mind prisoners who transcend their circumstances by writing.  His first prisoner wrote,  ‘Come then, let us start!  Follow me, all ye whom the ‘pangs of despised love’ or slights of friends keep within doors – follow me far from the meannesses and unkindnesses of men.  Be ye unhappy, sick, or weary, follow me.  Ye idle ones, arouse ye, one and all.’

Anderson tells us, “These exultant words are to be found in A Voyage around my Room (1794) by the aristocrat and military man Xavier de Maistre.  Placed under house arrest in Turin for forty-two days after a duel.  De Maistre kept his spirits up by imagining his navigations between the walls around the furniture as a great journey.  His ‘voyage’ is like an Oulipian attempt to exhaust a place and poetically reframe the familiar.  This ‘travel writer’ thinks of his bed, for example, in universal terms; it ‘sees us born and sees us die.  It is the ever-changing scene upon which the human race play by turns interesting dramas, laughable farces, and fearful tragedies.  It is a cradle decked with flowers.  A throne of love.  A sepulchre’.  Though it is an intentionally absurdist work, A Voyage Around My Room is a testimony to the transporting power of writing.  ‘Be he miserly or prodigal, rich or poor, young or old, born beneath the torrid zone or near the poles’, de Maistre tells his readers, ‘he may travel with me.’  It was a best-seller, and he eventually wrote a follow-up, charting his room at night – a ‘cell’ to which, this time, he voluntarily confined himself.”

Feeling a need to transcend physical limitations during 42 days of house arrest does seem absurd.  De Maistre knew it was absurd and never expected that it would be published.  His brother did that on his own, but De Maistre lived to be 88 so perhaps he later on became physically limited for a longer period of time. 

While disappointed with the article, I did look about at my house and yard and think about the limitations I now face as a consequence of covid-19.  I have a very nice library and can have books delivered to my door in a very short time, or immediately by means of Kindle.  I don’t have TV but I have a wide variety of movies and TV programs on Amazon Prime and Netflix. 

I thought, if I am truly to be limited to here more completely than I presently am, I should take better care of my yard.  Japanese gardeners have created marvels with much less space than I have.  At present I have some California Poppies in a small planter area back there and all my rose bushes are ready to burst into flower, but I could do more.  

Or . . . I could write. 

No comments: