Sunday, April 24, 2005

This Week in Lit: Fathers

This week in my literary life: I've found the link, the collective thread that ties all literature somehow. This week it's fathers, but you've got to stay with me to see the tie-in.

Before I get there, I’ve got a few things to report. Lynda Barry came by Marylhurst University last Thursday to a packed house and an idyllic spring day. Lynda appears animated (as in from another dimension of being)—as if she’s been conjured, full of life, elasticity (great facial expressions), humor and insights. She ran us through a series of writing exercises prompted by simple nouns—such as “car,” or “accident”—which resulted in my professor becoming extremely inspired, throwing previous assignments to the wind, and assigning us 70 (that’s right 7-0) pages of handwritten freewrites by the time our class meets again on Thursday. Help me!

I’m reading two memoirs and an epic simultaneously. One,
Reading Lolita in Tehran, is for pleasure, the other, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, is for a Creative Non-Fiction class I’m taking. Homer’s The Odyssey is for my Mythology course. My cup runneth over with the rich experience of these three entirely different books

Reading Lolita … just had a passage which blew me away (p. 172). This memoir is about a former Iranian national (she now lives in the U.S. and teaches at Johns Hopkins University), who was expelled from the university where she taught and formed a secret reading group that focused on banned texts such as Nabokov’s Lolita. In this passage she reflects on the rich literary history of her country:

“We would take turns reading passages aloud, and words literally rose up in the air and descended upon us like a fine mist, touching all five senses. There was such a teasing, playful quality to their words, such joy in the power of language to delight and astonish. I kept wondering : when did we lose that quality, that ability to tease and make light of life through our poetry? At what precise moment was this lost? What we had now; this saccharine rhetoric, putrid and deceptive hyperbole, reeked of too much cheap rosewater.”

Aside from the obvious beauty, the end of this passage made me consider what it means to write unfettered. I complain about boundaries, but I’ve lived a life where the repercussions for expression are not dire. What a gift. I hope the ways we are trying to know things in this country never become Orwellian, that the politics of who we are never restricts our voices or subjugate creativity to control.

From Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night … (p. 24) comes this passage regarding his absent father:

“All my life my father had been manifest as an absence, a nonpresence, a name without a body. The three of us sat around the table, my mother, brother and I, all carrying his name. Flynn?

Some part of me knew he would show up, that if I stood in one place long enough he would find me, like you’re taught to do when you’re lost. But they never taught us what to do if both of you are lost, and you both end up in the same place, waiting.”

And this reminded me of that final scene in the film Smoke Signals, when Victor gives the agonizing speech about the legacies attached by our fathers. This speech has always torn me apart. Check out the cartoon that links to Lynda Barry's name above, it's about her absent father. What is Lacan's Law of the Father really about? Is it authority, legacy, absence, subjectivity? The Flynn passage urged a short reflection about my enigmatic relationship with my own father.

The final tie in, that "hyperlink" we can find within three totally unique books and a visit from a dynamic cartoonist, is THE FATHER. In Iran "The Father" is represented by an oppressive, partriarchal government that stifles creative expression. In Homer's The Odyssey, I've just read the segment about Telemakhos' search for his father, Odysseus. What can you say about your father? His legacy?


At 9:40 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Pamela, your font here is way too small for reading! Can you make it a little larger, please?

At 6:43 PM, Blogger johnmclain said...

My first thoughts about your questions regarding fathers is that they are perceived by their children to have positive and negative influences/memories depending upon where each is at on the time line of life. For example:

-- Father is 30 and child is 5 -- Dad is a hero, a giant to play with, I want to be just like Dad when I grow up...

-- Father is 40 and child is 15 -- Dad is tyrant, no so big anymore, privacy is important (time away from Dad), he is worse than other Dads, just wait til I grow up...

-- Father is 50 and child is 25 -- Dad seems to be getting smarter, not such a bad guy, he really helps out when I need money...

-- Father is 60 and child is 35 and grand kid is 5 -- I appreciate Dad's advice, what a great role model for my kids, boy Dad sure is easier on the grand kids compared to what he was with me, its scary to begin thinking of life without Dad.

-- Father is 70 and child is 45 and grand kid is 15 -- Dad is really losing it, I feel like I've got an extra child to take care of, he is so forgetful these days, I really miss my Dad of old...

Although the specific perspectives noted above are not intended to be typical or average across everyone, the notion that Dad's perceived influence/memories are a function of the time line. In my case, Dad started out a very strong and positive influence (WWII war hero) in my childhood years. In my early teenage years things changed dramatically (divorce) and my perceptions/memories went downhill from there until he died many decades later at age 66.


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