Sunday, June 17, 2012

Discussing post-war US literature...

On my to-read bedside table pile
First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.
Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.

~ The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carson McCullers (1953)

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) was the very best book we studied in my undergrad literature subject American Liberals and Moderns - and it was in exalted company of Faulkners and Fitzgeralds and Hemingways and Steinbecks - because Carson McCullers writes simply, beautifully and about such curious people: the outsiders, the misfits, the weirdos. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe tells of what happens to Miss Amelia Evans when her hunchbacked cousin comes to town. This short story is enthralling and unnerving, with such an excellent turn of phrase to place the reader right into this Southern, small-town setting. Pitch-perfect dialogue, the way she writes the characters' mannerisms and the almost confessional feel she's given the narrative. She is a wonderful writer.

I found this one at Barwon Booksellers in Queenscliff, along with McCullers' Member of the Wedding and Monica Dickens' The House at World's End. The Messinger Bird by Rosanna Hawkes I got at The Hill of Content (Melbourne), Town Life in Australia (about colonial life in Australia and published in 1883) by Richard Twopeny snatched up at Red Wheelbarrow Books in Brunswick and Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl at the Mill Markets, Geelong.


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