I started reading this a couple years ago and didn't think too, too much of it, but I've been thinking of it a lot lately...need to read more of her s...moreI started reading this a couple years ago and didn't think too, too much of it, but I've been thinking of it a lot lately...need to read more of her stuff. Impressionistic? It left quite an impression. Considering the considerably higher rating for the German versions of her work, I'm wondering if something is not lost in translation...(less)
Over the past year, I've started to read this book at least twice, would make progress, and then become distracted by more pressing grad school obliga...moreOver the past year, I've started to read this book at least twice, would make progress, and then become distracted by more pressing grad school obligations. This time, I finished it in two days. The references to Paul Celan (whose work I'll be reading this semester), Hegel (whose work my close friend adores) and the theme of loneliness (a close cousin to suffering, which is the theme of this semester's poetry workshop) made this timing impeccable. The images of televisions dispersed throughout reminded me of an installation piece I once saw by Nam June Paik, so there was that resonance also. The language was direct and honest. While I would not call the writing beautiful, I would call it comforting and necessary.
The copy I read I borrowed from the library. These are excerpts from the pages I doggy-eared:
"She starts to gather her things. I remain seated in the restaurant a full hour after she leaves. I understand that what she wants is an explanation of the mysterious connections that exist between an author and her text. If I am present in a subject position what responsibility do I have to the content, to the truth value, of the words themselves? Is "I" even me or am "I" a gearshift to get from one sentence to the next? Should I say we? Is the voice not various if I take responsibility for it? What does my subject mean to me?" (54) The text is succeeded by diagram of a transparent person with the esophagus, stomach and intestines that are in the shape of The United States depicted in solid black. Slightly left and offset from the stomach is a gray malformed foot labeled "Liver."
"We have just seen George Wein's documentary, Louis Armstrong at Newport, 1971. In the auditorium a room full of strangers listened to Mahalia Jackson sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and stood up and gave a standing ovation to a movie screen. Her clarity of vision crosses thirty years to address intimately each of us. It is as if her voice has always been dormant within us, waiting to be awakened, even though "it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, (and) through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech" (97. To the left, inset, is a captionless image of a black woman, close-eyed, hands clasped, with an expression of blessed agony. I suspect this is Mahalia Jackson.
"Or Paul Celan said that the poem was no different from a handshake. I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem --is how Rosemary Waldrop translated his German. The handshake is our decided ritual of both asserting (I am here) and handing over (here) a self to another. Hence the poem is that--Here. I am here. This conflation of solidity of presence with the offering of this same presence perhaps has everything to do with being alive" (130). Subsequently, an image of a field and a towering billboard announcing "HERE."
I finished the book feeling complete, which is becoming less and less common the more lyrical essays I read. Rankine nails it.
As I prepare to embark on Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace, I consider what a fitting prelude Don't Let Me Be Lonely is. With references to the body (liver), death, psychiatric medicine, poetry, and 9/11, I feel grounded in the present and prepared to enter the realm of physics and the soul, beginning with "All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception" (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, I).