Installment II of Negotiating…

Here is the second installment of goodies from Atwood‘s Negotiating with the dead.

  • Back in 1972, I did a one-person poetry-reading tour the length of Ottawa River Valley. This was then a remote area and not thickly strewn with book-stores; I went by bus, carted my own books with me to sell — I was good at making change, having once worked at a sports-equipment fair — and at one stage I hauled these books around behind me on a toboggan, due to a fresh blizzard. In the four small towns I visited, I was the first to appear within living memory, or possibly ever. The readings were packed, not because people loved either poetry or me, but because they’d already seen that week’s movie. The two best questions I got asked were, “Is your hair really like that or do you get it done?” and “How much money do you make?” Neither of these were hostile questions. Both were pertinent.
  • If you’re an artist, being a good man — or a good woman — is pretty much beside the point when it comes to your actual accomplishments. Moral perfection won’t compensate for your badness as an artist: not being able to hit high C is not redeemed by being kind to dogs. However, whether you are a good man or a bad man is not beside the point if you happen to be a good wizard — good at doing your magic, making “your marvellous clear jelly,” creating illusions that can convince people of their truth — because if you are good at being a wizard in this sense, then power of various sorts may well come your way — power in relation to society — and then your goodness or badness as a human being will have a part in determining what you do with this power.
  • Real life’s jagged extremes mixed with verbal artistry are a potent sometimes explosive combination. This is why so many people have faked such stories,… (Note that this is well before A Million Little Pieces).

Apart from these, there is some close reading of Wilde‘s Dorian Gray, Borges, Isak Dinesen, Alice in Wonderland, Henry James, not to mention Eliot, Tennyson, Keats, Yeats, and, of course, Bible.

Finally, there is also an interesting parallel that I can see between Atwood’s description of how female artists have to renounce marriage and children before walking the way of Art, and A K Ramanujan‘s analysis of women saints in medieval India, and how they also had to renounce family and children or stand the usual notions of the same on their head before they could be acknowledged as one.

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