I tend to rely on my instinct but if mind is cluttered, I cannot feel what I think , I cannot hear what I think. I try to meditate every day even just for a few minutes before I brave the day and it helps. But mostly a good night’s sleep definitely helps. Every now and then, you must have a day when you could be away from the maddening crowd with phone switched off and hibernate and not think much about anything. You cannot live in isolation but you do need that space and time alone so you can decipher and get to know you thoughts . I do find that I am always changing my mind about something or other. I very much like to be independent minded but I know I am not. In Chapter One of Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy , there is this quote from No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre:
‘ You are- your life, and nothing else.’
Things I Don’t Want to Know is the first in a three- part autobiography by Deborah Levy on writing, gender politics and philosophy.
Levy finds herself sobbing on escalators in London. She decides to take a trip to Majorca and return to the same pensión/hotel where she had stayed sometime ago in her twenties. She has brought with her Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s short novel Of Love and Other Demons , George Sand’s A Winter in Majorca, and the notebook she labelled as ‘POLAND,1988’ in which she takes notes for things she cannot fathom. After she has settled into her hotel room, she decides to visit the village shop to look for the pure chocolate that has intoxicated Marquez’s errant fictional wife, Bernarda Cabrera and she finds it. It is a bar CHOCOLATE NEGRO EXTRAFINO:CACAO 99%. Ingredientes: cacao, azucar. She finds it at the grocery store owned by a Chinese man who hails from Shanghai. The man wears tortoise-shell spectacles perched half way down his nose and his black hair is now streaked with silver. For as long as she has known him he is always reading books behind the counter. They exchange pleasantries. When she tells him that she is about to walk to the next village to see the monastery where George Sand and Frederick Chopin stayed during the winter 1838-9, he grimaces and tells her that the Majorcans do not like her. He also says that ‘Jorge Sand is a not a woman he would like to share a bottle of wine with‘.
After her visit to the monastery, the author walks into a restaurant and makes her way to the back of the room and sits alone at a table laid for three. She wants to be near the log fire burning there. The waitress tries telling her that ‘noooo waaaay’ she can sit alone at a table for three people. The Chinese shopkeeper happens to be sitting at the bar and he walks over to her table. They strike a conversation about a George Sand and everything else as they share a bottle of wine. He asks,
‘You’re a writer aren’t you?’
The question has prompted the author to investigate what writing means to her. As she converses with him, she is taken to places she has not wanted to revisit. In her conversation with him, she talks about Africa. She realises that Africa returned to her when she found herself sobbing on escalators in London.
Deborah Levy was born in South Africa and in her memoir, she writes about her childhood memories of what happened to her dad in apartheid South Africa in 1964. She was five years old. He had been taken away as a political prisoner because he was fighting for equal human rights. She also remembers about what happened to her in school when she was seven years old. She was punished because she refused to start writing from the top of the page. She left a gap between the top of the page and the line she started on as she always started on the third line. When the headmaster slapped her on her legs with his hands, she began to understand how she could not feel safe with people who were supposed to be safe. Clutching the book that got her into trouble, she never returned to the class. After the incident, her mother just hugged her and told her that she would be sent away to stay with her godmother who lived in Durban.
In Things I Don’t Want to Know, Deborah Levy also muses about being a woman writer and a mother in a patriarchal societal structure. In her book, Levy quotes Marguerite Duras and Adrienne Rich.
Here are some excerpts.
‘ Perhaps when Orwell described sheer egotism as a necessary quality for a writer, he was not thinking about the sheer egoism of a female writer. Even the most arrogant female writer has to work overtime to build an ego that is robust enough to get through January, never mind all the way to December. I hear Duras’s hard earned ego speaking to me, to me , to me , in all the seasons.’
‘George Sand (who was really Amantine Lucile Aurore) smoked large cigars to get through her day. She would have needed them living in the gloomy Carthusian monastery of Jesus the Nazare. With its withered flowers and suffering wooden saints lurking in the alcoves, it seemed a sinister place to live with children and to have a love affair. The guidebook told me that she had no choice but to rent rooms here, because no one dared offer accommodation to Chopin, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. I admired her for trying to keep cheerful for her children and writing at her desk wearing Chopin’s trousers instead of wasting her life weeping about her circumstances.’
–Things I Don’t Want to Know, Deborah Levy
‘ Mother was The Woman the whole world had imagined to death. It proved very hard to re-negotiate the world’s nostalgic phantasy about our purpose in life. The trouble was that we too had all sorts of wild imaginings about what Mother should ‘be’ and were cursed with the desire to not be disappointing. We did not yet entirely understand that Mother, as imagined and politicized by the Societal System, was a delusion. The world loved the delusion more than it loved the mother. All the same, we felt guilty about unveiling this delusion in case the niche we had made for ourselves and our much-loved children collapsed in ruins around our muddy trainers -which were probably sewn together by child slaves in sweatshops all over the globe. It was mysterious because it seemed to me that the male world and its political arrangements (never in favour of children and women) was actually jealous of the passion we felt for our babies. Like everything involves love, our children made us happy beyond measure –and unhappy too — but never as miserable as the twenty-first-century Neo-Patriarchy made us feel. It required us to be passive but ambitious, maternal but erotically energetic, self-sacrificing but fulfilled – we were to be Strong Modern Women while being subjected to all kinds of humiliations, both economic and domestic. If we felt guilty about everything most of the time, we were not sure what it was we had actually done wrong. ‘
–Things I Don’t Want to Know, Deborah Levy
The mute piano and the window opening like an orange and the Polish notebook I had brought to Majorca with me were connected to my unpublished novel, Swimming Home.click I realized that the question I had asked myself while writing this book was (as surgeons say) very close to the bone: What do we do with knowledge that we cannot bear to live with ? We do we do we the things we do not want to know?
–Things I Don’t Want to Know, DEBORAH LEVY
I have always enjoyed reading Deborah Levy‘s prose. Levy is a natural writer.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao Basque country, SPAIN
I’m not in the habit of reading up about a place before I go there. Guggenheim Museum is one of them.
The museum has left an impression on me.
Guggenheim Museum is spectacular, colossal and avant-garde, clad in glass, limestone and titanium with its innovative and expansive airy interior filled with some natural light.
From my visit to Guggenheim Museum on 14 July 2015 , I learnt about Jeff Koons 12.4-metre-tall Puppy that is a floral sculpture in the shape of a terrier dog. If I had not read up more on the artist, I might not have appreciated the theme of his creations. All I know was that the artist’s balloon dogs are insanely pricey.
Thanks to the Internet , I found this click. The following excerpt is taken from an article dated 6-11-2021 on the interview program of the Bilbao Museum where the Jeff Koons explained his creations to one of the curators of the museum.
‘THE ORIGIN OF “PUPPY”
‘He begins by reviewing the origin of his imposing work “Puppy” of which Koons explains that “the initial idea was simply to celebrate the history of working with plants and to make something that had a spiritual function , equivalent to a church or a cathedral; something in around which people could gather and have a discussion about transcendence.‘
Personally, the physical encounters with Puppy and Tulips, both artwork by the contemporary artist made the entire experience rather surreal. From what I understand, the artist centres much of his work on the concepts of acceptance, optimism or the intention not to judge. The artist’s sculptures are intended to exude optimism and playfulness.
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