Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Louise Erdrich, Julia Kristeva, Dorothy Dunnett, music and the inside outside

This week's four novels include The Plague of Doves by Canada's UPDATE: North Dakota's Louise Erdrich, a French-German-Canadian-Ojibwe writer with a string of prizes and a tragic history behind her. Here's a paragraph I've just this minute read; the notion invoked there of the 'inside becoming the outside' immediately made me think of Julia Kristeva's writing in Powers of Horror on what she calls abjection, signified among other things by the involuntary spilling-over of what properly belongs inside the 'clean and proper body' to its outside: tears, vomit, urine, semen, shit and blood, substances that signify the breakdown of the boundary between self and not-self.

Kristeva's writing on this subject is quite beyond simplification or explication, largely metaphorical but wandering back and forth across the boundary between the literal and the figurative the way so much psychoanalytic discourse seems, shamelessly, to do, but for me one of the useful things about her work on this particular subject is the light it sheds on the the way this kind of bodily disorder can create a sometimes terrible shame, partly to do with the potential disintegration of the self once its bodily boundaries are breached. And that has reminded me that Erdrich has reminded me of the single best sentence I've ever read about music in my whole life, in Dorothy Dunnett's Checkmate: 'Music, the knife without a hilt.'

Here's Erdrich:

Here I come to some trouble with words. The inside became the outside when Shamawenga played music. ... The sound connected instantly with something deep and joyous. Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors too. Things we'd lived through and didn't want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprising pleasures. No, we can't live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware.


Lucy Sussex said...

That's lovely. Lucy

Beth said...

What a great paragraph. Louise Erdrich is something special.

docwitch said...

Exquisite quote.

I have to admit to loving Kristeva's 'Powers of Horror (maybe a little too much), but there is that shameless shifting to and fro between the literal and figurative.

thewordygecko said...

Great to read your comment on Louise Erdrich's Plague of Doves, which I've just finished reading too. An almost perfect novel, deep and moving, funny, wild, complex, poetic, musical, everything.

fifi said...

I have just been reading about the abject body of Christ...often I come here and find some wonderful post which adds so much to the way I am considering things.
That's a lovely paragraph.

I wish i could say something cleverer but I hope you keep bloggering.
Thank you.