Collections from Escapade



I was directed to Evelyn Scott by The Existence Machine some time ago, and like Richard, I have been trying my best (or least) to remember to sit down and collect some thoughts about that experience. So in lieu of anything substantive, I offer the following passages and thoughts from reading Escapade.

I am afraid of the world -- of people -- but my fear surrounds me. It doesn't permeate me any longer. I believe in myself, just as I believe in things outside me through the objectivity of touch. I realized a long time ago that a belief which does not spring from a conviction in the emotions is no belief at all. When I am convinced of something, I am convinced with my whole self, as though my flesh had informed me. Now I know. Knowledge is the condition of my being.

There was something about the passages Richard cited which struck me and made me excited to find this author, and nine pages into the text, I was convinced that this was worth it. That this was the writing of someone who had sunk deep down into herself, but also learned to scrutinize, inspect and understand. I was convinced that this was someone that spoke to me and said things that I would both agree with and argue with -- but those things would stay with me -- what she said and what she described and what she experienced would linger.

People believe in moral codes because in relation to their immediate acts fear touches their imaginations. But they do not believe in death. They do not believe in life either, or in their own flesh from which their being proceeds.

I have been reading a lot of Montaigne lately -- and he speaks so long and so often and so wonderfully about learning to live. Scott also knows this process of learning oneself, studying oneself, and remembering throughout that one is studying first how to live and then how to die. It is strange at first to think in such a way -- it feels unnatural, or wrong -- but there is something undeniable about the worth of this endeavor. It is the crucial part of my distance from the philosophy I do in the classroom -- I care most about learning how to live -- and that means that I must also care most about learning about my self. There are loads of related contingent questions that come sprawling and squirming out of these two fundamental studies, but they are silly and I'd much rather forget about them and not be distracted.

In suffering intensely one's being cannot be reduced. And the worst of it is that I cannot even establish relations within my individuality. My body fades out and becomes one with the turmoil.

Oh I know nothing about this suffering -- she's speaking here of the experience of childbirth -- some of the most incredible, poignant, strange, intelligent writing of pregnancy and childbirth I've ever encountered. I remember a line from A.S. Byatt's Still Life that stuck with me mostly because it was so new -- Stephanie is heavily pregnant and trying her best to read Wordsworth and think and maintain some hold on her self and she speaks of being sunk in biology -- eradicated by the movements of her physical body. I remember feeling a new sort of terror at this -- the same sort of terror I felt reading Scott -- what she described was so fundamental -- so much at the heart of something I cannot yet describe or draw lines around.

She also speaks of how displayed and scrutinized she is -- of the strangeness of being a woman in her position (the young, pregnant mistress of an older married man). This writing is also strange and so so satisfying. She writes of what occurs when one realizes how one's body is understood as the end-all of one's being -- of what occurs when one is reduced and ignored, when one's individuality is utterly, completely ignored. This experience (the same as Mrs. Ramsay's in To the Lighthouse? the wedge of darkness?) -- this is something incredible -- it is both infuriating and excessively liberating. It is as if one has successfully fooled the world and can keep hidden and secret and sacred the self which is not just misunderstood, but completely ignored -- denied even.

There is much more to say of this and also of her novel Narcissus, which reminded me so much of Duras' Ravishing of Lol Stein. And so perhaps the writing returns.