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Katherine Beam


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"Only nature knows neither memory nor history. But man - let me offer you a definition - is the story-telling animal." - Graham Swift, pp. 85

I recently finished Waterland by Graham Swift. I had never read anything by this author before, but I think I might have to go see what else he's written, after this one. 

There is this idea of fate not as a natural thing, but as a construct, a story that we humans are telling ourselves; stories run their courses as surely as the river finds the sea. But, centrally to Waterland, those courses can be changed, can be forced and shaped and re-carved by humans. Fate, or the lack thereof, is still the story we are telling ourselves. 

Waterland is one of those books that makes me want to go up to the fens and turn time back right past the Romans and then sit and watch humanity unspool itself across the landscape. There's been such a deep-seated change to the fens, the draining and the re-directing and I think...it speaks to fate. There's this idea that we can change the landscape, can change the inevitability of the river's course, through our efforts and our genius. 

But the river overflows its banks, anyway. 

There's a metaphor spun into a motif here, I'm just struggling to put it into words succinct enough. 

"For a little while - it didn't start so long ago, only a few generations ago - the world went through its revolutionary, progressive phase; and the world believed it would never end, it would go on getting better. But then the end of the world came back again, not as an idea or a belief but as something the world had fashioned for itself all the time it was growing up." - Graham Swift, pp. 460

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Katherine Beam

Narcissus and Goldmund

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I'm not laughing, thanks. As predicted, I'm not especially good at keeping up with these sorts of things. Consistency is not a virtue I possess, I can admit that. 

I'm really only back because I've been struck with the sudden desire to rant about 'Narcissus and Goldmund' by Hermann Hesse. Why is it that some translations read so smoothly and some just feel...awkward? I'm not sure, of course, but I am really enjoying the language of Hesse's novel. I haven't actually finished it yet, I'm about two-thirds of the way through, but some of the themes are just kinda...smack-you-in-the-face obvious. Light and dark, maternal and paternal, freedom and duty, emotion and reason, love and abstinence. Art versus intellectualism.  I could go on. Got a lot of lovely point and counterpoint, classic foils, and epic quotes. Like....

"I call a person awake who with his reason and consciousness, knows himself, knows his innermost, irrational forces, urges and weaknesses, and how to take them into account."


"Perhaps, he thought, the root of all art, and perhaps also of all intellectual activity, is the fear of death. We fear it, we shudder at the ephemeral nature of all things, we grieve to see the constant cycle of fading flowers and falling leaves and are aware in our own hearts of the certainty that we too are ephemeral and will soon fade away." 

Calm down, Hermann. Like I know you got a Nobel Prize for Literature, I get it. I see why. You're a counter-culture icon and I know it. 

Also, as a prediction: I have the sneaking suspicion that Goldmund is going to die. He's gonna die in the end, and you know how I know? Because he's symbolised life and living in the animal reality of the body and with the winds of fate and chance and you just know that he's going to die and Narcissus will outlive him and probably watch him die and be all....I dunno, psychopomp to Goldmund's soul in the same way that he was Goldmund's awakening to life. Might be crazy. I'll finish the book and get back to you. 

I definitely ought to be more focused on writing my first TMA, but I really can't help myself. 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Darren Menachem Drapkin, Thursday, 16 Nov 2023, 19:32)
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Katherine Beam


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I have to admit, I'm not really entirely sure what to do with this space. It feels unfathomably large, if I'm honest, and my consistent fear over yelling into the void is that the void may one day yell back. But I have it, so I figure I ought to use it. 

I suppose that the most effective use would have to be a diary, of sorts, to track the sorts of thoughts and questions I have regarding my schoolwork that won't ever make it anywhere else. That being said, I am notoriously inconsistent, so we'll see. It might also get a little bit of creative writing, or thoughts about creative writing, or reading, or the development of my abilities as an active reader. General academic-related sorts of things? 

I'm sure I'll look back on this post by the end of the year and laugh at myself and the ideas I've expressed here. But maybe that's half of why I'm doing this at all, to preserve the moment in time where I thought that this was a good idea. I am all about that, really, preservation. I'll catch moments like wildflowers and suffocate them to death in my online book until they are flat and faded and lifeless and this metaphor really did not go the way I intended it to. 

Anyway. Until next time, maybe. Hope you're laughing, future Katherine.


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