More Ginzburg Sightings

Sophie Holmes writes (behind a paywall) in the Times Literary Supplement, Nov. 21, 2017, appropos the memoir of a certain Emma Reyes:

There is a whiff of false modesty here, reminiscent of Natalia Ginzburg’s personal essays (“I know very well what I am, which is a small, a very small writer”). Like Ginzburg, so eloquently does Reyes depict herself as a flawed witness to her own life that what emerges, paradoxically, is the portrait of a brilliantly assured observer and writer.

This little review also contains that mainstay of incompetent admiration: a reference to all the fabulous people the reviewed author met; OK, maybe this Reyes writer wasn’t that great, with all the editing she needed for basic grammatical mistakes (“her grammar, punctuation, and spelling were plainly intuitive”), but hey, she was once friends with important, famous people, in Europe! That’s gotta count for something:

Rarer still for her to make her way to Europe, establish a life as an artist and befriend artists and writers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Frida Kahlo and Jean-Paul Sartre, as Reyes did.

Rachel Cusk, in the same publication, writes (no paywall) to praise Ginzburg, on April 18, 2018. The praise is a bit forced, since it’s mandatory (this  text is an introduction for a reprint of My Little Virtues, a collection of Ginzburg; and no editor will take anything not full of praise for an introduction), but still weighty, in full regalia. This may be the most insightful graph I’ve ever read about Ginzburg (which is not saying much, really, given that I may be the person who cares most about her work in the world):

Ginzburg separates the concept of storytelling from the concept of the self and in doing so takes a great stride towards a more truthful representation of reality. She identifies narrative as being in some important sense a bourgeois enterprise, a gathering of substance from the world in order to turn it to the story’s own profit, and moreover a process of ineradicable bias, whereby things only become “real” once they have been recognized and given value by an individual. Put simply, Ginzburg attempts to show what happened without needing to show it happening to somebody. Her job – her art – is to represent the flawed charm, the tragedy and comedy of the human, to show the precise extent to which our characters shape our destinies and to watch as those destinies confer their blows and their rewards upon us.

This stuff doesn’t really makes one anxious to run to the bookstore and get the book but is definitely better than this review of the same collection, that I referred to before, in which Ginzburg’s main subject is identified as “boredom”.

My line here, of course, is that writerly praise in the absence of examples is suspicious, and Cusk delivers. She does include extracts from Ginzburg writing! None of them overwhelms me with her wisdom or talent to turn a phrase but they could be worse. This longish extract, for example, may be an excellent example of Ginzburg’s blood-sweat-and-tears approach to literature:

And you have to realize that you cannot console yourself for your grief by writing . . . . Because this vocation is never a consolation or a way of passing the time. It is not a companion. This vocation is a master who is able to beat us till the blood flows . . . . We must swallow our saliva and tears and grit our teeth and dry the blood from our wounds and serve him. Serve him when he asks. Then he will help us up on to our feet, fix our feet firmly on the ground; he will help us overcome madness and delirium, fever and despair. But he has to be the one who gives the orders and he always refuses to pay attention to us when we need him.

About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
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