Sunday, November 16, 2008

Conflict and the Bearing of Bodies

A couple of weeks ago I was able to hear author Ehud Havazelet talk about his newest novel, Bearing the Body. Much like his novel, the author had an air of sadness and loss that hung about him. The combination of sorrow, creativity, and critical thinking is one I'm typically drawn to, even if I don't always know what to do with it. But regardless, there was something very honest about Havazelet, and something that felt emotionally raw in everything he said.

I was impressed with both of his talks for many reasons, but what I found most compelling is the sense I got of his own conflict with religion (Judaism) and the religious traditions he grew up with. Havazelet left the ways of Jewish Orthodoxy, but they have left their imprint on him and they color his writing in a way that makes one wonder whether he does not love them after all. Perhaps he is only disappointed with the false promises they imply. It's true: the rules and rituals meant to bind us together as a community can quickly become instruments of exclusion. They create shame where only encouragement should be. They teach us to look outside of our community and see people who are enemies; they teach us to look inside of our community to determine who is best at following the rules, rather than who is best at loving.

"Autobiography must be in part fiction," Havazelet said in his noon seminar. And, "Art must have some opposition in it." I am full of opposition; I wonder if that makes me a work of art. For a story to be good, I've heard it said, there must be conflict and resolution. But in reality, we know little of resolutions; all we know is conflict, unless we are blind enough to close our eyes to it.
Even the body itself is constantly in conflict, both dying and alive in any and every moment. And when we are overcome with sadness or fear or anxiety, the body betrays us with fatigue, headache, upset stomach, or a number of other physical afflictions. I wonder, then, how do we bear the body? And what is it that bears the body?


Casey said...

Did you ever hear the Walt Whitman bit on this subject:

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem..."

Sometimes I feel guilty or envious when Gretchen is writing poetry -- like you, I feel that there is always opposition in me, maybe that I should have been an artist -- maybe that I would have been, if I had the guts. But remembering this excerpt from Whitman convinces me that... I am.

Anonymous said...

Casey, what you say is very beautiful. We all feel our inner poets at times...Whitman is so accessible. Perhaps this is why so many love him. You say it best, "I am"...

Sarah W.