Monday, May 15, 2006

Life Writing and the Desire for Revenge

I am 53 years old, far too old to be doing this. My hands tremble at the keyboard. I am writing into outer space, into the nether nether. To those out there who may be interested, I am trying to explore the notion of life writing and the desire for revenge. My thesis is that trauma gives rise to feelings of shame and a desire for revenge. If these feelings can be harnessed, if they can be gathered together, thought about, processed and understood, they can lead to creativity, in particular to the act of life writing.
It’s hard trying to turn something negative into a positive. It’s hard to extract some goodness out of something like revenge. Mention the word and I can see people’s eyes flicker. ‘Oh, that sounds interesting,’ they say. As if there’s almost something salacious in the suggestion.
It’s not a dirty word exactly, but oh indescribably disturbing. I pick it up everywhere now. I seek it out, overt and covert. The writer Siri Husvedt tells us in her book of essays A Plea for Eros about how she is troubled as a child by a teacher’s comment. They are dealing with the story of Abraham’s readiness to kill his son Isaac for the love of God. Siri asks the teacher ‘Should we love God more than our parents?’
‘Yes,’ says the teacher and sensitive child that Siri is, she turns it round thinking that a parent might love God more than his child. She has tortured imaginings of Abraham, sword in hand ready to exact vengeance.
Is she picking up on the idea of parental envy, that a parent might seek to destroy his child out of some sort of envious wish. Before I hit on envy I had a thought. Siri talks about the way we create scenes in our minds from other people’s stories. The bible can be a good starting place.
My memories of Job covered in sores and half wrapped in filthy rags. He has a bowl at his feet, a plain porcelain bowl and he is begging, begging for whatever passers by might throw him, but also begging God to let this cup pass over. Let this suffering pass. There’s a dog there licking at Job’s wounds and Job doesn’t even have the energy to kick it away. And people are indifferent. There’s a lot of indifference in the bible and a great deal of passion. It’s like the passionate ones must battle against the indifference of the multitude. I suppose that’s true today as well.
The other story that unnerved me as a child is the story of Lot’s wife, the one who looked back upon the city as they were leaving and was turned into a pillar of salt. It always struck me as such a terrible punishment, for her curiosity, or her longing for something she was leaving, for the child who is told not to do something, the temptation that’s stirred up to do it, just because we’re told not to, especially if the injunction makes little sense. Did Lot really communicate to his wife the danger of looking back, did he really? Or did he just tell her they were leaving? Did he even bother letting her know it was for their own good they were leaving? I can’t remember.
I can’t remember well enough all the peripheral details, which maybe is a child’s way, or this child’s way. But in my mind’s eye I can see Lot and his wife setting off on their journey towards the horizon, bundles on their backs, loaded down trudging across the sand. I can see Lot’s wife who has no name in my memory other than Lot’s wife turn back, look over her shoulder. I can hear the lightening flash of God’s vengeance on the sinner. She has looked where she should not look, tasted of forbidden fruit, another Eve and turned into something as useless and ephemeral as a pillar of salt.
I liked the name Lot juxtaposed with the pillar of salt. I liked the word Job, pronounced Jobe as in robe, juxtaposed with all those sores and all the time is the sense running through of a cruel, some might say, just God. I could never be sure. God’s arbitrariness in some of his decisions reminded me of my father’s arbitrariness. That some nights out of the blue for no apparent reason as we sat in front of the television enjoying something like Disneyland, he’d issue the order that it was time for bed. Six o’clock in the evening and time for bed. At other times we might stay up till ten. Admittedly most of this time I’d be pushed up against the wall partially hidden behind one of the heavy lounge chairs and if I said nothing and did not stir even at the ad break, he would not notice. Another day, I remember my father calling me into the lounge room and handing me a ten shilling note. We were expecting a visit from our cousins that afternoon and my father wanted me to go down the street to the milk bar and spend the ten shillings on mixed lollies. My choice. Ten shillings worth of mixed lollies. I had never seen so many lollies altogether in my life, and all under my control. I could choose. The arbitrariness of my father’s sudden bursts of generosity like the night he came home from work with a microscope and let all of us take turns to look through the hole in the top onto the slide below. We all had little offerings, a strand of hair, a dead ant, a sugar grain and my father let us look underneath at how our tiny offering was constituted.

Such mystery and awe revealed through my father’s genersosity was rare. Other times, he shut down, lost in an alcoholic fog and wanted us all to disappear with it. This to me was like God’s authority, the arbitrary, the unexpectedly kind, the more reliably cruel and vengeful, a vengeful god who would not tolerate ingratitude or criticism. A merciless god who expected you to tow the line and even if you did, there was still a good chance he might hit out at you anyhow for some small infringement, some oversight on your part, that you didn’t think was such a crime at the time. But later if you looked at it again, you could be overwhelmed by shame at the hugeness of your sin.

That’s how I felt in the psychoanalytic training. I tried so hard to do the right thing. To follow the rules. To be a good girl and do as I was told. I became a stickler for order. Any request I might have, to be late to a seminar for instance because it coincided with my daughter’s seventh birthday. I wrote a letter requesting an absence certificate. I wrote letters explaining why I had difficulties getting through my professional indemnity. I wrote letters to keep things proper and formal. More often than that I never heard a word back. No letters except one from my mentor after I had cracked it when he came back to me following an initial discussion about my husband’s failed analysis in which he was all sweetness and light. In the next interview his whole demeanour had changed, as if he had gone off to God to get instructions on how he might best deal with this and God had said to him, tell her to get over herself. Either she’s in this or she’s not. We don’t make concessions to delicate flowers.

All of these experiences fuel my desire for revenge, and make me wonder about their desire for revenge, against the girl/woman who tried to play by the rules so closely that she became a pedant.

7 comments: said...

Will you see a comment, now that this post is ancient? I believe to follow a blog, you must read the first entry. You will get the quintessence. I look forward to reading everything. I am glad I discovered you, here, in cyberspace.

Elisabeth said...

You're conscientious, Jane. How lovely to meet you here, way back here in the beginning when as far as I know, no one bothered to read let alone comment on my blog.

Good luck with the reading. There's a long way to go. I look forward to meeting you again in cyberspace.


My Daily Mooosings in the Netherlands said...

Hello, Elizabeth!

Like Jane, when I get to know a blogger, I try to go back at the beginning. This I have done since I started blogging anonymously 5 years ago, and I still continue to do so now that I have a public blog.

I feel, as she aptly put it that you get the essence of the person behind the blog.

Thank you for dropping by my blog yesterday, and it was a delight recalling memories of my childhood prompted by your visit and warm words.

Kind regards, Joanna aka paper ~

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for going back to the beginning of my blog, Joanna. I appreciate the effort. It seems such a long time ago that I began this blog and so much time and so many words have passed since my nervous beginnings.

This is my only blog and although I have toyed with an anonymous one, I'm happy enpugh to continue as I've started with a mixture of writings, thoughts and ideas.

Thanks again, Joanna.

liv said...

Oh, lovely that there are other people who do this too. I, as well, always go back to the beginning to try to get a clearer picture. Although I've never commented there...don't want to disturb what is generally a pristine white space. But as there are 2 here who have braved the page, I'll add myself

What a lovely and interesting thinker you are, Elizabeth! That's what writing is to me. The labor of laying down thought, so brave. A trail through someones mind. Yours is so interesting and huge, rather like the Appalachian Trail - so much to see and discover...I'm loving it.

Elisabeth said...

Liv, I appreciate these trips back to the beginning when my blog was an unknown and that some of these early thoughts of mine can get an airing and find an audience.

Thank you so much for commenting here, Liv, and for the metaphor of my writing as an Appalachian trail. It gives me heart.

who said...

I can relate to the angry feeling that can come as a second, third and fourth wind that has it's sights set on revenge. It's a powerful occurrence, but one that has the power to destroy yourself if you give into it from the wrong angle. It's OK to be upset, it's OK to hurt and it's OK to want answers but these are days when "an eye for an eye" type of logic is responsible for the second part of this world's double misery.

The translations of the Bible have some serious, one and two word typos. Typographical errors which give the parable the opposite meaning of the thought that was intended to be shared.

There are also many passages tainted by the minds of angry men. Men who used their anger from being hurt to justify their tainted words, as if they knew better than God, thinking that the situations have changed.

There is no God that is vengeful, only human's are vengeful. But the protection of the innocent often appears as if they are acts of vengeance, because sometimes the protection is from acts that are hard to recognize as being wrong or an act of aggression.

The moral of the story can be corrected in two ways. Either lot's wife became a Pillar (a object of miraculous support to the weary) because she had the courage to question, or it was a lesson to show the distinction between the demeanor of False and the demeanor of Truth.

Truth will always allow questions because it will want you to understand.

False will play on your emotions in ways that make no sense, which tares a person from their all knowing spirit.

It is a vulnerability we are all susceptible to on our own. It's a vulnerability that is only helped by having healthy, caring relationships with other people. Families are meant to naturally be this type of fortification against the false. But sometimes only unrelated blood can provide those relationships, which can be found in true friends or a loving spouse.

And it doesn't matter what sex your spouse or friends are in relation to your own (another gross misinterpretation of THE WORD)