Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A fiction writer (objects, wonder, lies)

author's rendering of "Laustic"'s end
by J J Cohen

Early morning and snow dust has brought white roads, white boughs, and a two hour delay for small children's school. I've left early since I need to be on campus, the house still asleep. No wind, and the snow has brought its quiet even to morning traffic. I'm walking to Metro and "Engine Driver" is playing on my iPod. The world as it is seems a world in which I've never walked before.

I am thinking of my evening class, my first Objects seminar. We introduced ourselves through the things that possess us. I'd brought a small rock, speckled granite, perfect round like an egg, the gift of waves in Maine. How could I resist this offer of earth and water on last summer's beach? Each of us spoke of our object, some with a vulnerability and a love that made me envious, too cherished to story here.

We spoke of Latour, and actants, and Bennett, and her regard for wonder, enchantment, and the naiveté of children, "a perceptual style open to the appearance of thing-power." We thought our limit case: Marie de France, "Laustic," a lai of insufficient passion, of a nightingale murdered to become an empty art. I sketched the dead bird on the board, wrapped in the samite which is its story, enclosed in the box that was supposed to be a reliquary but seems an inert coffin. I asked, what vitality remains in this thing no longer alive, in an emptiness around which beauty but not love is built? We found its movements (into Brittany, into French, into English, into our classroom) and we found the life of objects in the stories they provoke.


Unknown said...

I often read your blog and this is the first time I'm posting but it has nothing to do with medieval lit. I can't resist anything having to do with the Decemberists - I'm going to see them perform on the 25th! Engine Driver is one of my favorites. Great blog btw!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Adina. I'm (obviously) a fan of the Decemberists as well, though I've never seen them play. My six year old daughter has turned out to the World's Biggest Fan of "Engine Driver" though -- she has the lyrics memorized, and keeps asking me to play the song. That makes me even fonder of it.

prehensel said...

JJC, I assume you've listened to their EP, *The Tain*.

Don't see that every day...