The terrifying independence of the body – Anna Kavan

The narrative energy of Anna Kavan’s short stories lies in structure as much as theme, marked always by the unexpected and brilliant use of lyrical description. Reading the early I am Lazarus collection, I had settled into this idea that the stories were weaker than the later Julia and the Bazooka stories, and they are more uneven in quality but Anna had surprises left in store with the discursive elegance of Glorious Boys. For this story alone and the following unforgettable paragraph, the collection is worth any reader’s attention:

The terrifying independence of the body. Its endless opposition. The appalling underground movements of the nerves, muscles, viscera, upon which, like a hated and sadistic gauleiter, one unremittingly imposed an implacable repressive regime, threatened eternally by the equally implacable threat of insubordination. The perpetual fear of being sabotaged into some sudden shameful exposure.

If you meet me in the street, ask me to recite this paragraph as I shall etch it into my memory for lonely days in the city.

Author: Anthony

To quote Samuel Beckett's letter to Thomas MacGreevy (25 March 1936), 'I have been reading wildly all over the place'. Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

7 thoughts on “The terrifying independence of the body – Anna Kavan”

  1. That is the sort of paragraph you want to read repeatedly to let it soak in. But the image of meeting you on the street and requesting a recitation suddenly evokes the image of a sadly dispossessed man in ragged clothing standing on a street corner shouting these words out to passersby who hurry on without making eye contact…

    1. If it persuades more people to discover Anna Kavan’s prose I shall assume that persona with pride. There was a man much as you describe that patrolled Oxford Circus for at least ten years with his ‘Meat is Murder’ sandwich board, haranguing all the shoppers and commuters. Since he died, his absence is palpable. I wonder if he persuaded a single person.

  2. Words that are like a punch in the gut. To be able to write like this…! I guess the next best thing is to stand in a street corner and recite them forever. As I complain about Joe, you too are adding to bucket list, under the section ‘Books to read before I die’.

    1. One of my happy discoveries is that as I stumble upon writers with the qualities of Anna Kavan, the shorter my bucket book-list gets as books that once felt essential get reduced in status, first to desirable and then inessential. My list is ‘Books That I Think Will Make My Ears Burn’ and it gets shorter every year.

  3. that’s quite an eye-opener! but i find it a bit scary; maybe i’d have to read the book one paragraph at a time(once a year…). sort of like eating a gallon of ice cream, warm, though….

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