The uncertainty of what a written work knows, what it doesn’t and indeed cannot know is at the centre of S. D. Chrostowska’s Permission. The mystery of the text is enhanced by the inclusion of a number of images reproduced throughout, adding a corporeal element, requiring a reader to look as well as read. Chrostowska, like Barthes, uses images in an attempt, only partly successful, to restore lost connections.
Described on the cover as a novel, formed around a series of emails, a mock-epistolary structure with added images and footnotes. The narrator-self moves through the text, ranging widely through topics like writing, solitude, death, the Holocaust, the nature of depression, slowly filling the present with the narrated past. Unlike most epistolary texts, this is not an exchange but a monologue with a quivering tension where the reactions of the protagonist-recipient are non-existent.
In an interview, Chrostowska says, “[Permission] was also an attempt at self-homeopathy: to write a literary work to be cured, once and for all, of the desire to write literature.” These letters, discursive and fragmented, produce such a void that I find them captivating. The construction of such a writerly text, at the better end of what could be considered literature suggests that the cure was a subtle but spectacular failure.
“When I confront my personal memories with reality, with facts sharply defined, with the vivid reminisces of others, I realise my negligence. Whole tracts of time were lived and one thought no more of them: whole ages have fallen into desuetude. Looking for them now is like chasing dust around an empty house. But on this occasion—occasioned by this writing effort, which as you see has also become an effort of memory—I sit down to retouch my faded icons. The operation demands loud colours, the loudest possible, yet these too are marred by oblivion. Memory is not a treasure trove that, laid open, dazzles us with its contents. It is a shadowy pit.”
—S. D. Chrostowska, Permission
“Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” — Adorno, Minima Moralia
It is full of surprises, this book that interweaves the philosophical and the personal. It is a creature of excess that gives the appearance of being casually composed, layer by layer, aphorism by fragment, resisting integration into the totality of a completed system. There is an intense quality similar to that of atonal music, a teetering on an edge that is never quite resolved between art, philosophy and political polemic. As with Minima Moralia, this book is an indictment of what capitalism is doing to life (and death). Matches can share with Adorno’s book its subtitle: Reflections from Damaged Life, and its idea that the notion of an ethical life is so battered that all philosophy can do is survey the destruction and dream of what has been lost. It is an unflinchingly perceptive book, a heartfelt reflection of what it is to be neither dead nor alive.