Things Happen

The Family, 1988 by Paula Rego

This weekend, finally, Paula Rego’s retrospective at the Tate Britain, the first time I’ve seen most of these extraordinary paintings outside of books. Spanning seven decades from the surreal to the austere, the experience was as powerful as seeing Goya’s black paintings in Madrid for the first time, the same feverish intensity. The same day, the first visit in almost two years to the Royal Opera House for Leos Janácek’s Jenůfa, also the first time I’ve seen and heard a live performance of the first opera I bought on CD when still a teenager (for reasons I no longer recall).

Asmik Grigorian as Jenůfa and Karita Mattila as Kostelnička in Claus Guth’s staging of Janáček’s opera at the Royal Opera House

Reading this weekend took the form of drifting between Virginia Woolf’s essays, Geoffrey Hill’s Now and Collected Poems, 1952-1992, Jacques Roubaud’s essays on poetry, and slowly rereading Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. I’m also continuing to languidly thin my library, aiming for a collection that is both smaller and more concentrated.

Ovid in the Third Reich

By Geoffrey Hill

non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare,
solaque famosam culpa professa facit.

Amores, III, xiv

I love my work and my children. God
Is distant, difficult. Things happen.
Too near the ancient troughs of blood
Innocence is no earthly weapon.

I have learned one thing: not to look down
So much upon the damned. They, in their sphere,
Harmonize strangely with the divine
Love. I, in mine, celebrate the love-choir.

Reading Alix’s Journal

There is a voyeuristic aspect to reading journals and diaries, a suggestion of breaching someone’s privacy, eavesdropping on supposedly private thoughts. In the case of published diaries, particularly those read as literary texts, this encroachment is neutralised with the knowledge that the writer intended their publication.

This raises the question of a diary’s ‘authenticity,’ whether by virtue of being presented as literature, experiences are created, or revised for the benefit of a future audience. Genre authenticity is also directly linked to psychological aspects, whether we can ever know ourselves well enough to render our lives accurately in writing. My general practise is consider all diaries and autobiographical works as partially fictive with a well-meaning (usually) but ultimately unreliable narrator.

It is not entirely clear in the case of Alix Cléo Roubaud whether she intended her journal for publication. In a poignant introduction, poet and mathematician Jacques Roubaud, writes, “I knew of her journal’s existence, but I had not opened it while she was alive.” After Alix’s death, Jacques was left all her writing and photographs, “to do with as I would deem necessary.” This edition reproduces her photographs to go with he moments when she writes of them.

It is the intertwining of Alix’s photographs and words that carve out the depth of intimacy, truth and beauty within Alix’s Journal. The reader is situated squarely as voyeur in the space between Alix and Jacques Roubaud. The discomfort that this situation illicits, and the combination of literary and philosophical reflections with the insignificant details and concerns that attach to all our realities, make Alix’s Journal a uniquely exquisite reading experience.

Following two readings of Alix’s Journal with the discovery and viewing on YouTube of Jean Eustache’s short film Les Photo’s d’Alix was almost unbearably moving.