I read a piece by(December 28, 2015) titled “A Small Place for Fugitives” about her reflections on losing a novel she had on a laptop stolen from her while she was a Peace Corps worker in Kyrgyzstan. The essay is worth reading in full:
Quotes from the blog are in red italics.
“I write to find the limits of my ability to understand things”
Writing keeps bringing me to my limits. It is as if at a certain point understanding, like a failed bridge, collapses. But the limit is also a kind of boundary where insight is possible: we know something lies beyond, we are simply unable to access that place through conventional means. it marks the point where apophatic knowledge begins, where there are no more charts, where the compass swings and the stars seem strange in the sky.
“You’re constantly creating a narrative for yourself that keeps derailing.
“I needed to write to get out of my head.
“Out of”? There’s an interesting thought – writing as an exit from incessant thoughts…
“like all problems in Kyrgyzstan, it exfoliates outward endlessly, magnified and connected to sadnesses that I have no right and every right to feel.
Why would she have “no right and every right?” I have always felt this paradox living in South Africa: my existential difficulties seem negligible – even reprehensible – in a country where poverty and violence are so pervasive. A family is hacked to death with a machete not an hour’s drive from Johannesburg; a baby is raped to cure the perpetrator from AIDS; a body is found with eyes, organs and genitals removed in yet another muti-killing; a couple is gunned down in front of their children in the driveway of their suburban home. Often I feel I have no right to my own sadness, that I cannot own it with any sense of legitimacy, that I am like some prurient outsider looking in without any hope of ameliorating things for anyone. I invalidate my own perspectives, collapse their pertinence as if everything I have to say is suspect and smacks of the inauthentic. In South Africa you can quite easily feel Like a confused Christ rejected by a leper, chased off with reproach and scorn. The cup offered is knocked from your hands. Perhaps that is how it should be – if the hands that offer the cup do so to assuage some nagging guilt or to augment a savior-complex self-identity (here the Angelina Jolie’s, Brad Pitt’s and Madonna’s come to mind: anything for a photo-op with a wretched african orphan with a fly crawling across it’s face). Perhaps the savior-victim paradigm is just depleted of value.
In the 1982 movie Gandhi a young priest asks what he can do to ‘help’. “Leave,” replies Ghandi. Why does Gandhi meet the english priest’s offer with rejection?
Frantz Fanon’s answer to this seems to lie in the essential rejection of a salvation which keeps reaffirming a condition of indebtedness and powerlessness, of unequal power relations. Gandhi’s reply to the priest is that India needs to save itself, not be saved by an ‘outside-other’ no matter how genuine or noble the intention.
” I haven’t been able to get around the wall of artificiality involved in relating a story.”
I feel this “wall of artificiality” every time I write, even in my private, handwritten journal.