A montanha mágica

quinta-feira, março 13, 2008


"Just as we were having brandy and coffee there was the sound of fire engines,"

"That is one of the things I love best about Brooklyn," she wrote in 1941. "Everyone is not expected to be exactly like everyone else."

But she knew, too, the consequences and necessities of her own devil-may-care-seeming liberalness. After its publication, the Ku Klux Klan phoned her home in Columbus and left a message: "we know from your first book that you're a nigger-lover, and we know from this one that you're queer. We don't like queers and nigger-lovers in this town."

In her state, the segregation lines were still firmly drawn, but McCullers wanted to know why black people had separate drinking fountains, why they lived in poorer houses in poorer parts of town. Later in life she remembered yelling with rage at the taxi driver who had refused to take her parents' black cook in his cab.

Truman Capote remembered "the first time I saw her - a tall slender wand of a girl, slightly stooped and with a fascinating face that was simultaneously merry and melancholy". Klaus Mann, too, noted this clash of temperaments, "a strange mixture of refinement and wildness, 'morbidezza' and 'naivety'".

"Carson burdened everybody who got close to her," Lillian Hellman said. "She was vain, querulous and a genius," Vidal said. But there are very few literary figures who could have two figures such as Marilyn Monroe and the Danish writer Isak Dinesen over for lunch, as she did in 1959, sparking rumours of how well the unlikely pair danced together, and how well she'd danced on the table herself.

Seeing her own southern tradition as parallel to Russian realism, springing from the same "dominant characteristic" of "the cheapness of human life", she wrote in 1941 about "the cruelty" of which the Southerners have been accused, how this cruelty is fundamentally "only a sort of naivety, an acceptance of spiritual inconsistencies without asking the reason why".

She is expert at the meeting of kindnesses and violences; an early autobiographical short story, "Court in the West Eighties" (written in 1934, when she was first in New York), reveals a constant preoccupation in her fiction - the struggle of connective potential against hopeless, and often violent, division. Its protagonist is sitting at her window in a set of apartment blocks, fascinated by the peculiar combination of intimacy and distance in the very act of observing the lives of strangers around her: our eyes would meet and then one of us would look away. You see all of us in the court saw each other sleep and dress and live out our hours away from work, but none of us ever spoke. We were near enough to throw our food into each others' windows, near enough so that a single machine gun could have killed us all together in a flash. And still we acted as strangers.

The invisible lines that connect people or make people strangers to each other preoccupied her, as did the surreally thin line she sensed between nurturing and violence. One of her favourite mottoes was, she said, that of the Roman poet Terence: "Nothing human is alien to me." She said: "I become the characters I write about. I am so immersed in them that their motives are my own."

She is aware of the inlay of mystery in the most mundane phrase, hones her language down to leave it seeming so plain as to be near banal, while at the same time giving her poorer characters a diva-like dandification when it comes to their love of stories, words, rich vocabulary. This is usually their only power. "A lot of my life," Sherman says in Clock Without Hands, "I've had to make up stories because the real, actual was either too dull or too hard to take."

Such a yoked combination of adolescent and world power comes dangerously close to bathos. But McCullers was never afraid of unlikely literary combinings. Mystery and mundanity. Cruelty and naivety. Farce and tragedy. Tenderness and savagery. Charm and violence. Debauchery and miracle. Feeling and numbness. Hopelessness and hope.

For all its comedy, The Member of the Wedding is a dark, grieving vision. For all its disillusion and loss, at its centre is a lasting, questioning, comic life force almost too big for such a small book. It is also a vision of endless human promise - the story of three marginalised people who sit in a kitchen, make an unexpected, new kind of harmony together and dare, against all the odds, to reinvent the fixed world in their imaginations as different, and better. "

posted by Luís Miguel Dias quinta-feira, março 13, 2008

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