Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lecture 18

[image source: Deirdre Leber, "Cat's Eye"]

Wk 9 - Thurs (2/10), 3-4 pm lecture: HSB2

Margaret Atwood: Cat's Eye (1988) -

Bullies & Artists


In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
the day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or a blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

from Morning in the Burned House (1995)
[Margaret Atwood, Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995 (London: Virago, 1998) 367-68.]

This is the last poem included in Atwood’s 1998 Selected Poems, as “This is a Photograph of me” was the first.

[all quotes from Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye. 1988. London: Virago, 1992]

p. 145: “As if I’ve been given permission I begin to dream:”
I dream that our house has burnt down. Nothing of it remains; blackened stumps dot the place where it’s been, as if there has been a forest fire. A huge mountain of mud rises beside it.

My parents are dead but also alive. They’re lying side by sides, in their summer clothes, and sinking down through the earth, which is hard but transparent, like ice. They look up at me sorrowfully as they recede. (166-67)

[image source]

The Undead

pp. 211-12. The horror comics

p. 233. Elaine reveals she is a vampire.

p.241. A girl is murdered in the ravine.

p.252. Cordelia explains why she dug the hole, "I wanted to put a chair in it and sit down there. By myself."

p.373. Elaine's suicide attempt.

pp.394-95. Her mother makes the crucial revelation about the girls true malevolence.

[image source]


"Do poets really suffer more
than other people? isn't it only
that they get their pictures taken
and are seen to do it?
The loony bins are full of those
who never wrote a poem.
Most suicides are not
poets: a good statistic.

Some days though, I want, still,
to be like other people;

but then I go and talk with them,
these people who are supposed to be
other, and they are much like us,
except that they lack the sort of thing
we think of as a voice. ..."

- "The Words Continue their Journey" (1984) [Eating Fire, 284-85]

The Bully as double –
(Cordelia's trajectory as a mirror image of Elaine's)

Abuse and its aftermath
(Graham Greene’s story about "Carter," who gave rise - allegedly - to his entire career – and whom he met later in Burma. And who, like Cordelia, thought that the two of them had been schoolchums …)

[image source]

How do you read a painting?

"Two voices
took turns using my eyes:

one had manners,
painted in watercolours,
used hushed tones when speaking
of mountains or Niagara Falls,
composed uplifting verse
and expended sentiment
upon the poor.

The other voice
had other knowledge:
that men sweat
always and drink often,
that pigs are pigs
but must be eaten
anyway, that unborn babies
fester like wounds in the body ..."

- "The Double Voice" (1970) [Eating Fire, 74]

The artist as self-parody (Jon) / self-exploration (narrator)

pp. 407-409. Two paintings: “Cat's Eye” and “Unified Field Theory”.

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