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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wide-eyed and wordless. By John von Daler

                        I was a child once, believe it or not. It was not a situation I had any desire to prolong or repeat - until I reached adulthood almost intact and turned around to survey the damage. Then and there nostalgia struck me like a large glove from the little hand of Toulouse #Lautrec, that most childlike of men, challenging me to a sentimental duel just for old times' sake. I declined, admitting to a certain cowardice, but the thought stuck with me: there is something about childhood that needs repetition.

                Since that definitive moment I have twice enjoyed a controlled diminuation, a positive belittlement that has fulfilled some hidden but powerful need in me to relive that feeling of curiosity, openness, and naivité that I experienced at the age of four or thereabouts.
                The first time it happened I was learning Danish. As I sat on busses in Copenhagen, understanding maybe one third of what people were talking about, I relived the childish eagerness of wanting very, very badly to know what was going on. Everything sounded so interesting. Only later did I realize that the Danes as often as not were discussing potatoes or taxes.
                The second time I returned to being a child, I was reading for the first time #Djuna #Barnes' #"Nightwood". I know this to be true because I am now reading the book again and have started to notice symptoms of infantility yet another time. Invariably "Nightwood" forces me into the position of a person who speaks the language of his surroundings, but does not really understand what is going on. I feel like I am walking beside a great, dark and perverse river at night, trying to decide whether to run because it might overflow its banks or to dive in and become a part of it.
                In a sense this is what I am looking for in the greatest of the works I read, Marquez, Blixen, Barnes, Sherwood Anderson, Shakespeare. Make me a child again. Stun me with how little I know. Force me to let loose and dream.
                What would you make, say, of a sentence like this one from "Nightwood"? I tell you, Madame, if one gave birth to a heart on a plate, it would say 'Love' and twitch like the lopped leg of a frog. Hearing those words, would you dive in, run or revert to the womb? Whatever the reaction, it probably would be childish and without any accompanying utterance: wordless and wide-eyed...

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