Context is everything

LongingI once aspired to be a great writer. Work experience at a newspaper in Newcastle and reading of the hand-to-mouth existence of many famous writers in history soon cured me of that. I do, however, greatly enjoy passages of books which express something that has been latent within me. The following passage from Gunnar Kopperud’s Longing (I’ve a pre-publication copy from my days working part-time at Waterstone’s) is masterful, in my opinion…

As a boy I worked with plywood a lot. I liked the word, plywood, I liked the material, I liked working with it. First I would cut out characters from my comics, and then paste them on to sheets of plywood, and finally saw them out with a jigsaw, carefully tracing the outline with the blade until they stood before me as solid figures.
It was some time before I realized that was exactly what I was doing with her. I took her with me on my travels, I spread out map after map in front of her and pointed. What do you think it’s like there, and there, and there? No travel accounts exist from there, we’ll have to go there ourselves if we want to know what it’s like. She looked up at me and smiled, looked down at the places I was indicating and her face took on a remote expression.
Was she robbed of her dreams at the front? Or did she just pack them up and put them away, keep them locked in a cool, dark place? I don’t know; all I know is that she was robbed of her years as a young girl and a young adult woman – instead she had years as a young soldier and a young adult soldier.
Does a soldier dream?
I felt that in one way or another she found her way back to something in herself when we travelled together. She became brighter, happier, more direct; more overt in her feelings. It was as if she went back in life and fetched what had been stolen from her.
She was easy to be with then; she always was, but easiest then. Until it occurred to me that I was at my jigsaw work again: I was cutting her out of her life, pasting her on a journey and sawing her out very carefully until she stood there as a solid figure, in a place where neither of us had been before. Her background, her culture, her family were missing, her personal history, her choices in life, her natural reactions were all missing.
Is it possible to live with a plywood figure?
Is it possible to live with a person who cuts you out of your background?
When I understood what I was doing, I learnt a lot about her and a lot about myself. When the journey is the goal, everyone becomes transient. I wrote that sentence of a piece of paper I had with me, and I would take it out occasionally and look at the last word, listen to the sad, dismal sound of it.

That last bit, about people becoming transient when the journey is the goal, is the clincher for me. I think that describes the postmodern condition rather well: we don’t believe in teleology, therefore the journey becomes the goal. This leaves us rootless, cast adrift and all at sea.

I collect quotations – mainly, it has to be said, for my Ed.D. – on my wiki. What are your favourites? 😀

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  1. I’ve put a couple of short extracts from ‘Dombey & Son’ by Dickens on my blog which I thought made an interesting contrast between different teaching styles here.

  2. Thanks Peter – I like the contrast between the two quotations you give! 🙂

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