Mittwoch, 28. Februar 2018

John Banville: On the Undreamed Lives of My Parents

It was in the early 1960s that I forsook the town of my birth and moved to Dublin. And “forsook” is the appropriate word. During the first 18 years of my life that I spent in Wexford, I treated the place as no more than a staging post on my way elsewhere. I had so little interest in the town that I did not even bother to learn the names of most of the streets. In imaginative terms, this indifference to my birthplace, to its history, and to the complex and subtle life of its people, was not only arrogant but foolish, and wasteful, too. That in my immediate surroundings there was a world interesting enough to be worthy of an artist’s attention—and from earliest days I had no doubt that I was going to be an artist of some kind or other—is amply attested to in the work of such Wexford writers as Colm Tóibín, Eoin Colfer and Billy Roche, all three of whom, and Roche in particular, have made a trove of rich coinage out of what I regarded as base metal, when I deigned to regard it at all.
I might defend myself, indeed I might even deny the need for such a defence, by saying that I have never in my life paid much attention to my surroundings wherever it was I happened to find myself—artistic attention, that is. For good or ill, as a writer I am and always have been most concerned not with what people do—that, as Joyce might say, with typical Joycean disdain, can be left to the journalists—but with what they. Art is a constant effort to strike past the mere daily doings of humankind in order to arrive at, or at least to approach as closely as possible, the essence of what it is, simply, to be. It’s as legitimate for the artist to address the question of being as it is for the philosopher—as Heidegger himself acknowledged when he remarked that in his philosophizing he was seeking only to achieve what Rilke had already done in poetry. No doubt he was thinking of lines such as these, from the ninth of Rilke’s Duino Elegies—in the somewhat antiquated but sympathetic Leishman/Spender translation—which sets out by asking why we should bother to be human and live at all, then ventures this magnificent reply:

. . . because being here is much, and because all this
that’s here, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely
concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. But this
having been once, though only once,
having been once on earth—can it ever be cancelled?

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