Friday, May 25, 2007

Transformation Courtesy of Katherine Mansfield

One of the reasons I love French film (aside from the fact that the characters always have to find parking spaces and they're constantly eating) is how I see the world after viewing them. Certain film makers use the camera not to make the world more perfect that it really is, but to see how perfect this world is, and that stays with me when I leave the theater - if it was a really good film, all day long. Great documentaries can do this too, like the great double feature Film Forum showed about the artists Kiki Smith and Agnes Martin back in January, or the absolutely amazing John Cage and Merce Cunningham one of my favorites. You sit in their workspaces or their homes with them and the film renders them as objects of utter fascination. I love watching John Cage, one of music's most controversial composers, rinse the grain that he is about to prepare in the kitchen of his loft. But I'm digressing, the point is that the world seems different after watching them. French films often make me see a brick wall or hear the sound of a shoe clocking on the pavement as something new and Katherine Mansfield's Prelude seems to have the same power. I'm nearly done reading it and At the Bay and The Doll's House, in a neat little edition of three Mansfield stories that all feature the same family.

They quote Virginia Woolf on the back cover, who said that she was jealous of Mansfield's writing, and it is easy to see why. The stories remind me of nothing so much as The Waves. It's as though we're watching the world through the eyes of a dragon fly, skimming over the surface of this glassy world and every so often we land weightlessly and pick up a phrase or stark detail that , like a shard of glass, cuts beneath the surface and makes the world bleed, and then it flits on. There is a chilling moment in At The Bay where the mother lies dreamily with her baby boy on a summer day, one minute you're smelling the heat and laziness and the next you hear her thinking that she really doesn't like her baby boy at all, and then the sound of the ocean pulls you out of that thought and on to something else.

I broke open a brand new bag of sencha this morning (I'm something of a tea freak), and I saw the amazing potent green of the leaves and tasted the grassy, nutty tea through the lens of the Prelude. I love that - the world transformed by a story. Mansfield's voice is lyrical but stark, and the volume is slim but not "lite."


Sheila O'Malley said...

ted, this is so beautiful.

I actually have never read any of Mansfield's fiction - but her journals!! have you read them? Awesome. Portrait of an artist with tuberculosis. great great stuff.

You make me want to read her fiction.

Ted said...

If you want to read her then, mission accomplished. And you'll love how she does something like what Woolf does, only more domestic - less otherworldly.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I wonder if I do the same thing after watching movies and reading books--probably but don't think about it. It is interesting reading about Mansfield and Woolf. They seemed to have a sort of love/hate relationship. They both seemed brilliant and artistic, maybe in different ways, so it is not surprisingly they might have clashed as well as respected each other's work. I am looking forward to reading Prelude!

nn said...

If you like French movies and K. Mansfield's writing, as I do, you may appreciate Eric Rohmer's movies. I am not sure they're known overseas, though.

Ted said...

Thanks May - I am familiar w/ Rohmer's films, which always received a New York release - thanks for that thought and for your visit.