Monday, December 4, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Beauty of Living: e. e. cummings in the Great War, excerpt eight)

from The Beauty of Living: e. e. cummings in the Great War by J. Alison Rosenblitt:

The prisoner whom Cummings admired most was Jean, a black man who had things particularly bad, since in addition to the conditions of the prison, Jean had to contend with the racism of the guards and of many of his fellow prisoners. Jean was even more vulnerable than the other inmates. When he arrived, he had entrusted all his money—sixty francs to sustain him at the commissary where additional supplies could be purchased—to one of the plantons to deposit. The planton pocketed the money and denied everything, and Jean had no redress. “Of all the fine people in La Ferté,Monsieur Jean (“le noir” as he was entitled by his enemies)swaggers in my memory as the finest.”

These memories—of Jean and Apollyon and the gang of four and of many others—materialize in The Enormous Room in a style as dry as bone. Literary critics have referred to this book both as a novel and as a memoir, but it is best just to call it an account. Cummings never sought to define it by genre. However, he regarded it in all meaningful senses as true, and he said that, insofar as it would have any appeal to the public, it would appeal as a document. When writing, he worked closely from his own ntoes as well as from his memory, which he cross-checked with the memory of Brown, who described the result as remarkably accurate. Many of its specifics are independently verifiable. As with all autobiographical writing, we have to assume, of course, that some material—like conversation—is shaped as it filters through memory. But what we have is far more valulable than any stenographer’s transcript could have been: we have access to the internal as well as external realities of Cummings’s world. The deliberate wryness and humor of the writing in The Enormous Room is the solution Cummings found in order to speak of nearly unspeakable things. Imprisonment was not an adventure. It was a terror.

No comments:

Post a Comment