Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gabriel Josipovici: In a Hotel Garden

No one in the novel acknowledges the repetition of the pattern. But there it is. They met by accident on holiday in Italy. They were together. They talked, and then he left. Years later, Ben and Lily, too, met by accident on holiday in Italy--that is, Ben was on holiday; Lily had came in search of something. Something that had to do with the past, her Grandmother's past. The pattern, it seems, is never a perfect fit. How then to decipher its meaning? But there it is, this pattern, broken as it may be, at the center of the novella. They meet. They part. Meet once again (as her Grandmother and the man Lily might imagine could have been her grandfather, as they met again, briefly, for no reason we can understand). There is nothing to suggest anything will come of this meeting of Ben and Lily. But what will happen after? The shadow of the Holocaust is too dark to dispel, and too strange to portend anything in the way of a future. The pattern is engendered out of itself.

Absalom hanging by his hair from the limb of the tree, cut down by King David's men? There is no pattern there that we can see. The Biblical stories are rich in patterns, each serving as comment and interpretation on the others. In contrast, we hold the two mis-meetings of the novel, one against the other, and while we can see the pattern, neither tells us anything about the other. Each stands alone. Unengendered.
What does that word mean, the child, Robert, wants to know, overhearing the conversation with his parent's childless friend. Two worlds. The world of Ben's friends, Rick and Fran, with child and dog. They are immune to the questions that drew Ben and Lily together. They live in the engendered world from which Ben and Lily have been estranged. As though there were no connection. Nothing passes from one to the other. They recognizing the gap, acknowledge the failure. The same thing happens between Rick and Fran, and between them and their son, only they have made themselves immune to the loss--for the time being. Only the dog pays attention.
Is this what is missing? Attention? I think of Simone Weil. What she meant by this word. Both Lily and Ben (more Lily than Ben) seek to attend to their lives, to what happens to them... or has happened, in the past. But it's as though this were something that had been lost in the past. Something that Lily knows, but only by suggestion from the stories her grandmother told. Something she wants to find again... but not as though it belonged to her. A remembered trace... what it meant to be a Jew. Not the belief.... the experience. Of living in a world where one moment, one pattern engenders another in such a way, that out the patterns, stories are born. Stories that give birth to stories. Not broken patterns to be stumbled across like ruins, like finding oneself, again and again, in the wrong garden, at the wrong time, in the wrong life.

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