“People,” Robinson said, pausing before she defined that familiar word in original terms: “Brilliant creatures, who at a very high rate, predictably, are incomprehensible to each other. If what people want is to be formally in society, to have status, to have loving relationships, houseplants that don’t die, the failure rate is phenomenal. . . . Excellent people, well-meaning people, their lives do not yield what they hoped. You know? This doesn’t diminish, at all, the fact that their dignity is intact. But their grief . . .”
“. . . is enormous,” I said.
Outside, the Iowa summer afternoon was gathering itself into a storm. Large bursts of thunder began to detonate around us.
“It is,” she said, continuing her previous thought. “ ‘O, Absalom! Absalom! My son, my son.’ The idea that there is an intrinsic worth in a human being. Abuse or neglect of a human being is not the destruction of worth but certainly the denial of it. Worth. We’re always trying to anchor meaning in experience. But without the concept of worth, there’s no concept of meaning. I cannot make a dollar worth a dollar; I have to trust that it is worth a dollar. I can’t make a human being worthy of my respect; I have to assume that he is worthy of my respect. Which I think is so much of the importance of the Genesis narrative. We are given each other in trust. I think people are much too wonderful to be alive briefly and gone. . . .
“I have always been — always from childhood’s hour, as Poe would say — in the habit of feeling quite a stark difference between myself and the world I navigated. Which was any world I navigated. And then, at a certain point, I found out that that was a) very formative and b) probably an error, although it was that discomfort that made me feel like writing, the feeling of difference.
“To the extent that I was ever an unhappy person, I was happy with my unhappiness.” Robinson laughed, big and deep.
“It suited you?
“People do things very differently,” she said. “And it probably has to do with genes and child rearing and all sorts of things. But you can feel a distance as regrettable and at the same time take a kind of pride in it. The stalwartness of the self. That it can endure. And that even though you can kind of theoretically see how you could be more like the world that excludes you, you know that you can rely on yourself not to be. You know?” She paused. “Somebody who had read ‘Lila’ asked me, ‘Why do you write about the problem of loneliness?’ I said: ‘It’s not a problem. It’s a condition. It’s a passion of a kind. It’s not a problem. I think that people make it a problem by interpreting it that way.”
Friday, October 03, 2014
The Revelations of Marilynne Robinson
I read this NY Times interview with Marilynne Robinson, in the lead up to Lila arriving in the best sort of bookstores. Oh, how I love Marilynne. Here are some snippets that I want to keep here, for ease of my future self finding it’s way back to them. They are simply marvellous.