Ragnorok: The End of the Gods

ImageRagnorok is a decisive event in Norse mythology, signalling the end of the gods, and the end of their world.  In A.S. Byatt’s short, potent novel, a whirlwind tirade of Norse mythology is layered into a child’s wartime fascination with myth, creating a compelling drama that becomes a metaphor for contemporary disaster.  I would call this a description-driven novel, rather than plot or character-driven.  It’s greatest strength is its acrobatic prose and the way esteemed English author A.S. Byatt depicts Norse mythology as a living, breathing recreation of chaos itself.  Chaos refers to a state in which chance is supreme.  Out of chaos comes. . . order. . . and more chaos.  The child in the novel is a cypher for the artistic herself:

“The thin child thought less. . . of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing?  She devoured stories with rapacious greed, ranks of black marks on white, sorting themselves into mountains and trees, stars, moons and suns, dragons, dwarfs, and forests containing wolves, foxes and the dark.  She told her own tales as she walked through the fields, tales of wild riders and deep meres, of kindly creatures and evil hags.”

In this childlike state we are able to create our own mythologies, our own art.

Here is a beautiful passage about Jormungandr, a monstrous snake, offspring of Loki the shape-shifter, who is thrown into the sea by the other gods:

“With her spine locked, she was a javelin, swift and smooth, her mane of flesh-fronds streaming back from her sharp skull, her fangs glinting.  But she also fell in loops and coils, like a curling whip, like a light ribbon the eddies of the air. . . She was a sensuous beast:  the rush of air pleased her:  she snuffed up the scent of pine forests, heathland, hot desert, the salt of the sea. . . “

Loki, the shape-shifter, disguises himself as a mackerel:  “A mackerel’s skin is a vanishing trick.  Along its sleekness are lines of water ripples, imitating sun and shadow, cloud light and moonlight dropping through the thick water, imitating trailing weed and rushing waves flickering as the mirror-scales twist.”

The writing is visceral, visual, vivid.  This book is literally fantastic, as well as wild, violent, deep and gorgeous, much like life itself.

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Drawing is a Form of Writing

Drawing, like writing, is an act of communication. Setting marks on the page, attempting to capture form within line, I feel the same deep absorption when I draw as when I write. This is a series I’ve been working on for the last few days. I’ve been obsessed (enscorcelled!) by the beauty of these epitaphs of summer.

Winter Flowers 1

Winter Flowers 2

Winter Flowers 3

Winter Flowers 4

Winter Flowers 5

Winter Flowers 6

Ensorcelled

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Winter Flowers 1 by Annie Seikonia

The Word of the Day is “ensorcelled”:  from the Free Dictionary: en·sor·cell or en·sor·cel  (n-sôrsl)

tr.v. en·sor·celled or en·sor·celed, en·sor·cel·ling or en·sor·cel·ing, en·sor·cells or en·sor·cels

To enchant; bewitch.

[French ensorceler, from Old French ensorcerer, ensorceler : en-, intensive pref.; see en-1 + sorcier, sorcerer; see sorcerer.]

en·sorcell·ment n.
As in:  She was ensorcelled by the delicate calligraphy of the remnants of Queen Anne’s lace.  By November the living lace had become embalmed by autumn, transformed into a spectral version of summer’s intricate ballet of miniscule white blossom and dense green stalks.

 

An Evening with Tom Perrotta

This week I had the privilege of hearing novelist Tom Perrotta read at SPACE Gallery as part of the Telling Room‘s reading series.  He read a selection from his novel Little Children.  The writing was impressive, the characters described precisely, with the kind of small details and accurate observations that bring prose to vivid life.  The excerpt was written largely from the point of view of a mother with a young child and the voice was completely authentic.  Ah, the magic of writing.

I can’t wait to read The Leftovers, his latest novel about a seemingly random rapture-style mass disappearance of people . During the Q & A afterwards, Perrotta had intriguing tales of converting fiction to film.  He also said one way to approach the challenge of writing about an unlikeable character is to see and write about him or her through another character’s eyes.  And isn’t this at the heart of great writing — the need to depict complex personalities, situations and environments with mastery?  Fine writing embodies genuine truths that can’t be faked. The process is both tedious and exhilarating.

In commenting about his stint as a series editor of the 2012 Best American Stories he talked about the evolution of modern fiction, from the tomes of Pynchon to the sparer styles of Richard Ford, Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, followed by the subsequent return of denser work best embodied by David Foster Wallace.  He cited Alice Munro as an example of a successful short story author who appeals to him for her plain style and her looseness of story, as well as her ability to bring novelistic techniques to a shorter form.   It was a most delightful evening.

Afterwards I enjoyed checking out his website, which features a colorful chronology of his career, which included an “Easy Rider” phase and jobs collecting garbage and working as a clerk at a storage company.  His novel Election, which was subsequently made into a successful movie, took six years to get published.  This gives me hope.

Stopping Time

Copper Beach by Annie Seikonia

Daydreaming, meditation, writing, drawing, gardening, playing guitar — these are excellent ways to stop time.  The pressures and intensity of the day fade into the background.   The artist is reunited with childhood musings, a sense of play, and the creative spirit is reignited.  Instantly the artist taps into the act of creation itself, and, though engaged in a solitary practice, feels surrounded by all her muses — the writers and artists, living and dead, who have supported her creative practice her entire life.  That sense of inspiration, of creating, of reflecting and truly seeing the world is an enormous gift.  It is difficult to stop time.  There will always be distractions, demands, deadlines, obligations.  But for the artist it is crucial to pay attention to the moment; to make the time and space in which to create.  The rewards are vast.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.” — Carl Jung

“Deep time isn’t a realm into which one accidentally tumbles.  Dozens of choices may lead up to it, normal time may surround it.  There is usually a boundary or door at the edge of deep time.  I think of such edges as ‘littoral moments’ because they are like the thin skirtings of sand along seashores that connect the solid land to the fluency of waves.”  — Diane Ackerman, Deep Play