Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The newest gloss

In a mad moment I deleted the post about the Jessie Macbeth interview. It wasn't prompted by the uncertain veracity of the video but getting the title of the Euston Manifesto wrong. I first read about it on 3 Quarks Daily which, as you can see, calls it the Euston Road Manifesto [link now broken due to host site's failure]. When I accessed the site, I had scrolled down beyond the title and was immediately faced with its convoluted apologia for state terror. (Whereas this, as you'll see, is a convoluted apologia for recognising and opposing it).

Anyway, the video contains a memorable performance by Macbeth, which makes me doubt doubt itself. As I wrote, it's like a Beckett monologue; those musical stammerings in particular. In what way, I ask myself, are Beckett's monologues false?

It all reminded me, too, of the Wilkomirski Affair. His book Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, as Moby Lives explains, received a lot of attention and won awards because of its stark, poetic descriptions of Nazi atrocities from a child's perspective; Wilkomirski's own.

Except they weren't. He was a German called Bruno Grosjean. He wasn't even Jewish. All of it was imagined. Blake Eskin wrote an excellent book about the affair. Many people, mainly those who had welcomed Wilkomirski/Grosjean as a long-lost member of their decimated family, refused to believe that it was invented. The Holocaust itself wasn't imagined after all.

But one thing Eskin's book didn't address was why Fragments was written in the first place. Grosjean evidently believed he was really Wilkomirski and that he experienced those terrible events. Watching him on a BBC documentary, it was clear he was, at that time, a deeply troubled individual. If he hadn't have believed, he might not have been able to write the book in the first place. When I discussed the Eskin book with a friend, he said it was an extraordinary account of autism.

So perhaps writing the book was necessary for the writer to make the connection to the outside that, in life, he otherwise couldn't. He absorbed other people's experiences to an extraordinary degree; to the point where he became the other person. He wrote; he became.

What might that mean for the meaning of writing and of experience? Perhaps Jessie Macbeth is less a fraud than a victim of extreme imaginative empathy.

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