Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs, Constructing Panic

In this pioneering books, researches Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs look at the narrative on a woman suffering from agoraphobia and study the way she authors her narrative and the way her narrative comes to form her reality.

The linguistic shaping of sufferers’ narratives has been generally glossed over, with the result that the therapeutic effect of telling one’s life stories with another person remains largely a mystery. Psychoanalysts tend to look through narrative rather than at narrative to identify underlying emotional dynamics and formative experiences. How a teller sculpts her tale–the grammatical form and the sequencing and intertwining of pieces of setting, enigmatic experiences, and outcomes–is not a focal point but rather a medium for exposing a deeper story.

We share the view that stories can offer a powerful medium for gaining insights not fully accessible to the narrator. Indeed we endorse the perspective, held by a number of philosophers and literary critics, that narrative creates stepping stones to self-understanding. To borrow the words of Vaclav Havel, narrative allows us to confront ourselves, “to return in full seriousness to the ‘core of things,’ to pose the primordial questions again and again, and from the beginning, constantly, to examine the direction [we are] going.”

Annie Ernaux’s Shame

A powerful little book that begins with an analysis of a single episode from the writer’s past, an incident that happened when she was twelve. This book breaks so many writerly rules — in such a satisfying, rewarding way. The translation is by Tanya Leslie.

The quote is from the end of the first section.

Naturally I shall not opt for narrative, which would mean inventing reality instead of searching for it. Neither shall I content myself with merely picking out and transcribing the images I remember; I shall process them  like documents, examining them from different angles to give them meaning. In other words, I shall carry out an ethnological study of myself.

(It may not be necessary to commit such observations to paper, but I won’t be able to start writing properly until I have some idea of the shape this writing will take.)

I may have chosen to be impartial because I thought the indescribable events I witness in my twelfth year would fate away, lost in the universal context of laws and language. Or maybe I succumbed  to a mad and deadly impulse suggested by the words of a missal which I now find impossible to read, a ritual which my mind associates with some Voodoo ceremony–take this, all of you, and read it, this is my body, this is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you and for all men.

Karolina Ramqvist’s The White City

I heard this author read during Litquake and bought the book. Part heist novel, part a novel about becoming a mother, it blends the genres so effortlessly that, having finished the book, I’m convinced that motherhood is a kind of a heist. Translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. A beautiful edition by the Black Cat imprint of Grove Atlantic.

The baby’s named Dream. (What a cool name!)

 She put one arm over the baby, who had gone back to nursing, and rested her head on the other, trying to unwind and sink into the sofa. She focused on her body, one part at a time; she noticed her teeth clenching and opened her mouth all the way. Opening and shutting it and working her jaw from side to side to relieve the tension.  …

Dream downed the milk, swallowing while nuzzled into her white breast. Round as the baby’s cheeks and head, round as the areola that peeked out because Dream hadn’t gotten a proper grip on her nipple again. Round and round, rounds and rounds. The milk dribbled out of the baby’s mouth and ran down her breast, leaving a sticky trail on her skin and a wet stain on her robe.

Does the body keep producing breast milk after death? If something were to happen to her, if she choked or a blood vessel burst in her brain or if someone were to break in and take her out for good, it would probably be a while before anyone would miss her. But if she had enough milk in her breasts, then Dream might have a chance of surviving until someone showed up.

She tried to concentrate on the softness.