Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination by Grace Dane Mazur

Hinges: Meditations on the  Portals of the Imaginations by Grace Dane Mazur (2010)
"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfiield (1922)

Orpheus, Night Town and "The Garden Party"

Night towns, Orpheus, Gilgamesh, Hinges  and Doors
Hinges: Meditations on the  Portals of the Imaginations by Grace Dane Mazur is a very illuminating look at the worlds reading can take us into.  This a very rich book that covers brilliantly much directly of great interest to those of us very into the reading life.   

Mazur  explores the myths of Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Parmenides and Orpheus as  they relate to how we experience literature.  She  helps us to understand what happens to our analytic mind as well as our subconscious as we enter a fictional world.

I want to take a brief look at what she says about one of Katherine Mansfield's best known short stories, "The Garden Party" as it can sort of serve to let us see how Mazur's book can help us get more from what we read, which is to me a tremendous boon.  There really are an  awful lot of very interesting things in this book.   I normally do not do this but I think it maybe best to quote from the press release a bit:

"What is it to be at the edge of the world of the imagination? How do writers, readers, and thinkers deal with this threshold? How do painters represent it? This unusual book — a combination of personal essay, literary criticism, art history, and memoir — examines what happens when we come under the spell of writing, when we get to that place where we enter into an altered state of consciousness, either as writer or as reader. Mazur uses the idea of hinges to explore what happens at real doorways as well as at metaphysical turning points and transformations — in fiction and poetry, and also in ordinary life. As she ranges from the ancient narratives of Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Parmenides, and Orpheus, to the modern fictions of Katherine Mansfield and Eudora Welty, she presents the hero’s exploration of the Other World as a metaphor for how we enter into the entrancement of the novel."

I am assuming here a  basic familiarity with Katherine Mansfield's short story "The Garden Party.  (There is a link to the story in my first post on it  HERE.)    As the story opens an affluent family is preparing for a garden party.   The setting is New Zealand in the 1910s.   The mother in the family is trying to let one of her daughters take control of the setting up of the party, or she is pretending to do that to give her daughter responsibility.     The workers some how seem more "earthy" and real to her. She wishes she could be friends with them.   Near where the girl and her family lives is a place where "workers" live.    Everyone in the girl's world works with their mind, not their bodies.   Word comes that a man in the worker village has been killed.   He has a wife an five children.  To compress a bit (read the story and I think you will for sure see Mazur's point of view is very illuminating) the girl ends up taking left over food from the party to the family of the man who was killed.   As she walks toward the house of the widow she feels she is entering a dark world she does not really understand.   She is both attracted to it and repelled.   As she sees the body of the man, about 35 years old, she seems to me to have her first  stirrings of passion.   She has a simultaneous  first encounter with Thanatos and Eros in the cabin in the underworld, the night town of the workers village.    As she leaves the village her brother awaits her to guide her home.  Here is the wonderful conversation between Laura and her brother:

" Laurie put his arm round her shoulder. "Don't cry," he said in his warm, loving voice. "Was it awful?"

    "No," sobbed Laura. "It was simply marvellous. But Laurie--" She stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't life--" But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite understood.

     "Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie"
As I was reading Mazur's remarks on Katherine Mansfield it seems almost as if Mansfield own life was a leaving taking from the very comfortable house hold of her Bank of New Zealand President father to the  near poverty of life among the denizens of the  night town that was literary London in the 1920s.   Mazur makes some interesting speculative points about how Mansfield made use of her fatal disease in deepening and maturing her art.   

Mazur has an  extremely interesting and impressive background.   She has a PhD in Biology from Harvard.   For ten years she was the fiction editor of the Harvard Review.   She is the author of a novel, Trespass and a collection of short stories, Silk, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

There is a lot more information on Mazur on her web page.

I strongly endorse this book to anyone interested in understanding the mythic roots and metaphysics of the reading life.    I really enjoyed her account of the story of Gilgamesh.    The book is also extremely well illustrated.   I enjoyed reading this book and gained some concepts I can use going forward with my reading.

I received a complementary copy of this work from the author.

Mel u


Grace Dane Mazur said...

I'm so glad you quoted the final conversation from Mansfield's "The Garden Party." I love that ellipsis in Laura's question. Mansfield is continually astonishing--as much for what she leaves out as for what she puts in.
Thank you so much for your wonderful review, and for all your brilliant work.

Suko said...

Mel, thank you for bringing this book to my attention. Hinges sounds like the perfect book for The Reading Life, and for readers interested in the subject of reading. As you know, The Garden Party is a favorite short story of mine, in which life and death are presented so vividly.

@parridhlantern said...

This sounds like a really interesting read, which in part it reminds me of Alberto Manguel's Homer's The Iliad & The Odyssey, although it appears to be more on a psychological level. As a fan of Gilgamesh ( ) this does appeal & has got me pondering.
Thanks for the post.