Writing from the LRB archive by John Bayley, Rivka Galchen, Penelope Fitzgerald, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Clarence Brown, Jonathan Rée and Amia Srinivasan.

The Last Romantic

John Bayley, 5 May 1983

Transfiguration is into a kind of poetic absence which includes only the idea of love, not its quotidian betrayals or fulfilments. ‘What remains of us is love’ in the sense that love equates with self-extinction. I think Larkin here gives his own entombed precision to the symbol, which for the Symbolists gave out nothing but its own powers of suggestion. To Larkin it suggests the comfort of disappearance, selflessness, awayness, and in the universe this is no doubt the true comfort of love.

Can we eat them? Knausgaard’s Escape

Rivka Galchen, 24 January 2019

Karl Ove Knausgaard talks about how much he used to dread summertime, the expectation it placed on a young man to be swimming or boating with other people. Writing solved this social awkwardness, he felt, and then he says: ‘When the children arrived, the problem of loneliness vanished definitively ... but by then the writing had become so entrenched within me, as a method and a solution to all problems.’

Keeping warm

Penelope Fitzgerald, 30 December 1982

Sylvia Townsend Warner courageously faced solitude, preferring ‘the sting of going to the muffle of remaining’. The crisis passed, because, STW thought, ‘I was better at loving and being loved,’ and they returned to a life which she could only call blessed. She meant travel, many friendships, gardening, jam-making, perilous motoring, cats, books and music.

What made Albert run: Mad Travellers

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, 27 May 1999

You wake up one morning, the whole world is grey, you have had enough of your cold, colourless life. You want to drop everything, escape, far away, where life is real. Who has not had this dream from time to time?

As for the Brioches

Clarence Brown, 2 November 1995

I chose a room in Beirut and engaged Matisse as decorator. The sunlit balcony looked onto a blue sea. The white wooden table beside my transatlantique held a sliced melon. Hibiscus bloomed nearby. Some other fragrance that I could not and cannot name is still available to my senses, as arc the other wholly abstract elements of this notional construct, invulnerable to all the manifold miseries of later Lebanese history.

Baffled Traveller: Hegel

Jonathan Rée, 30 November 2000

Hegel made the narrator of the Phenomenology  plural so as to put all of us, as readers, in the same predicament as the journeying consciousness. The baffled traveller is no one but ourselves, or rather – since the story is told in the past tense – our former selves, whose follies and heartbreaks we now recollect in scientific tranquillity. The Phenomenology is not the biography of absolute knowledge, but its collective autobiography: the confessions of a penitent dogmatist who lives within us all.

Sharky Waters

Amia Srinivasan, 11 October 2018

The truth is that surfing – the sense of perfect communion with the sea, the feel of the board underfoot, skimming the surface of the water – is worth the risk of a shark encounter, and would continue to be worth it even if the risk were greater than it actually is. It is on land, and not when I am waiting on my board for a wave, that the fear grips.

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