String and silence, entwined

Photo of Judith Scott fibre sculpture by Carin Makuz

Photo of Judith Scott fibre sculpture by Carin Makuz

Carin at Matilda Magtree illustrated her recent post about how to write seasonally unaffected greeting cards with her photographs of Judith Scott’s amazing fibre sculptures.* The sculptures reminded me of a passage from Nicole Krauss’s second novel, which I bought secondhand, knowing nothing about Nicole Krauss. But the title and the watery cover art drew me in.

When I started reading The History of Love, I noticed the dedication (for Jonathan, my life) but I didn’t give it much thought. As I dove deeper and deeper into the entwined stories of elderly Leo Gursky and 14-year-old Alma Singer, though, I kept being reminded of another novel—one that was the basis for one of my all-time favourite movies, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I later found out that Krauss’s Jonathan was indeed the Extremely Loud author, Jonathan Safran Foer. Krauss and Foer have since divorced, but they were married when they wrote the two novels, and I can’t shake the feeling that one morning over bagels they challenged each other: “Here are the parameters. Now write.” Their books are different, like bagels differ from toast. Or, maybe more accurately, the way Montreal-smoked beef is different from lox.

That analogy oversimplifies two complex, innovative, intricately textured novels. But read them both and tell me if your impressions mirror mine. Also, Foer’s novel got a lot more attention and acclaim, but I think Krauss’s is better. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Photo of Judith Scott fibre sculpture by Carin Makuz

Photo of Judith Scott fibre sculpture by Carin Makuz

Meanwhile, here is Nicole Krauss’s take on string, from The History of Love:

So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme….

There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations. Shy people carried a little bunch of string in their pockets, but people considered loudmouths had no less need for it, since those used to being overheard by everyone were often at a loss for how to make themselves heard by someone. The physical distance between two people using a string was often small; sometimes the smaller the distance, the greater the need for the string.

The practice of attaching cups to the ends of string came much later. Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression. Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.

When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.

Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.

~ Nicole Krauss, The History of Love (W. W. Norton, 2005)


*Judith Scott (1943-2005) was a visual artist isolated by Down Syndrome and profound deafness, who achieved world recognition for her fibre sculptures. Her story has been told by John MacGregor in Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott, and in her twin sister Joyce Scott’s memoir, Entwined.

4 Responses to “String and silence, entwined”

  1. Diana Z

    Now I want to read all of these books!! Where to start? I am particularly drawn to memoirs, so I will probably start with “Entwined”. Thanks, Leslie!

    Reply
    • commatologist commatologist

      Did you read any of them, Diana? And, that’s weird – I was sure I had replied to this comment at the time. Hmm.

      Reply
  2. carin

    Just finished Krauss’s today and I must say I thought it was wonderful. I liked the playfulness of the structure though found it a little hard to follow initially (and I’m still wondering if it needed to be ‘quite’ that playful… maybe one too many stylistic things going on?) To be honest I’d have been happy as a clam to read an entire book narrated by Leo Gursky. One of the best (male) characters I’ve met in a while. I love this bit: “When I got older I decided I wanted to be a real writer. I tried to write about real things. I wanted to describe the world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely.” (p.7) And the description of his appearance (p.14) made me laugh, as they say, out loud. Also the passage (p.73) about the evolution of hand gestures is beautiful. It was the pieces of the story/ies that I loved maybe even more than the whole. But… that’s neither here nor there really, because the point is to read them both and find the bagel/toast connection. Will report back when every morsel has been consumed… (And thank you for this ‘introduction’. Very fun.)

    Reply
    • commatologist commatologist

      Carin, I’m thrilled you accepted my invitation to compare the two novels, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts after reading them both. I suspect you’ll like Safran Foer’s less – it’s even more “playful” (read: experimental). I liked it less, and in fact I didn’t finish reading it (I keep meaning to), but I loved the movie and have watched it several times. The young actor who plays Oscar Schell is brilliant, and Oscar’s relationship with his grandmother is a delight. I saw the movie first, then read the book, then The History of Love a few years later. I think it’s the stylistic playfulness of Krauss’s novel that reminded me of Safran Foer’s. That and some other things. I look forward to hearing what, if any, similarities you find. Thanks for playing!

      Reply

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